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The Value of Liberal Arts in Cybersecurity: An Interview with Amber Boehm

Amber BoehmWhat value does someone with a liberal arts background bring to the cybersecurity industry? To find out, we spoke to someone with years of personal experience in the matter.  Meet Amber Boehm, manager for product marketing at Ivanti.*  

Q:  What do you do in your current role?

A:  At Ivanti we’re focused on bringing together IT tools and teams to more easily solve business challenges. We provide solutions across the IT spectrum. But, we also help these products and third-party solutions share the data they gather to provide visibility and insights across the organization. And we automate workflows across our solutions as well, so that disparate teams can complete tasks quickly and have more time to spend on core business goals.

My part of that is to help take our endpoint security and endpoint management products to market, provide insights into our buyers’ needs, and deliver the message of how we meet those needs. I’m also working to expand our marketing initiatives to verticals.

Q:  How did you choose your career path?

A:  I’ve always had an interest in science, math, English and history, but because my interests were so varied, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life.

My father encouraged me to have an interest in math and science- that’s where I really learned a love of those things. But I also learned from him a love of science fiction and reading in general, and ultimately I decided what I most wanted to do was write. So I pursued a B.A. in English.

“I knew I was going into a field where people still viewed liberal arts and English in a very narrow way.  But I didn’t.”

Q:  So, how did you first get started in tech and cybersecurity?

A:  After I graduated, I first went to work at a shoe store, and then a bank.  I knew that everyone has to pay their dues and you just have to find a way into something.

At the same time, I was creating AutoCAD drawings and writing operations and maintenance manuals for my dad who was a civil engineer, so I started getting some experience in another area.

And that’s what got me thinking that there were more opportunities.  I thought, my degree doesn’t limit me.  It actually enables me to be involved in science and technology- things I have a passion for- and to bring my love for writing to that.

I then discovered there was this thing called a technical writer, which was the perfect opportunity in which I could use my degree and be part of the technology field. And that’s where I got started: at an agency that catered to high-tech in Utah and California. I went on from there to write and teach not only technical content but to build their marketing writing business as well.

Q:  As someone with an English degree, what challenges did you find in this role?

A:  On my first day at the technical writing agency, they put on my desk a 500-page manual on every aspect of networking and said, “We need you to rewrite this.”  And then walked out the door.

And for a moment I panicked. I stared at the papers and thought what have I done? But then I calmed down and took it apart chapter by chapter.  I realized my English degree enables me to analyze each chapter, see if the flow makes sense, see if it’s explaining the technology properly for a tech layperson.  And once I started to take it apart like that, I realized I could absolutely do this.

Q:  What path, then, led you to your current role in the cybersecurity industry? Do you remember any pivotal moment that led you to where you are now?

A:  After the technical writing agency, I went to be a software project manager so I could work with software developers and learn more about code.

I did that for a couple of years and then something happened. Everyone who knows me knows I love fashion and weird shoes and outfits. I was at the mall with my husband one day when a woman came up to me and said, “I just love your look. What do you do? You must do something really creative! I can just tell that you’re an artist of some kind.”

So I told her I was a software project manager for a biomedical company. And my husband said, “That’s what I love about you. The way that you look is not reflected in your job at all.”

And I said, “Actually that’s what I don’t love.”

“I realized I had lost the intersection of creativity and tech, which is where I wanted to be.”

That’s when I went to work for an ad agency, where I got back to being able to pull those two things together.

After a few years I transitioned to the client side- and that’s where I am now- at a tech company that really wanted to change its image and create more fun, compelling, creative content.

Q:  What is the value of liberal arts in cybersecurity?

A:  One of the things you get from bringing in people who don’t have a technical background is people who think outside of the box.  They have an entirely different way of thinking about technology- the problems you can solve, the ways you can solve those problems, and the ways you can communicate the value of your product to your customers.

Another thing we’re seeing is that as Artificial Intelligence becomes more and more relevant, there’s the issue of creating technology that not only solves problems but is very human.  How do we create products that solve problems for people without taking humanity out of the equation?

“Those human ways of presenting a product come largely from people who bring sociology, psychology, English, or other different backgrounds into tech. They know how to make a connection with a customer rather than just delivering a product.”

Q:  What advice do you have for anyone interested in cybersecurity with a liberal arts degree?

A:  Know that if you set your mind to it you can do a large percentage of the things you want to do. If you have a passion for the liberal arts but you’re concerned with what you’re going to do with that degree, think about how what you have to offer could help an organization and start customizing your resume for that. Put them out there and try, try again. You will find somebody who will see in you the reason to give you the opportunity to use your skills and your insight to inform that organization even if you don’t have a degree in tech.

Liberal arts in tech and security is a concept that’s growing in popularity. In fact, there are more and more articles that declare the liberal arts invaluable to tech moving forward.

For more great advice, read the first post in our Women in Cybersecurity Series.

*Formerly at Ivanti, currently working as Director, Microsoft Threat Protection Product Marketing