Advice from a Computer Science Pro: Laura Deaner

Photo of Northwestern Mutual building in Milwaukee
A lakeside view of Northwestern Mutual's corporate headquarters in downtown Milwaukee, Wis.

Monarchs are always making great moves, and 2000 graduate Laura Deaner is no exception! Deaner recently accepted a role as Chief Information Security Officer at Northwestern Mutual, leading the Information Security and IT Risk Management program. She was kind enough to share some thoughts about her Old Dominion University experience, her fascinating career path, and some advice for Monarchs who want to follow in her footsteps.

ODUGlobal:  Congratulations on your recent appointment! Can you tell me a little about your career path?

Laura Deaner, Old Dominion University graduate and Chief Information Security Officer for Northwestern Mutual
Laura Deaner, Chief Information Security Officer for Northwestern Mutual and ODU Alumna

Laura Deaner:  Thank you! I started my career at Old Dominion University! I had the pleasure of working for the College of Engineering as a help desk technician all because Professor Bryan Magary gave me the opportunity while I was obtaining my Computer Science degree.

From there I landed a wonderful internship at Newport News Shipbuilding (now a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries) where I got to work with network engineers installing equipment and troubleshooting networking problems.

I decided to leave home once my family members began moving up north to NYC and Michigan or down south to North Carolina. I settled in Delaware and landed a role in a 24/7 Security Operations Center (SOC) on the night shift at a major financial services company as a consultant.

After a couple years of tremendous learning, I took a role at another financial services company as an Application Security Analyst. Working there presented so many opportunities for me! I got to perform duties such as risk management, awareness/training, and creating information security standards.

I had aspirations to move to the big city to join some of my family members there, but it was also a childhood goal of mine to live in NYC. I got my chance as an employee at another major Wall Street firm and began with building out an application security program. Again, tremendous growth for me and many opportunities such as security architecture, setting security strategy, managing globally effective teams, and ultimately working for the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) from whom I learned so much.

I decided the CISO role was one I wanted to aspire to, and my manager supported my development. I finally had my chance to be a CISO at a mid-size media company! I set the strategy for a security program and grew the team to handle industry standard security services, such as incident response. My second chance as a CISO came with a financial services company which the financial markets depend on heavily. Again, there I got to set strategy and build a world-class team.

And of course most recently, I've been honored to lead Information Security and IT Risk Management program at Northwestern Mutual.

ODUGlobal:  Cybersecurity is a booming industry right now! Have you always been drawn to this field, or did you follow a bright opportunity?

Missing collection item.

Laura Deaner:  I've always been drawn to tinkering with technology thanks to my father who was an electronics technician in the US Navy. I have a draw to not just understanding how things work but also how a program may react to something unplanned.

Early on in my career journey, I read about fuzzing, the concept of testing software by providing unexpected data, and found it very fascinating. So I guess you can say I was always drawn to the field and the excitement of learning new things.

ODUGlobal:  How would you say your degree helped you achieve your professional goals?

Laura Deaner:  My computer science program really laid the foundation for me to understand how technology works and how I can apply those concepts to modern technologies. For example, securing a network topology or even a cloud environment will require an understanding of TCP/IP.

The degree also helped open doors and set me apart from other candidates. Once I got my foot in the door, I was able to build on that foundation with practical experience which has given me many opportunities.

ODUGlobal:  What advice would you have for a current ODU Computer Science student who wants to get into cybersecurity?

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Laura Deaner:  Tinker. Take things apart. Ask questions about why things work the way they do. Look for the cracks and determine how to solve the problems of securing them. Also think about what you'd enjoy doing every day in the field. Do you like programming? Think about application security concepts. Do you like fighting hackers? Think about cyber defense and what it would be like to be part of a Security Operations Center or Incident Response team.


If you want to follow in Laura's footsteps, check out ODU's online computer science programs.

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