I love my job because it allows me to analyze technical information and present it in an understandable manner.
Mariel Townsend
Freelance Cybersecurity Professional
Miami Beach, FL, USA
Meet Mariel, change maker and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

What motivated you to start a career in cybersecurity risk management?
I had a background in economics and data analysis and was working on a data analytics project evaluating the effectiveness of government IT programs at the White House. The team I was working on did not originally have a strong cybersecurity focus. Then, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breach happened in which hackers stole sensitive background investigation information from a government system containing data on millions of government personnel. I was tasked with leading the effort to determine how many people had been affected by the attack. From there, I applied to and was offered a job working full time on the White House’s cybersecurity team which oversaw policies and budget for the entire Federal government.
How did you end up in your current role?
I learned everything I know about cybersecurity on the job. You may think that you need to have a technical background to work in cyber, but there are actually many diverse paths you can take. I had strong analysis, project management, writing, and strategic thinking skills that helped me succeed in my job working at the White House. I also had the opportunity to get my CISSP which helped me hone my security skills and demonstrate to future employers that I had the technical know how along with many business skills that are relevant to this field. These days I freelance as a cyber security consultant and technical writer. I’ve created e-learning content for aspiring cybersecurity professionals, developed security awareness trainings for executives, and created administrative installation guides for securely using new technology.
When I was working at the White House, teamwork was a huge part of how I was able to be successful. I needed to earn the trust of executives, and enlist the help of technical experts across a variety of teams to recommend and implement solutions.
Describe how you give back to the security community.
I just moved back to the United States after traveling abroad for a year and a half and working on improving my Spanish. As I get settled in a new city, I’m hoping to find opportunities to volunteer with groups involved in mentoring minorities interested in tech careers. I consider myself an ally for diversity and inclusion, and am currently an ally member of Latinas in Tech and Techqueria, both of which I’m hoping to get more involved in in the near future. I’m always happy to chat with anyone considering a career in cybersecurity so feel free to get in touch with me on LinkedIn if you want to chat!
What qualities will help someone succeed in a cybersecurity risk management career?
Working in risk management requires you to have strong analytical, problem solving, and coalition building skills. Technical acumen is important, but if you are not able to win the trust of the stakeholders who are responsible for implementing system protections and reporting on risk, you won’t be able to truly understand the organization's risk posture and create buy in for improving it. In the past a lot of cybersecurity professionals were afraid to be honest about risks facing their organization because they were worried about budget cuts, job security, and a host of other concerns. Today most organizations understand that cybersecurity isn’t a problem to be solved but a risk to be managed. Being able to analyze these risks using hard data, and make recommendations couched in business terms will help you succeed in this role.
What advice do you have for someone starting out in this field?
Don’t be intimidated by jumping into a new field. I think a lot of people, and especially women, tend to suffer from impostor syndrome in which they think they aren’t qualified or capable to take on a task unless they meet every single one of the requirements. Cybersecurity is a field that is always changing, and can benefit from input from people with a diverse set of backgrounds and skills, not solely from hard technical skills. There are tons of opportunities for training and certifications, and since the field is always changing there is always something new to learn. If you think you have skills that may apply, I encourage you to learn more about the field you’re interested in, either by exploring on Trailhead, researching on the internet, or meeting with someone working in the field currently to ask about their experience. There are a variety of Meetup, Facebook, and LinkedIn groups for cybersecurity professionals, including for women and minorities looking to break into the field. Do what you can to educate yourself about opportunities, and when you find the right one, don’t be afraid to apply! Think about how your current experience fits with the skills and strengths needed to succeed in the role and be explicit about that in your application and interview. There are so many exciting opportunities out there, there’s bound to be one that’s right for you!
Fun Facts
Who are your heroes?
José Andrés
Favorite hobby?
Surfing or anything else near the beach
Any hidden talents?
Traveling and writing
Do you have a motto?
Atrévete. It means “Dare yourself” in Spanish
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