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Q&A: Isabella Flynn Takes Humanities Degree Into Cybersecurity Career
Jun 17, 2024

Isabella Flynn, BA ’23 MS ’25, majored in politics as an undergraduate and now studies cybersecurity in the Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business. She currently works as a cybersecurity and data privacy analyst for Zaviant, a data security and privacy consulting firm based in Philadelphia, and was previously a Tech Policy Center intern at the Heritage Foundation.

How was your undergraduate experience at UDallas, and how did it lead to your pursuit of a master’s degree in cybersecurity?

I come from a UD legacy family, and so many of my relatives went to UD. The strong Catholic identity of the school was appealing to me and one of the reasons I wanted to pursue my undergraduate education there. UD does such a good job of ensuring that students graduate with a great ability to think and communicate articulately and eloquently. As an undergraduate, I fell in love with the humanities. While I majored in politics, I had always been interested in tech. My dad and uncles work in tech and gave me a great appreciation for it. As a sophomore, I took a cybersecurity course and loved it. I did pretty well in it, and it stayed in the back of my mind for the remainder of my time at UD. So, after I graduated, I enrolled in UD’s online master’s program in cybersecurity since I was interested in the intersection of politics and cybersecurity.

How has your experience at UDallas prepared you for your current role at Zaviant?

I’m about halfway through the program, and I’ve found the cybersecurity classes very useful and thoroughly enjoyed them. The program is also how I got my current job for Zaviant. I took a compliance and legal issues course because I thought it would help me with my internship at the time in D.C. with the Heritage Foundation, and the connections I made there led to my current full-time role as a cybersecurity and data privacy analyst.

Was there a specific professor or professors that helped you begin your career in cybersecurity?

I absolutely owe my job to Dr. Sandra Blanke. She is so good about encouraging people to add her and others on LinkedIn and always sharing job postings and really cool internships with us. In her class, Dr. Blanke invited a guest speaker and former UDallas alumnus named Matthew Davis, MS ’22, to speak to us about the company he worked for, Zaviant. I asked him a lot of questions about AI regulations since it’s an area I’m interested in. I was going to be moving to D.C. for an internship, and I asked Matthew if he would be willing to meet up with me and answer some questions. I wanted his advice because it’s hard to sell yourself to firms in the tech space when you have zero to no experience, and it can be hard to get a foot in the door with these large corporations. He agreed to meet up with me, and I just had pages of questions to ask about my interests in compliance and operations. He was extremely helpful. At the end of our conversation, he said, “Why don’t you work for Zaviant? You would be a great fit for this job.” ... I had no intention of that conversation leading to a job opportunity, but I sent him my resume, interviewed twice and was offered the job. I was just honest about my experience, work ethic and love for learning, and he took to that and was impressed. It goes to show that fellow UD alumni look out for one another.

What drew you specifically to cybersecurity?

While I was somewhat familiar with the topic because of my dad’s career, cybersecurity intrigued me because I knew so little about it. It was such an unknown. The inner workings of cybersecurity are largely mysterious to laypeople, despite our ubiquitous use of computers and smartphones. Discovering the intricacies of cryptology, digital processes, network communication, complex software and the array of controls involved in safeguarding our digital world was really intriguing.

What do you do in your role at Zaviant?

Zaviant helps companies reduce risk, avoid fines and protect their brands. Our niche is privacy, security and third-party risk program development and management. I assist with a portfolio of clients, focusing on data discovery to ensure the effective implementation and creation of credentials of data sources and then integrating them into our software system.

What advice would you give to current students who are interested in cybersecurity or data security about how they should prepare for a career in the industry?

Don’t hesitate to take classes that are new to you. Although they might be challenging initially due to unfamiliarity and an inevitable learning curve, exploring different areas of knowledge is invaluable for discovering what truly interests you. For instance, I recommend starting with an introductory course in cybersecurity or a related field, as I did during my sophomore year. When building a career, reaching out to experienced people is crucial. Many people, especially UD professors and alumni, are willing to help. Take advantage of speaking opportunities to engage with professionals, ask questions and distinguish yourself. I was one of only a few students who asked questions when Matthew visited Dr. Blanke’s class, which ultimately led to a job opportunity. To become a desirable candidate, show that you’re engaged, enthusiastic and genuinely interested. Express how your interests align with those of others and seek to learn more about their career paths. This approach not only broadens your understanding but also opens doors to new opportunities.

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