Q&A with Sarah Tennant
Sector Development Director & Cyber Initiatives at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)
Q. How do you use cyber safety and the training you received in your everyday life?
A. I am not a technical expert, I do however, understand the critical importance of having good cyber hygiene, many cyber incidents are a result of phishing attempts. I have utilized my knowledge of the sophistication of phishing and social engineering to protect my data and work connections, good cyber hygiene has carried into being more vigilant with my personal data. I recognize that who I work for and what I do makes me a target for some bad actors, and unfortunately sometimes they can be very convincing. Changing passwords often, updating software and questioning the validity of an email may be tedious but is a good way to protect yourself from the bad guys, you cannot become complacent when it comes to your security. We lock our doors and protect our assets; we need to have the same mindset when it comes to our personal information.
Q. Why was the UPCI and training important to you?
A. UPCI and the work that they are doing in creating a community of interest around cybersecurity in the upper peninsula is a critical asset in developing a strong workforce in cybersecurity. The need for cybersecurity professionals outweighs the availability of individuals that have the needed skills and training. There are currently over 7,000 job openings in the state of Michigan and almost 500,000 nationwide. Michigan has a large footprint in high-tech automotive, manufacturing and defense industries, these industries are rapidly becoming tech industries, cars have millions of lines of code embedded in their systems and connected cars can generate up to 4 terabytes of data every day. It is imperative that we have a workforce that is focused on not only protecting data, but also the critical infrastructure that is needed to enable these new technologies. The UPCI provides training and programming that is getting the next generation excited about these types of careers, while providing opportunities to upskill our current workforce.
Q. What is your affiliation to the UPCI?
A. The MEDC has worked to expand the cyber hub network in Michigan and in 2018 provided an opportunity for a hub to be established in the upper peninsula, with a focus on growing cyber talent in one of the most remote regions in the country. UPCI was chosen to serve as a magnet site for the cybersecurity ecosystem in the UP. I helped lead the efforts in the hub expansion project aligning with the MEDC mission of achieving long-term economic prosperity for Michiganders by investing in communities, enabling the growth of good jobs, and promoting Michigan’s strong image worldwide.
Q. What do you hope the future is for cybersecurity and safety?
A. My hope is that more people will have a better understanding about the importance of cybersecurity not just to protect their own personal data but to understand how they can be a part of the solution to many cybersecurity issues. As the world becomes more connected, we need as many people as possible (not just those that are looking to get into the field) to understand the importance of cybersecurity. Whether someone is an engineer or a farmer it is imperative that they are thinking about security in their processes, everyone from the CEO to the communications team in a company all have a role to play in a good cybersecurity plan. Cybersecurity is a team sport and to be effective everyone on the team has to participate.
Q. What job/role do you currently have?
A. I currently hold the title of Sector Development Director & Cyber Initiatives at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). In my role within the Market Development Team at the MEDC is to build programming and partnerships to create a robust cyber ecosystem within the state. I collaborate with other state agencies, academia, and industry to implement creative ways to grow the cyber ecosystem within Michigan. This includes making sure that businesses are aware of the threats that they face, helping to develop a workforce pipeline, and developing assets that can overall help the state take a pro active approach to enhancing their cyber posture.
Q. What was/is your college major/minor?
A. I was a visual arts major with a minor in art history at the University of Windsor, proof that you never know where your path is going to take you. I see a lot of similarities between the folks that were in my art program and some of the great cybersecurity experts that I have met. There is a very technical side to the industry but there is also a component of looking at things from a different lens. I was never one to excel on the technical side, my role within the ecosystem is more on the creative and programmatic side, while understanding the importance of the mission.
Q. Why would you recommend someone take a course?
A. Everyone should explore their options, the cybersecurity industry is a vast industry, depending on what you are looking to do, the team at the UPCI can help to provide a better understanding of different the different career paths and what may be a good fit.
Q. What course(s) did you enroll in?
A. I am not enrolled in any courses but do work to increase awareness of the importance of this field of work.
Sarah not only serves as the State’s program expert and advisor to the MEDC, but she also collaborates with other government agencies, the academic community and industry on raising awareness and promoting the growth of the cyber ecosystem within Michigan. She focuses on cultivating cybersecurity talent through statewide education while promoting a collaborative approach. Under her leadership, the MEDC’s broadband efforts focus on accessibility, affordability and adoption, and a commitment to equitable economic opportunities for all Michigan residents.