Kate Dillon: On Cybersecurity and Being WISE

Community Profile

Kate Dillon had a dream: to be a full-time MLIS student. Her plan to make that dream a reality was: trade a full-time job for a part-time, get accepted to San José State University School of Information, become super involved in LIS extracurriculars and conferences, and obtain financial support for her education. Mission accomplished.

Full disclosure: the dream wasn’t quite that simple. Professionally, Dillon had worked her way through the nonprofit technology world, starting with data entry and then working with database management and platform integration. She became, through self-learning and sheer determination, the IT person for her employers—the one who tackles the projects no one else can. Eventually she hit a ceiling, and thought that going back to school would provide opportunities for a better wage in the notoriously high-cost-of-living San Francisco Bay Area.

But it wasn’t just about the money. Dillon was done working just to work. “I wanted a degree in something I was fascinated by, something that would take care of me, and had a lot to offer.” The gauntlet was thrown.

“Cybersecurity haunted me relentlessly with every job I had before going back to grad school,” Dillon confesses. Security issues came up again and again in her work with nonprofits—donations with compliance and regulation requirements, donor database access, even simple requests to tag pictures of donors on social media. And these aren’t just issues for nonprofits, Dillon points out: “Anyone in a LIS profession is going to be dealing with online programs—and if you’re doing that, cybersecurity will haunt you. Privacy is paramount!”

So, now an iSchool student, Dillon signed up for INFO 287, Cybersecurity, taught by Dr. Tonia San Nicolas-Rocca. And then she became WISE.

As an extremely active participant in the course, Dillon showed such interest in and talent for cybersecurity that San Nicolas-Rocca recommended  she apply for the Women’s Institute in Summer Enrichment (WISE). Held at Cornell University, the one-week residential summer program “brings together graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors from all disciplines that are interested in ubiquitous secure technology and the social, political and economic ramifications that are associated with this technology.” As a participant, Dillon would have the opportunity to take classes, network with computer science and engineering professionals, and learn more about her true loves, big data and cybersecurity. It was a perfect match.

Part of Dillon’s master plan was to attend conferences and meet people working in particular fields to determine if she could see herself doing that type of work. So she did.

On Conferences
“People always think, ‘I can’t afford it!’ But it’s an investment in your future. Don’t shortchange yourself by not providing that opportunity. Most of the conferences offer financial support, especially women in technology conferences. Just apply for it!”

Dillon received a full scholarship from SJSU to attend her first conference, the ASIS&T Annual Meeting. The scholarship covered travel expenses, room and board, and registration fees. When scholarships aren’t available, Dillon volunteers at conferences in return for waived fees, doing things like live-blogging at the Information Architecture Summit and Research Data Access & Preservation Summit. To date she’s attended a total of seven conferences, including the 2014 WISE program at Cornell.

Career Pathways
“I investigated career paths early on and picked the ones that interested me the most: Information Organization and Web Programing/Information Architecture. Then I took courses from both that overlapped. I focused more on the info design and retrieval, info-seeking behaviors, how people interact with technology—all of that that’s super interesting to me.”

In the job market, the fact that Dillon is well versed in cybersecurity is a huge advantage. “In our field in particular, not many people with an LIS degree are well versed in cybersecurity. If you’re working online, it is affecting you, and it’s a huge issue.”

On Becoming WISE
“There were about twenty women in the [WISE] seminar, and all of them had engineering computer science degrees, masters, doctorates. Many were faculty members—women who were so self-possessed and intelligent and wanted to go out in the world and make a positive difference and actually knew how they could go about it. By going to the seminar, I realized they were all just people, but they’d achieved these extraordinary things. I realized I could be them if I wanted to, and that’s what I want to do.”

“To realize how capable I am—it was amazing. Just to have gotten that out of the conference was life changing. It’s one of those moments in grad school where I felt really validated.”