As a signals intelligence analyst in the United States Marine Corps, Solaire Sanderson was deployed twice to Afghanistan and had plans to make a lasting career out of her service.
But injuries to both feet, which required surgeries to realign and remove crushed bones, convinced Sanderson that she probably wasn’t going to be able to maintain the rigorous lifestyle that the Marine Corps demanded.
Originally from Palm Coast, Fla., Sanderson was in the Marines for six years, stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., from 2010 to 2016.
“I loved being a Marine, and I love everything the Marine Corps stands for,” said Sanderson, who is our latest Geek of the Week.
“One of my responsibilities was to perform cyber threat analysis, which I quickly became passionate about. While serving on active duty, I attended the American Military University to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Cybersecurity.”
During her recovery from surgery, in the last six months of her time in the Marines, Sanderson enrolled in the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), an intensive 18-week course that provides transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today’s growing technology industry.
“Upon completion of the course, I went through the interview process and accepted a position as a security analyst in Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center. Though the military and the corporate worlds are completely different, they have, at least, one thing in common: they both have adversaries. I am happy to work with an incredible team of defenders and responders, who are persistent and determined to defend against technology’s dark side.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Solaire Sanderson:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I am a security analyst in the Cyber Defense Operations Center at Microsoft. I do it because, as corny as it sounds, I truly believe in Microsoft’s mission statement: to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft has such a far-reaching impact on the world — millions of home PC’s, government agencies, schools systems, etc. all rely and operate on Windows operating systems, the Office suite, and various other Microsoft innovations. As a Marine, I loved the feeling of being a part of something greater than myself. So, it is awesome to have a similar feeling while working at Microsoft.”
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Where do you find your inspiration? “Children are constantly told that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up — and I believe that to be true (within reason, of course). I try to apply the same mentality to my adult life — I can do whatever I want to do or learn whatever I want to learn, if I apply myself. I have always found inspiration in watching the world evolve around me. There are always new technologies, computer languages, cyber threats, etc., and I don’t like the feeling of not knowing. So, when I find a topic that I am not familiar with, I force myself to spend time trying to understand it and become comfortable with it. Through this effort, I have found inspiration from discovering new ways of doing things or by stumbling upon needs I didn’t know existed.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “As sad as it is to admit, my smartphone. Over the last decade, smartphones have become the new Swiss army knife — they do a little bit of everything. I can make phone calls, text message, video chat, play games, take photos, make deposits into my bank account, check my emails, browse the internet, make purchases, listen to music, watch television, and the list goes on. It’s incredible.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My team and I operate in an open workspace, just like many Security Operations Centers (SOCs) at various other companies. Within our SOC, we bring together experts from different security teams across Microsoft to help protect, detect, and respond to threats in real time. I am a huge proponent for an open workspace, as it promotes collaboration, versatility, and brainstorming. I love being able to spin my chair around and bounce ideas off of my co-workers.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I have found that having a routine is key. Life is full of unexpected surprises, which are much easier to manage when everything else is beating to some sort of rhythm. For example, I make sure to work out at 6:15 every morning, just in case a big security incident breaks out at work and I end up working late. At work, my routine allows me to dedicate time to getting important tasks done while also leaving room for anomalies. I am also a big believer in organization – there should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Organization just makes life easier and prettier.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “I have an affinity for all, but I certainly have my hands in Windows more often … ya know, working for Microsoft and all :)”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I prefer Aram Mojabai from ‘The Blacklist.’”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine — definitely!”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Buy a piece of land in a remote area of Washington to set up a suite of cabins that each have amazing lake and mountain views, lightning fast wifi, fireplaces, unlimited coffee, and an acre of land between each. Life is so busy and it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I would love to create a serene retreat for writers, tech nerds, or anyone else that needs a place to be productive or simply revive themselves. There would be an application process, in effort to maintain a barrier to entry so that loud, obnoxious partiers don’t slip through the cracks. I would like to think that this kind of break from the day-to-day would give people the time they need to recharge before going back to work to create the next big thing.”
I once waited in line for … “I am not a big fan of waiting in line — I always do my research ahead of time and find a way to have things delivered to my doorstep.”
Your role models: “This has always been a difficult question for me, simply because I don’t have a particular person in mind, but rather a type of person — anyone who has sought and found work that they are passionate about, who has shed blood, sweat, and tears to be effective at it. OK, that sounds a little dramatic — but I do believe blood, sweat, and tears come naturally to anyone with a true appetite for success, whatever their personal measure of success is.”
Greatest game in history: “Duck Hunt.”
Best gadget ever: “Raspberry Pi.”
First computer: “Wow, great question. I believe we used the Apple IIe in elementary school, but our first home computer was a HP 712. Look how far we’ve come!”
Current phone: “iPhone 7 Plus.”
Favorite app: “*cough* Pokemon Go *cough*”
Favorite cause: “Wounded Warrior Project.”
Most important technology of 2016: “Blockchain. Although Blockchain wasn’t created in 2016, there was a surge of interest surrounding its capabilities in 2016. Since blockchain (the technology behind bitcoin) is a decentralized and dispersed digital ledger, almost 50 top financial institutions began investigating how blockchain can track their assets, cut costs, and accelerate transactions — all while reducing the risk of fraud. While I believe it will still take many years for blockchain to become fully submerged in our economic, social, and/or political infrastructures, it is taking the world by storm. However, it is prudent to be vigilant when dealing with blockchain, as the legality behind blockchain and its applications remains suspicious in countries like China, India, and Russia. This is a particularly interesting topic for me, as the implementation and spread of blockchain technology ensures job security for me, haha.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Intelligent things. Between AI and machine learning, there’s no telling how cohesive and interactive the technology around us will become. We have self-driving vehicles; smart home devices that help us set alarms, schedule appointments, create shopping lists, and provides us with a vast array of information from the internet; Netflix and Pandora, which save our preferences and predict accurate recommendations based on those preferences; and the list goes on. 2018 is set to deliver even more intelligent technology that will use behavioral algorithms to predictively learn from our behaviors and anticipate our needs. I can’t wait — we are about to be the real-life Jetsons. Alexa is my Rosey the Robot.”