Career Notes 12.13.20
Ep 28 | 12.13.20

Andrea Little Limbago: Look at the intersection of the of humans and technology. [Social Science]


Andrea Little Limbago: My name is Andrea Little Limbago. I am a computational social scientist.

Andrea Little Limbago: What I wish I'd known is that there is no straight line between what you think you want to do and then where you end up going. Mine was very circuitous. And so, you know, I started off doing an undergrad was a romance language and government major so I really began getting back to my love of international relations. I started there. And then took about a year off, worked in Breckenridge, Colorado, as a waitress and you prepared for grad school.

Andrea Little Limbago: And then in grad school, it was a political science, new focus on international relations and methodology as my core components and by methodology, that basically means modeling in a quantitative way. How do you model everything from your regime-type democracies to authoritarian regimes to what, you know, the relationship between your military personnel and foreign direct investment?

Andrea Little Limbago: After grad school and I got my degree, I taught briefly at New York University and then the Department of Defense reached out to me at a conference and I chatted with them and I ended up going to work at the Joint Warfare Analysis Center, which is in Dahlgren, Virginia, and ended up leading a team there of computational social scientists working on a broad range of factors. A lot of it was counterterrorism, but that's actually where I started getting into more of the cybersecurity angle. But we were one of the first teams to really start thinking about the intersection of cybersecurity and geopolitics and quantitative modeling.

Andrea Little Limbago: An important thing that it taught me working there was, you know, in academia, you have not an endless amount of time, but a lot of time to thoroughly do your research, to double check your data, to do everything. You'll work in the Department of Defense and it's everything from, you know, we need an answer in the next hour, to we need a couple of days to a couple of weeks, and so the time horizons really varied. And it initially is very, very uncomfortable to provide some sort of answer within an hour because you haven't been able to check all the data. They're always going be to all these assumptions that you have to learn how to take what you know, provide the assumptions that are there, and still give you know your your best input that you can and being able to turn that quickly and make sure that also it's relevant to to a higher audience as well, to more of an executive level audience. It's actually a really tough skill. You know, being able to do research as operationally-relevant is extremely rewarding.

Andrea Little Limbago: I work on the geopolitics of cybersecurity, so I look at how technologies and security interact with what's going on in global events. What I love is doing research and helping support areas that I believe fundamentally are linked to our own national security and national security is linked to the preservation of democracy. That, to me is just amazing. And it's you know, it's areas that I love and it's in an area that I think is one of the most important missions of our time right now. And with democracy on the decline around the globe, we need more and more people looking at ways to help preserve democracy within this digital era that we find ourselves in now, because there isn't a playbook for it that that's sort of one of my my broader goals is to help inspire and encourage other folks that with a similar kind of background to come into this area because we need more people that look at the intersection of the of humans and technology and so that's where I like to focus and that's where I like to encourage others to come in as well.

Andrea Little Limbago: When I first really was in cybersecurity, I think the biggest challenge I had was getting asked almost on a weekly basis, you know, what is a social scientist doing in cybersecurity? And when keep getting asked that time and time again, you kind of start wondering, like, what am I doing here? Yeah, they weren't doing it in a in a malicious way. They were like, well, that seems weird. And so you do have to kind of question what you are doing in that industry. And I think we do struggle a bit as an industry to open the doors to to more people from different disciplines. And so, you know, justifying my existence with an industry, I think was something that it took me a while to overcome. And I would say I still I still ponder it from time to time, but I'm always much more confident in my responses on that. And the great thing is I actually have over the last year or two, that question has stopped being posed. And I think it's because we're finally at a point where we're starting to see that there are humans behind all the technology, and given that you need social scientists. So the challenge of knowing how you fit in was something that I struggled with quite a bit.

Andrea Little Limbago: When people think of cybersecurity, they still think of the hooded hacker and, well, that's an important part of it, but that's not the only job track that you can take. There's just so many different areas within cybersecurity. And we have a huge gap right now as far as having the skill sets and people and the workplace openings that are out there, so I would say get involved and read.

Andrea Little Limbago: You know, hopefully, that I helped open doors to both you know the kind of research and the integration of the more rigorous social sciences and to think about cybersecurity, that opening the doors also just to broader your disciplines and different people coming into the industry being part of that transition that makes cybersecurity much more accessible for everyone. Yeah, that would be great if something along those lines happened. So we'll see.