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3 Important Lessons For A Privacy Career: Notes From The Women In Privacy Career Panel

In recognition of Women’s History Month, Ethyca recently hosted the Women in Privacy Career Panel, featuring a group of accomplished privacy leaders. It was inspiring and informative to hear these women share insights they’ve gained over their careers. From the panel discussion and Q&A, we identify three common threads from the panelists when it comes to building a career in privacy tech.

Before recapping the main take-aways, we first highlight the women who graciously joined our panel:

  • Dr. Jennifer King: Privacy and Data Policy Fellow at Stanford University’s Human-Centered AI Institute
  • Emerald de Leeuw: Global Head of Privacy at Logitech
  • Deven McGraw: Lead, Data Stewardship & Data Sharing at Invitae
  • Patricia Thaine: CEO and Co-founder at Private AI

Ethyca’s VP Product, Kelly Huang, and Developer Community Operations Lead, Maria Silverhardt, moderated the panel.

Lesson 1. As you begin your privacy career: Do some homework on training programs and make the most of a fortuitous time to enter the field.

Compared to just a decade ago, the opportunities in privacy tech and public-interest technology are vast. Since the rollout of GDPR and increased public awareness around data privacy, organizations of all sectors are recognizing the value of hiring privacy professionals. Companies are showing particular interest in hiring people who can build privacy as a proactive design consideration, a core responsibility in the field of privacy engineering.

Whether someone is interested in human-computer interaction, privacy-preserving machine learning, or other areas of privacy tech, the panelists mention that a training or graduate program is often beneficial. Prior to enrolling in a graduate program, explore the course catalog and faculty directory. Learn about privacy-related courses and research happening at the institution. The panelists also encourage aspiring professionals to get their names out there, for instance by publishing a blog or an existing project that relates to privacy. Building a public presence and name recognition can be invaluable in distinguishing oneself in a competitive applicant pool.

Lesson 2. For laddering up in privacy: Own your unconventional path to privacy, and use your background to establish yourself as a unique authority.

At least in the United States, undergraduate programs rarely focus solely on privacy. As a result, privacy professionals often come to the field with diverse domain backgrounds. While privacy law is one of the most established categories of privacy careers, the panelists emphasized that a law degree is not a requirement for a career in privacy. The panelists bring a mix of professional and academic experiences, ranging from UX and computer science to public health and law.

Aspiring professionals can view privacy as a means to an end, and they can use their distinct domain backgrounds to gain a competitive edge. Privacy concerns are at the forefront of any field that relies on personal data—so virtually any field in 2022 benefits from a privacy-informed perspective. As someone grows in their privacy experiences, either in graduate school or in the workplace, they should view their background in another field as a differentiator. For instance, a background in healthcare can combine with privacy expertise to give a candidate a competitive profile in sought-out roles for healthcare privacy experts.

For any discipline, it can be useful to ask, “How can we leverage data in this field for good, in a trustworthy way?” Developing a response to that question can help illuminate the next career move. To see how organizations across disciplines and sectors are hiring to address unique privacy needs, check out our Privacy Engineering Jobs Board.

Lesson 3. To sustain yourself in your privacy career: Build a support network that complements your professional and personal strengths.

When considering obstacles to professional success, a common refrain among panelists was doubting their own abilities. To overcome this, the panelists encouraged rising professionals to seek out a community that understands their goals. This support could be in the form of finding funders who thoroughly appreciate the value-add of a new product. It could also come from finding a mentor who understands personal goals. Mentorship can lead to new career opportunities and long-term advising relationships—both outcomes highlighted by our panelists.

Privacy is inherently interdisciplinary, and success in privacy tech requires more knowledge than any one person can hold. A team that can cover one another’s knowledge gaps is crucial. Furthermore, being able to communicate across distinct stakeholder groups—funders, engineers, marketers, and more—can be key to getting a privacy tech project off the ground.

Continuing the conversation

Numerous attendees mentioned the group Women in Privacy and Security (WISP) as an important resource to support their professional development. We encourage you to follow the panelists’ accounts on Twitter or LinkedIn. You can learn more about these panelists and many more leading figures in our directory of women leaders in privacy tech.

To the panelists and the attendees, thank you very much for sharing your time and wisdom with us.

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