Booz Allen’s Sarah Olsen Shares Her Cyber Journey and Career Advice

Aug 5, 2019 1:20 PM ET
Blog

Sarah Olsen installed her first security patch as a teenager, responding to a remote buffer overflow attack—known as a “nuke”—in the early days of the internet. Today she leads risk assessments for cyber-physical systems in a variety of domains at Booz Allen.

Olsen shares highlights from her career journey—and advice for others who have a passion for cyber.

A career that evolved with the internet

The worldwide web, mobile technology, the Internet of Things, and beyond—as a child of the 1980s, Olsen has been here for it all. “Technology has always been a part of my life, and I’ve been fortunate to see it evolve,” she said.

In college and graduate school, she became hooked on protocol analysis and cryptography: “I found joy in writing proofs and demystifying the seemingly magical properties of cryptosystems.”

As these studies led to an interest in the practical applications of security, Olsen joined Booz Allen as a software security analyst.

Securing “the final frontier”

Olsen currently holds the title of senior lead technologist with Booz Allen. As someone who solves client challenges at the intersection of cybersecurity and software, her work has taken her in interesting directions. Currently she’s providing thought leadership and hands-on analysis of software security for cyber-physical systems.

 
While it’s “far from the beaten path of traditional IT architecture,” in her words, “the fundamentals of the approach are always the same: understand, analyze, and improve.”

As the specifics of projects change, “this requires being comfortable with not having a perfectly prescribed checklist and with defining and developing new processes along the way,” she said.

It’s a challenge Olsen relishes. “It’s always exciting to get the creative juices flowing and expand our ability to support more clients in need.” 

Advice for today’s women in cyber

Olsen also wears the hats of career manager, job leader, and mentor—as well as the informal title of “software czar” for Booz Allen’s El Segundo, California office. Here’s her advice for women looking to get involved in cybersecurity:

  • Identify a few areas of interest, then take the time to explore and develop knowledge and skills in these areas
  • Define the value and “brand” you want to be known for, and be prepared to communicate this to others 
  • Don’t be discouraged by gender discrimination or the negative aspects of “tech culture”

“With more women in the field, we can change those perceptions and improve the culture,” she said.

Read more about Sarah Olsen and cybersecurity at Booz Allen.