Dr. Marie Deschene’s career path did not initially look like it would include a life in IT.

Her first venture into education after high school was focused on medicine. But a problem with her hip forced her to reconsider that career path, as it became too painful to stand for long periods of time, something required in patient care.

At that point, she already had some exposure to IT. “I was teaching computer courses at night, things like basic Word classes,” Deschene says. “After realizing med school was not going to work, I got a job overseeing a Canadian government server. Then in the late 1990s, I moved to Oracle in San Francisco, working on Y2K projects.”

 

A Wide-Ranging IT Journey

Once the year 2000 had passed and the need for Y2K software updating was over, Deschene worked in software development for government finance systems for Oracle before moving back to the northwest to work with Microsoft. An opportunity to work with a project in India for a year came up and Deschene embraced it. But she never stopped wanting to learn more. “I’m always thinking, ‘What will I do next?’” she says. That led her to acquire two master’s degrees, one in business and one in information security. The latter was especially important to her: “It’s an area I’m very interested in,” she says. “Information security is a very relevant field today, and really, it’s still in its infancy stage.”

Those degrees and work experience have enabled her to move into information security projects with a large manufacturer in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the knowledge gained from her master’s degrees and her new role, she continued to feel that furthering her education would have great value to her and began researching PhD programs.

 

The Capella PhD Process

Her employer recommended Capella University to her, in no small part because it’s designated by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense. She started in 2013 and completed her PhD in Information Assurance and Security in 2016 after having written a dissertation that examined security in all phases of software development. The flexibility offered by the online format was appealing to her. “I liked the online approach because I could go at my own pace,” she explains. “Things I had a background in I could do more quickly. I started with two courses, then went to three each quarter, and my last semester I took four courses.”

The dissertation took her longer than she expected. “I thought it would take me three quarters, but it took five,” she says, noting the rigor of the dissertation process. “But the instructors were great, very approachable, and I really clicked with my mentor.”

 

A Woman in a Man’s Field

Deschene believes that the PhD gives her increased credibility in the IT field, and she thinks it will make her more valuable if she decides to seek a new employer in the future, especially in a field where women have been underrepresented. “I’ve seen some problems along the way,” she says. “I’ve seen women being talked over by men at meetings, or women not being accepted in general unless they were in management and policy positions. In the trenches, it’s still difficult. There’s a hierarchical nature that’s traditionally been male dominated, but women are making progress.”

That’s why she believes it’s important for women to enter the field, and to distinguish themselves educationally. “Education can be your ticket in the door. Once you’re in, you learn so much by doing the job, especially if you’re inquisitive. If you prove you can do the job, you’ll be fine, although the hierarchy is still present.”

Besides, according to Deschene, women also bring something intangible to the field. “Women’s brains are different from men’s,” she says. “They work differently. We need both in IT.”

 

 

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