Rebecca Gotterbarn ’18 took her very first computer science class as a sophomore at Adelphi. Today she's a member of an elite cybersecurity team at IBM.
For a member of IBM’s elite X-Force Red hacker team, Rebecca Gotterbarn ’18 is something of a newbie in the world of computing. While most cybersecurity experts spent their entire childhood in front of computers, Gotterbarn took her first programming course as a sophomore at Adelphi.
“I was planning on majoring in history and was interested in becoming a digital archivist,” she explained. “I signed up for intro to programming thinking that I would minor in computer science.”
A few weeks into the class, she realized that computers were her real passion, not history. Now, after switching her major as a junior and graduating with a BS in Computer Science, she’s an information security specialist on a top team at a fabled company.
Gotterbarn is just one of many 2018 graduates who are finding early career success. A recent survey found that 95 percent of that class had jobs or were in grad school within six months of graduation. Their average base salary is 25 percent higher than that of their peers nationally.
Although her rapid ascent has been remarkable, it isn’t particularly surprising, as she’s excelled in other ways as well. Coming to Adelphi on a bowling scholarship, she went on to win the East Coast Conference (ECC) Bowler of the Year award in her junior and senior years. She also won the ECC Bowling Scholar-Athlete of the Year award as a senior, along with numerous other bowling honors throughout her career.
These days, instead of pins, she’s knocking down threats to computer systems. As a member of IBM’s X-Force Red team, she works as an ethical hacker, probing computer systems to find and fix their technical weak spots.
“We help them understand the risks before a bad person understands them,” Gotterbarn said.
Ethical hackers are the good guys who want to use their powers to stop nefarious hackers who try to steal passwords and personal data or bring down a company or organization with a cyberattack.
Gotterbarn’s expertise is network security, so she looks for weak spots in computer networks. She works with a team that subjects IBM clients’ systems to simulated cyberattacks.
Gotterbarn credits Adelphi with catapulting her into this vital team at a Fortune 100 company.
“I wasn’t a computer genius. I wasn’t one of those kids who was writing code at birth or building computers at 12,” she says. “But the support I got from the staff was transformative for me.”
Kees Leune, PhD, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, saw her promise.
“She did not have as much of the background as some of the other hard-core computer science students, but she made up everything she missed, or was behind on, on her own,” Dr. Leune said in an interview for a 2018 Commencement video about Gotterbarn. “And since that point on, she has shined as a student.”
“Dr. Leune was a mentor, and he’s the reason I got into computer security,” Gotterbarn said. “I didn’t think I was smart enough to do it, but through his classes I saw I had a passion for it and could do it if I worked hard enough.”
Dr. Leune gave her the confidence to enter a field where just 25 percent of the jobs are held by women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“I would walk into computer science classes and be one of the three women in there out of 30,” she says. “But Dr. Leune believed in my strengths and intelligence. He was always encouraging me, and having someone like that in your life makes a really big impact.”
Gotterbarn also found inspiration on the lanes. Bowling, she said, isn’t all that different from hacking.
“Lots of variables affect each shot you throw in bowling,” she says. “There’s a plethora of variables that affect the path you take when looking at a hacking problem, too. You need to be able to see the variables, keep thinking, and be able to pivot.”
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