This is the first post in a series of interviews with iSchool alums about their careers and iSchool experiences; they’ll be providing a look into their jobs as well as advice for your time in the iSchool. Our first interviewee is two-time iSchool alum Lance Hayden, who holds both an MSIS and a Ph.D from the iSchool. Lance has been the Chief Privacy and Security Officer at the Austin-based startup ePatientFinder for six months. He is also an adjunct instructor at the iSchool and teaches courses about security, privacy, and identity.
What are your job responsibilities?
I am the executive responsible for all data protection at my company, an Austin-based healthcare technology startup.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
Working with a vibrant and innovative team dedicated to changing the way clinical trials are conducted, and helping protect the information assets that make that possible, as well as the people and organizations we serve.
What have you learned from your job?
I’ve been working in the Information Security field for over twenty-five years. In that time I’ve learned just how amazing our technologies have become. They allow us to do things we would have never dreamed of even a few decades ago. But they also bring risks and vulnerabilities, challenges we have to meet if we are to continue to benefit from technology improvements.
What skills, knowledge, or experience would a student need to excel in a similar position?
Honestly, there are important and sought after roles in Information Security for just about everyone at the iSchool. You do not have to be highly technical, although there are certainly opportunities for those with technical skills. But one reason security has struggled is that many technology specialists struggle to understand people and how they use information, and that creates a lot of security risk. The most useful skills for budding InfoSec types are curiosity, the ability to communicate, and effective critical thinking. You can learn the concepts and lingo pretty easily.
What iSchool courses were most helpful to developing the skills for your job?
I finished my Masters degree a while back (1997), so things have changed. But for me, my best courses were a combination of technology and theory. Classes on databases, client-server computing, and programming stand side-by-side with theories of information science and courses on information policy as the ones that helped me most.
What are some other resources outside of school that you would recommend to students or have used yourself to develop skills?
Although still in the iSchool, take advantage of the Purple Shirts and the IT Lab. They are clutch for anyone seeking to get hands on knowledge. I couldn’t get enough so I became a Purple Shirt as well (do they still call the Lab staff that?) Outside of school, there are a lot of resources. Professional organizations like ISSA, ISACA, IAPP, and (ISC)2 all help security and privacy professionals understand and advance in their field.
What are some ways that students could begin networking in the information profession?
Do a capstone in a local company – that’s a great opportunity. But there are plenty of networking groups and events around Austin that can help you engage with our active startup and corporate communities. Also, go outside the school – UT is huge and has a lot of InfoSec experts all over campus. Find them!
What advice do you have for students in regards to careers as well as making the most out of their time at the iSchool?
Aim high and take advantage of the fact that you have essentially carved out a time in your life where you do nothing but learn. Don’t let anything else distract you from that or you’ll find you wasted a prime opportunity. And make sure you don’t discount the power of terminology and “lingo” when thinking careers. Many entry level positions in the technology field are more about knowing basic skills and “talking the talk” than about extensive expertise.
What did you do before attending the iSchool?
I worked for the CIA.
If you had a different career before coming to the iSchool and have transitioned into a new career, what advice do you have for iSchool students looking to do the same?
My career transition was more natural but still had its tensions. Basically, you have to stay flexible and open to opportunities you might not expect. Plans can easily become cages if you can’t bring yourself to deviate from them when it’s the right thing to do. You’re already taking a risk just changing careers, so run with it.
Thank you for the insights into your time as an MSIS student and your career, Lance!