From Marketing to Cybersecurity @ Microsoft – Bonnie Kearney, EMCS ’18

Congratulations to Bonnie Kearney, Brown University Executive Master in Cybersecurity (EMCS) Class of 2018, on her new role within the Security Operations Strategy and Management team at Microsoft. As a principal program manager, Kearney will drive security, privacy and accessibility website compliance in collaboration with experts across corporate functions including legal and regulatory affairs, corporate strategy, and engineering.

 Taking the cyber leap

Kearney built her successful 20+ years at Microsoft in various marketing, communications, and accessibility positions. She pivoted to cybersecurity when her boss asked her to change roles. The leadership team needed people who could help articulate Microsoft’s principled approach to security, privacy, and compliance in the cloud. According to Kearney, she initially had doubts about taking the role.

The bubble over my head said, ‘are you crazy?’ It was hard to imagine myself in a cyber-related role when my background is in accessibility marketing and communications. I told my boss as much and she reiterated that I had fully transferable skills and could learn the rest.

Acquiring knowledge to lead cyber

Despite her initial reservations, she made the move and developed a new-found passion for cyber. That’s when she started looking for a cyber degree program that reflected the seniority of her position.  She found Brown’s EMCS.

I was at a director level when I moved into cyber-related communications. I wanted an advanced degree that would prepare me to lead security programs at a strategic business level.  Certificate programs seemed too narrowly focused for what I wanted to accomplish.

Cybersecurity is so much more than encryption, hacking, and coding. I chose EMCS because it is designed to help a broad range of senior professionals transfer their critically needed expertise to address the global, business, technical and societal aspects of cybersecurity.

If everyone considered the whole scope of cybersecurity, and its importance to society, it would draw the interest of more people looking for work that has impact and meaning.

Bonnie Kearning ’18 (left) and Katie Jenkins ’18 (right)

Rising to the top of the class without a technical degree

Because Kearney’s background wasn’t in cyber, she found the technical aspects of EMCS challenging. But by the end of the Introduction to Computer Security module, she had a 104% average and was at the top of the class.

I did well in the technical coursework because I worked hard and learned a great deal from the program’s diverse cohort who brought their own backgrounds and experiences, said Kearney.  I also had the benefit of terrific lunchtime conversations with my co-workers at Microsoft, who were experienced, cyber professionals.  These discussions really helped bring the significance of my coursework to life.

She also commented on the value of her past marketing and communications experience to leading cyber.

It did surprise me how much the program curriculum exposed the value of my unique background and its relevance for leading cyber-related programs.  My expertise was transferable to our coursework and class discussions. This reinforcement and the validation I got from faculty and my peers in the program increased my motivation to speak up in the workplace, especially when I’m the only non-engineer in the room.

The growing importance of non-tech leadership skills in a connected world

When asked if she felt like a second-class citizen in cyber because of her non-traditional route to this field, she responded, not at all. There aren’t enough people to meet the demand for cyber talent. The importance of diversity and inclusion to keep the organization strong and healthy are imperatives articulated by her organization’s leadership regularly.   

The cybersecurity landscape is constantly changing. Success in cybersecurity requires adaptability, passion and curiosity.  It requires leaders that can navigate the technical, ethical and moral dimensions of our connected world as well.

A static certificate program would not have moved me along my career path in the way I needed. I’m grateful to EMCS for helping me advance my career in alignment with my passion for making technology safer and easier to use for people of all abilities, and for giving me the broad-based knowledge required to lead cybersecurity programs now and in the future.

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