B.A. in English 2003
M.A. in English 2008
M.S. in Cyber Security 2020
Any other degrees:
Favorite memories of being an undergraduate English major: One of my favorite memories as an undergraduate was spending time with other undergrads discussing literature, something that continues to this day. Back then, our discussions were largely focused on exploring concepts our teachers and the articles we read were exposing to us. We would spend hours in Lee Hall, the Library, or in the Union discussing ideas we had about the literature we were reading. Too often we discovered that said ideas had already been published, but the experience rewarded us greatly by confirming our growing abilities as analysts and critical thinkers. The hard part was always putting our ideas into words, which is where our writing classes came in. Those moments of receiving feedback on a paper confirming not only our ideas but our ability to communicate them were as nerve wracking as they were rewarding when our work was quality.
Cyber Security Specialist
United States Air Force Materiel Command
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
When I graduated, I didn’t have any plans for the future. I was as aimless as a leaf caught in the wind. Part of that was my own lack of interest in my future and belief that a career would land in my lap, much to my incorrect assumptions. I ended up working in a public school and then in retail before coming to the realization that I needed to actually work on my life and my plans and put effort into my future. That lead me to take up the MA program in English at MSU. I had planned to get a PhD and become a scholar, but after graduating and taking up a job as a Lecturer in the English department, I fell out of love with the idea of being a scholar. That led to some years of trying to figure out what I wanted to do, which led me to exploring my education once more. I was resolved to find a career path I could enjoy that I would also be passionate about, so I started taking classes once again with Algebra. After acing the class, I went on to Trig to similar results and decided to try my hand at an engineering or technical field. I had always loved reading and writing, but I wanted to explore some of my other interests, which is when I decided to take Intro to Programming. That helped me expand my love of computers beyond just gaming, particularly when I realized that thinking about code and math involved a lot of the similar thought processes I had mastered in my time at the English department. Utilizing those thought processes for things like programming, algorithmic analysis, and even calculus, I was able to unify two things I enjoy into a field that I could pursue with fervor.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
My current occupation is providing Cyber security compliance and monitoring to the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper drone program, specifically the RPA SOC (Reaper Predator Airborne Source of Control) program. This job involves a lot of monitoring of different program installations at bases across the continental US. We install, patch, audit, review, and prepare site systems for accreditation with USAF officials in the Intelligence Community. Our primary goal is to ensure that any site installation using the RPA SOC baseline is in compliance with all rules, regulations, and laws and are maintaining constant security best practices. On a daily basis, my job consists of reading and apply a lot of different regulations as well as managing the paperwork to verify this. In addition, we monitor technical aspects that may impact security postures of classified systems. When issues arise, we fix them following industry best practices and ensure our sites apply said fixes.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
Communication is the primary skill I use in my job with critical thinking being secondary. I’m in a lot of meetings with high-level persons across the Air Force’s Cyber community. These are busy individuals who do not have the time necessary to become intimately familiar with every program under their jurisdiction. As such, one of my biggest contributions to my team is my ability to clearly communicate with those involved in projects or those approving the projects. This is often through face-to-face meetings, phone meetings, emails, reports, or documentation. I often involve critical thinking in this task in order to adequately answer questions anyone has about our program. This can include some quick thinking in order to resolve problems as they arise or to help find who can.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
I had to learn a lot about computers and the Cyber security world, the majority of which was taught to me at MSU. The remainder of that has been on-the-job training and a constantly daily barrage of new terminology and concepts. One of the largest new skills is navigating the government as a civilian employee. The government does not operate like private industry or academia, and learning how to navigate that has been a challenge.
Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?
A job in computers does not mean you’ll be programming or doing networking. While there are a lot of technical aspects to my field, there are a lot of things involving computers that I’ll simply never touch. Learning more computer skills, no matter what they are, will be a massive asset to a career in any field. Even if those skills are simply Word and Excel, you can apply those skills to many different careers, including writing and editing. Learning to solve your own technical problems is one of the most valuable skills you’ll have in a professional career in any field.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?
The pay doesn’t hurt at all. More than that, though, I have an end of the day. Having a clear delineation to when the work day ends is invaluable. Being able to go home and do things outside of my job not related to my job is invaluable. Beyond that, I feel I’m contributing to a greater cause and adding some form of tangible value to the world. I’m assisting people in their careers and helping to maintain critical defense and civilian systems. I’m able to make this job easier for others by bringing skills many in my field do not possess, and that helps me to see a lot of local or small scale contributions that help me feel part of something larger.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
Don’t be afraid to try something out of your comfort zone. Try fields and classes you’re unsure if you’ll like, and then give them your all. The more you put into understanding something at a fundamental level, the more you’ll get out of it and be able to utilize it in other fields. Math, after all, is just a language. Arithmetic is like learning the alphabet and basic words. Algebra is like learning to form sentences. Calculus is the beginning of forming paragraphs and ideas. It’s all in how you approach a situation to make it easier and more understandable.
Updated Feb 2023