A self-described “encryption nut,” Dr. Chanel Suggs has tapped her lifelong fascination with codes and cryptography to build a successful career as a security analyst. In 2013, she decided to take her expertise to the next level by completing a doctoral degree in cybersecurity from Capitol Technology University. With more than 15 years of experience in the field, Suggs has worked for major corporations and now runs her own firm, Wyvern Security, in addition to chairing the IT department at the University of Cumberlands.
Not only does she maintain a busy professional career, but Dr. Suggs is also a tireless advocate for cybersecurity and STEM education. A sought-after speaker, she has appeared on CNN and other major networks, and gave the keynote address at the 2017 CISO Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In an interview for Capitol, Dr. Suggs explains how she first became drawn to the cybersecurity field, discusses her research, and explains why she sees educational outreach as a top priority for the country, particularly with regard to disadvantaged youth.
You’ve been active in cybersecurity outreach and education, and in promoting diversity in the field. What are some of the trends you’ve encountered?
I do a lot in terms of promoting women in cyber, because there is a need for diversity in this field. Women – especially minority women -- still face hurdles in entering the field and obtaining career opportunities. It often feels as though we have to work twice as hard compared to our male counterparts.
Things are changing, gradually, but there is still a long way to go. In the boardroom at most companies, the imbalance is still all too visible.
You’re passionate about STEM education. How do you see its role?
We have a situation now where many young people can’t find good jobs, and at the same time jobs are not being filled in tech fields, including cyber. There is a learning curve in these fields so it’s crucial to build the foundation early – in elementary and middle school. We have to reach out to kids at that age, tell them about the opportunities in STEM, give them positive role models, and spur them to be interested and engaged. This will help bring about a stronger economy and a better society.
In North Carolina, where I’m based, some of the school systems offer excellent programs – but mainly at the high school level. We need to start earlier, encourage kids to think out of the box. Children are really creative at that age and there’s an opportunity to tap that innate creativity in ways that can help them build a solid career path when they’re older.
This is already being done by private schools. But not everyone has access to a private school education. By expanding these opportunities so that we can reach kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, we can change lives and reduce crime, poverty, and despair. We need public schools to invest in technology education and in areas like cyber. It would give these kids something to aspire to, boost their creativity, and help them prepare for their futures.
When you began your career in cybersecurity, the field was still not well known. What drew your interest?
I’ve always been interested in codes and encryption – it’s just so fascinating to come across something that has been encrypted and know that there is a message which it is concealing. That said, I didn’t start out with a plan to go into cyber. In college, I was pre-med.
During that time, the 9/11 attacks happened. As part of the general dialogue about national security, there was more discussion about the need to protect computer networks and digital assets, since these could provide another point of vulnerability. This heightened my interest in computers and computer science. I needed to take some electives, so I chose an intro to computer science class, fell in love with the field, and decided to switch.
What were your reasons for undertaking a doctoral degree?
I wanted to take my career a step further and gain more in-depth knowledge. A doctoral program provides an opportunity to delve more deeply into the field compared to either a bachelor’s or master’s degree. You’re not only learning more about the field, but you’re undertaking original research that could potentially help the future of humankind.
One of my colleagues at Cisco told me about Capitol’s program and professors. The faculty at Capitol are accessible and they go out of their way to help students not only understand the concepts but apply them in practice. For example, in Professor Charles Cayot’s network perimeter class, he set things up so that you felt you were working with a real-life network and dealing with real scenarios. That makes students dig deeper in order to gain the understanding needed to tackle the assignments.
Can you tell us about your doctoral research?
My dissertation addressed the use of fuzzy logic in system recovery following a malware attack.
What are your future plans, now that you’ve earned your doctorate?
I plan to continue my research. I’m particularly interested in the security implications of artificial intelligence (AI).
To learn more about Capitol Technology University’s doctorate of science in cybersecurity program, please click here. Capitol also has a variety of programs in cyber at the undergraduate and masters levels.