Career Notes 4.23.23
Ep 146 | 4.23.23

Maria Varmazis: Combining cyber and space. [Space]


Maria Varmazis: Hello, my name is Maria Varmazis and I am the host of T-Minus a daily space podcast for the space industry.

Maria Varmazis: I grew up in the age of Hubble, so for me, I wanted to be an astronomer. I was really interested in tinkering with things. My father was an engineer, my mother's extremely practical. She's an artist and a writer, so I loved building things and making stuff, one of the first skills I learned as a little kid was how to solder and we always had computer parts and things around the house, and I would build my own machines, build my own computers, and I was just very interested in science and engineering as a kid, but like astronomy especially was my strong, strong love.

Maria Varmazis: So I kept joining computer clubs, I would, uh, I was the person who would help, like the IT department after school. I was the person who did the, the school websites back when the internet was new and nobody knew how to do websites. Anything I could get my hands on that was sort of techy and nerdy is the area where I would be focused. When I was in high school, I decided I wanted to be a computer scientist, given that I loved computers and I wasn't as good at physics as I, I think I needed to be, to become an astronomer. I figured computer science might be a nice home for me, so I applied to a bunch of computer science engineering schools and eventually got into one, thankfully.

Maria Varmazis: That whole thing about me not being as great at math and science as I needed to be, uh, became extremely painful when I was in my my engineering school years. So I enjoyed the classes that required me to think about systems, things about logic or how systems worked. But I hated the classes I was taking regarding the career I wanted. So something was very, very wrong. Um, so two years of engineering school completed, I realized I needed a major course change and I had no idea what to do. So I dropped outta college and uh, I took about nine months with no college at all. I took a data entry job because again, I was a nerd and it was a job I was good at. I could type fast and I understood how computers worked. And I did a data entry job at, uh, a B2B publishing house called Penwell. And I started understanding from that sort of how the publishing industry worked from the inside. 

Maria Varmazis: I transferred to UMass Amherst, my local state school. And I did the journalism program there in their honors college. And I had a blast, I loved it. It could not have been more different from my first two years in school where I was basically constantly miserable. And I graduated summa cum laude from UMass Amherst in, uh, in my journalism program and got a minor in Japanese cuz I just wanted to for fun. So, um, I'm very glad I, I changed course as painful as it was at the time.

Maria Varmazis: I wasn't sure what to do with myself next. It was sort of felt like a repeat of what I went through in college, where "oh, great. I have to reinvent what I'm gonna do with myself yet again." While applying to many, many jobs trying to figure out what I was gonna do with my life, I saw that cybersecurity companies in the Boston area were looking for what they were calling, uh, corporate storytellers, which nowadays I think we would call content marketing. I ended up getting hired at Sophos to do that and that's where I started learning about cybersecurity, on the job training, working with a lot of people there who understood how cybersecurity worked. Um, and were doing it every day and a lot of times people would be surprised when they found out that I had some sort of geek knowledge, computer science knowledge. It helped me quite a bit in understanding what people were talking about.

Maria Varmazis: So that's, it's such a funny story with that. Um, I've always loved spaces we've talked about. Um, and I happened to, uh, apply for a program at NASA last year and, uh, they accepted me. I got to be at NASA Goddard and that was just a great reminder that I really love space. This is something that I've been a nerd about my whole life, even if it's been on background sometimes, uh, as a treky it's always kind of not then been that far in the background. I guess some folks who had been hearing me on, uh, some of the podcasts that I've been on the cybersecurity podcast, like Smashing Security, didn't know that I was interested in space. And so it's sort of an opportunity arose. I just love that that's how it happened, that I just tweeted about me going to NASA and, uh, folks at the CyberWire saw, and I just, and it was totally by chance on that, that front. I feel like I just got incredibly lucky on that front and I'm very, very grateful. Cause I never thought I'd get to bring my passion for space to the forefront and, and make that an evolution in my career but here I am and here's T-Minus. 

Maria Varmazis: The big one for me is always, you hear it a lot in tech, but for real, don't be afraid of failure. Uh, it, it, it can hurt a lot. I can attest it hurts a lot to go through failure. I'm not gonna pretend it doesn't. And it is very humbling every time it happens. But no education is ever wasted. I have learned so much every single time I have failed. Everything I have ever done has helped me make a step to something else that's new. And I never thought I'd be doing space work professionally. I would never pretend that failure isn't painful, but it is an incredible teaching tool. So if you feel like you've had a huge career fail or a really big misstep, you can still pivot from that and you can make that into something. And, um, I have found that when you are honest with people about failures or mistakes that you have made, most people are really, um, understanding and I think you just do what you have to do. You have to survive, you have to move forward. And you just, if you have a failure, you have to take the next steps.

Maria Varmazis: So that's, that's my big one. And the second thing is that, um, since I've worked so long in communications and sort of the STEM world, um, a lot of people who work in telling stories or communication, they seem to sort of downplay what they bring to the table, and that they don't think that what they offer is really all that valuable compared to technical skills and I just wanna tell those folks who might be thinking about like communications and cybersecurity or marketing or corp comms in any kind of way, what you do is very valuable. And don't downplay that. If you're a person who is telling those stories, you are working in cybersecurity, you can say that it's okay. You have permission and you know a lot more than you think you do. Um, so don't, don't feel like you don't contribute cuz you are very valuable. 

Maria Varmazis: I hope I made their, their lives and careers a little easier. I hope I was useful, uh, in that I, I provided some utility, but most, most importantly, I hope they'll just remember that they'll remember my laugh, they'll remember how I made them feel. Hopefully I made them feel good and, and a little more confident in what they're trying to do and that's kind of what I'm all about.