George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

Speak Geek: Alumna Perfects Communication Skills in Cybersecurity Program

Written by Jennifer Anzaldi on .

Asymmetric Warfare. AES. Polymorphism. Malware. APT. Non-repudiation. Deprecated. To many, these words or acronyms could be a foreign language, but in fact, they are cyber security terms that float through the industry.

Discussions about cybersecurity often focus on the importance of protecting against cyber-attacks, but another challenge cyber security companies face is being able to effectively communicate their services to existing and potential customers.

ashley-pylesAlumna Ashley Pyles, '13 MS in Management of Secure Information Systems (MSIS), solves this challenge for her company.

A cybersecurity evangelist for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company called ServiceNow Inc., Pyles is responsible for explaining the security architecture of the company to customers and easing their concerns about moving to a cloud platform.

As a customer liaison, she helps them to understand the challenges they face and explains to them what they need to keep their information safe from hackers or data loss. Her company's clients include fortune 500 companies and government agencies such as Hyatt, Sony, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

A well-decorated Air Force veteran, Pyles says although her career path was chosen for her by the Air Force, pursuing a master's in cyber security was what directly attributed to her current position.

She says Mason's MSIS program gave her the knowledge and confidence to reach out to leaders in the field and become involved. After learning about critical infrastructure protection in one course, she took the initiative to contact the Internet Security Alliance (ISA) CEO and secured a volunteer position with the organization. Following graduation, Pyles invited the CEO to speak to the class about ISA and possible capstone projects students could complete for the organization.

"While waiting for the class to start, J.P. Auffret, the director of the MSIS program mentioned to the CEO that I have a special gift to communicate security effectively to a range of audiences," says Pyles.

The CEO eventually offered her a job at ISA.

In addition to opening new career opportunities, Pyles says that the MSIS program also changed the focus of her career, from tactical operations to strategic national level policy. "Dr. Auffret's statement directly led me to pursue the position I currently have at ServiceNow as a cyber security evangelist where it is my job to 'speak geek' to customers in a way they can understand."

Pyles says that one of the greatest benefits to the program was the blend of management, public policy and engineering."These three directly relate to the three pillars of cyber security; people, policy, and technology. The professors at Mason had real-life experience and were still actively involved in the industry. When giving a lecture, it was more of a conversation than a story being told about the past."

Right now Pyles is enjoying working with the three pillars. She's still a volunteer with the ISA, now as the director of policy. She's on the Expert Technical panel for the review of the 20 Critical Security Controls for the Council on Cybersecurity and is an online cyber security instructor for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

Pyles' passion for this field is strong, and her commitment to our country even stronger. Through her time in the Air Force and government service, she received the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, NATO Service Medal, and Civilian Humanitarian Service Award. In the future she hopes to lead a Fortune 100 company's security program.

She says, "I want to be a part of making history while protecting our country on the cyber front."