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Tara M. Clapper

College Students Entering Tech: Interview with Christine Fossaceca, Villanova University

Tara M. Clapper
College Students Entering Tech: Interview with Christine Fossaceca, Villanova University

College graduation season is upon us! Join SEMrush for New Grads Week, which features Q&As, podcasts, blog posts and surveys on how technology has changed in our personal and working lives since we left school. Join the conversation on social media with #NewGradsWeek.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Philly Women in Technology Summit with SEMrush Community Manager Kathleen Garvin and Marketing Associate Anneliese Sparks. We encountered a variety of women in technology including Christine Fossaceca, a student at Villanova University. Christine graduates in May of 2016. She's majoring in Computer Engineering with a minor in Business.

Tara M. Clapper: What is your desired field and dream job? If you could work for any company right now, what would you pick?

Christine Fossaceca: I would love to be the person designing the security system for our computer networks, and protecting the U.S. from cyber attacks. I want to be the Director of the NSA.

TMC: In what ways has college prepared you for this job field? What essential skills do you feel like you still need to learn?

CF: I have taken a course in cybersecurity and learned about cryptography, and my senior design project is with Lockheed Martin doing malware analysis. I still need to build my coding base, and I want to attend a conference like Black Hat to take courses on specific areas of cybersecurity. I don't have a "specialty" yet, so I want pursue a Master's or PhD, and really get deep into a field, and become an expert.

TMC: A lot of 'entry level' jobs ask for two to three years of experience. Do you feel like you have that through previous jobs or internships? How do you intend to tackle this expectation?

CF I have only had two internships in my life, one was in high school at MedImmune, and one was last summer at Northrop Grumman. This summer, I am interning at Northrop Grumman again. So, I think my real world experience still totals less than one year. But, if I saw this restriction on an application, I would still apply, because one of my strengths is that even with a steep learning curve, I can get the hang of things relatively quickly.  If I had the opportunity for an interview or essay with the application, I would explain my ability to learn quickly, which could compensate for the experience I lack.

TMC: We met at the Philly Women in Technology Summit where we discussed how women are still a minority in technical fields. How do you prepare to handle the potential sexism you may face in the industry?

CF: I like to read interviews of different women (in ALL industries) who are successful so that I can learn from them. I especially like the advice I read in an interview with Barbara Walters: "Get in early, stay late, and don't complain. Fight the big fights."

First, I think that is great life advice for anyone to follow, not just women. Second, she really had a hard time starting out, because she was talented, but didn't receive a lot of the recognition she deserved, due to some sexism among her peers. She had a boss at one time who really limited her because she was a woman, but she still prevailed because her hard work eventually paid off. Even though today there are a lot more rules about discrimination that support women in the workplace, I believe that everyone eventually will reap what they sow, so if you work hard, your rewards will come in time.

TMC: What assets does your generation have to offer in the tech/digital field? 

CF: My generation is really tech savvy by nature. A three year old can pick up an iPad and take a selfie without being taught how. One thing that happens to people around the age of my parents and grandparents: when they don't know what's wrong with technology, they freeze. They don't want to break it more, so they don't press any more buttons. Technology is less foreign to my generation, because we have grown up with computers, and have grown up breaking electronics.

We embody a certain fearlessness when it comes electronics – we click ALL of the buttons. And it takes that fearlessness, being unafraid to break things, and to TRY things, that will lead us further in electronic innovations.

TMC: What's your advice for high school graduates entering college who are interested in the tech industry?

CF: Learn to code! I wish I learned programming in high school, because it is a really valuable tool, and it's good to learn as many languages as possible to broaden your foundation (knowing scripting languages, object oriented languages etc.). If you start in high school, it will set you up to learn even more in college.

Do you have advice for students heading into tech? Please leave your comments below.

Christina seeks a job and professional connections in cybersecurity. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.


Tara M. Clapper is Technical Editor at SEMrush and Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, a website celebrating women in geek culture. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tara M. Clapper is Content Development Specialist at Express Writers and Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative, a website celebrating women in geek culture. Tara is a prolific content creator and an accomplished editor, having written and edited thousands of blog posts, small business websites, and other inbound marketing content through the course of her career. Tara enjoys blogging about SEO copywriting, content management, corporate culture, personal branding, networking and LinkedIn. She has over a decade of experience in digital publishing. Connect with her on Twitter @irishtara

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