Computer Science – languages, creativity and endless possibilities

October 29, 2020

Hello! My name is Melanie and I work at the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) in the Canadian Center for Cyber Security (CCCS), where I am the Acting Director of Cryptographic Security and Systems Development. What does that mean? I work on some complex challenges relating to keys, codes and classified information with a team of very talented people. How did I get to where I am today? Perseverance, curiosity, a desire to solve problems and relentless optimism. That, and help from many amazing people.

Here’s a bit about me: I grew up in a super small village in New Brunswick. I wasn’t popular; I was sensitive, and pretty nerdy. I loved to learn and was curious about how things worked! I also really enjoyed singing, playing piano, drama class, math/science (solving puzzles) and playing sports! Honestly, I just kind of fell into computer science and I am really glad that I did. With my music experience, I considered going into classical singing in university but I decided to study computer science because I was good at math and I knew that I would probably be able to get a good job and support myself once I obtained my degree. Getting my degree was a challenge, but I learned a lot about myself, met some amazing people and gained a lot of valuable experience through a student program, which led me to CSE! In my career I’ve travelled the world, participated in lots of working groups, led IT innovation events and have even had the opportunity to work and live in the United States as a technical liaison for CSE.

I’m sure this is no surprise, but there are just not enough girls and women in IT right now. We need you because of your uniqueness! What I loved about studying computer science was expanding my mind; I learned to work through challenges and gained confidence in my abilities by asking questions and being curious about how things worked. I realized that I could be bold and contribute to group discussions, because I often brought up viewpoints that my male colleagues had not considered. I learned a lot by interacting with some super fun people, and unleashed my creativity through various activities and group assignments – everything from drawing system mockups to figuring out technology required for a fresh food delivery service (trust me, it was a new and exciting initiative back in 2002!). Sure, there were hard times and tough concepts that took me extra effort to master, but it was worth it as my career has taken me to places that I never imagined!

What I have learned is that communication, curiosity, playing with technology, asking for help, and developing friendships can help take you very far in life. I honestly believe that a career in STEM/cyber security, including computer science, is something that anyone can do. You will continuously learn as technology evolves. The concepts you will learn in this type of program can be applied to things like setting up your own home network, building an app to help you with a hobby, writing stories, analyzing how to tackle a problem and even how to speak other languages. As a former professional opera singer and music teacher who has learned French and Italian, the fundamental computer science concepts that I learned in my degree (programming languages, algorithms, logic) has helped me be a better performer and human, a more well-rounded individual. Technology underpins not only software companies, social media organizations and cyber security firms, but also online music stores, fashion design software, television and animated programs, health care, sports, teaching and more. The opportunities in this field are literally endless.

So why is it so important to understand computer science today? Well, did you know that computer science is one of the foundations of cyber security? I am going to guess that most of you probably have a computer, phone, tablet, video game console, or smart TV. Most of us use the internet all the time for a variety of reasons. We use it to have video chats with our friends and family, play games and look up how to make epic Halloween costumes! Also, because of COVID, many of us have shifted to learning virtually online, or working from home. Now, more than ever, we need to make sure that we’re safe when we interact online.

Why do we have to be so careful? The cyber threats out there are real – I hear all about them every single day in my job. The reality is, there are people out there with bad intentions who take advantage of fast changing technology and people with low cyber security awareness. The global nature of the Internet allows these bad people to be physically located anywhere in the world and they can still affect Canadian systems. Cyber security is a shared responsibility and a team sport! It is only by working together that we can ensure Canadians stay safe – all of you included! There are some excellent resources out there to help you. I recommend checking out the GetCyberSafe website for all kinds of information on how to secure your devices, keep your apps up to date and learn why it is SO important to use unique passwords. Think about what someone could do to your life or reputation if they guessed one of your passwords and could suddenly get into all your devices, social media accounts or your email – yikes! Be creative and think like a bad guy for a few minutes… it’s rather scary what could be done. I challenge you to counter that fear by learning how to protect yourself and helping to educate others who may not have as much experience on the internet. You can also test your cyber security knowledge by taking the Get Cyber Safe Checkup!

Last thing I want to share with you is a two-part challenge. First, will you think about pursuing a career in computer science and how that could impact your life and help the lives of the people around you? It is important for females from all backgrounds to consider this and to look at how we can better contribute to IT advances in the future. Think about how you could channel your passions or things that you love to do into a career in IT. Second, we also need to be good cybersecurity ambassadors for our families and friends, especially with those who might not be as familiar with technology. Do you perhaps have a grandparent who’s new to using the internet? Help educate and empower them on good cyber security practices. Print off the resource guide for seniors available on the Get Cyber Safe website and talk to your family about good cyber hygiene. We can all do our part!


Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, I am always looking for new people to mentor and chat with. You can reach out to me anytime on Twitter, @mellyanderson.

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