UNB Alumni
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Top national cybersecurity expert says music has been the key to her success

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Sep 25, 2023

Category: Computer Science , UNB Fredericton , Inspiring Stories

Melanie Anderson (BCS’03), a professional in both cybersecurity and classical music, says it’s all about math and logic.

Currently the director general of secure solutions and services in the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security at the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Melanie and her team are responsible for applied cryptographic research, architecture, engineering and development of secure cryptographic solutions. This includes Communications Security (COMSEC), evaluating the security of cryptographic products and providing cryptographic advice and guidance, including preparations for the quantum threat to cryptography.

Since graduating with a bachelor of computer science degree from UNB and joining the CSE in 2003, Melanie has honed her skills as a software developer, technical trainer, and leader in incident management and cyber defense. She even spent four years based in the United States as a technical liaison for CSE. She knows her stuff.

She’s also a professional opera singer, pianist and music teacher, having spent time in Italy training and developing her craft. She’s sung in Italy as well as the U.S. and here, at home in Canada.

“There are so many linkages between math and music. I was always good at math, but music makes you see how sequences flow together logically. Cybersecurity and opera productions are more similar than you might think. As a team member, you have to hone your craft and work together in time with the rest of your team. And as a conductor, you need to understand the full picture and pull everyone together to help people feel the music.”

Having grown up in the musical small town of Harvey Station in New Brunswick, Melanie considered studying music, but chose computer science because there was a push to get more women into the field and “it seemed like it would be a cool job.”

Her instincts were bang on.

“The variety of jobs I’ve held over the past 20 years and the brilliant people I’ve worked with and learned from has me pinching myself. My biggest shock was when I was selected to be a technical liaison for CSE in the U.S. You never know where your career will take you – the sky is the limit in cybersecurity.”

After a 3-year break to pursue her music career, Melanie came back to the CSE in Ottawa. “It was a turning point for me in 2016. I grew a lot as a human while on a three-year break for my music journey. As a performer, you have to know yourself well to project well. It led to changes in my life and helped me realize that I can be creative and do all the things I’m passionate about – and that only helps me bring my whole self to cybersecurity.”

In 2019, Melanie started working in the cryptography domain. “Cryptography is a fundamental part of cybersecurity. It’s the math behind encryption. I love it – it’s super interesting. I have brilliant people on my team that do impressive work in research, development, operations and preparing Canada for the quantum threat to cryptography. I take what I learn from the team at a high level and talk to CEOs, governments and others in the industry to share the work we’re doing in this space, with the goal of sharing knowledge and building collaborative partnerships to ensure systems and data are secure.”

Though she was named in 2023 as one of Canada’s Top 20 Women in Cybersecurity by IT World Canada and recognized by Deloitte as one of '30 Women in Cyber' at the forefront of the cyber revolution, Melanie is humble and focuses on mentoring other women to join her in the space.

“I would not be where I am without those around me, and I never would have had the confidence to do what I’ve done in my career without wonderful mentors. Without mentorship, it can be very tough to make it in this industry as a woman.”

“The global cybersecurity landscape has dramatically changed the way we do business and live our lives. Now, more than ever, having cybersecurity at the heart of an organization’s overall strategy is crucial, and requires diverse thinkers. Yet there is a marked gender disparity in the cybersecurity workforce, with women holding just 25% of the jobs. It’s critical that we change the equation and inspire future generations of women – and all underrepresented groups – to enter careers in cyber. Diverse perspectives are critical to being effective in our work.”