MPP graduate Grace Gair (MPP 2011) is making digital and information security more manageable for enterprises.
Grace is an architect of intangible worlds. As an Enterprise Security Architect – the job title on her business card – she deals with digital and information security. While her exact job description might be beyond most people’s grasp, the focus of her everyday work is on something much more relevant to all of us than we might think.
Grace did her Bachelor in Liberal Arts at Eckerd College in Florida, where she was a Ford Scholar, with a focus on Anthropology and International Relations. After completing her BA, she received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in South Korea for a year, where she was named Most Outstanding Foreign High School Teacher by the Daejeon Ministry of Education. Her interdisciplinary studies at Eckerd and her experience abroad awakened Grace’s interest in Education Policy, and she went on to pursue a Master in Public Policy at the Hertie School in Berlin. After returning to the US, Grace began working in the field of information security and risk, building up valuable experience in what was to become the foundation of her current expertise. Back in Berlin for a DAAD Workshop on Digitalisation at the Hertie School, she says upon her arrival: “Jet lag is a state of mind.” She is glad to be back and values being part of an extended network. During our interview in the lounge of the Hertie School, she strikes up a conversation with two current students who happen to overhear us, and spontaneously invites them to visit her in New York.
Grace’s time at the Hertie School was very busy. She worked as a consultant in a start-up alongside her studies and was one of two students selected for an internship with McKinsey & Company. For her master’s thesis, she analysed the value of Sweden’s education system. “Sweden had never charged students for studying, so it was difficult for them to figure out how to price their higher education offerings”, Grace outlines her thesis, which recommended using a benchmark based on education systems in the UK, Australia and the US. “If a bottle of wine is 2 euros and another is 20 euros, which one would you buy? Which one would you think was better quality?”, Grace explains her take on the challenge of pricing goods like education in a global market. Looking back on her time in Berlin, Grace says it was very enriching. The city’s architecture and public spaces made quite an impression on her. “I was amazed by the fantastic playgrounds with dangerous items like trampolines and these fast-spinning play wheels,” she recalls, especially “because you would never find these in the US.” As an Anthropology graduate, she saw this as a symbol of the “freedom to make individual choices” in a way she was not used to seeing in the US.
After graduating from the Hertie School, Grace decided to pursue a new path in her career. The course of studies at the Hertie School provides policy tools that allows graduates to work across different fields. Through networking, Grace found a job as a consultant in information security and risk management at Gartner. She then worked for Moody’s Corporation to build on her experience in this field. Today, she works as a Security Architect at Radian, where she helps design and implement enterprise security services. “I try to focus on people and process – not just the technology. In my role I have to look at what the business is trying to do holistically in order to understand the various layers, relationships and ultimately, risks” Grace explains. “We live in an incredibly compelling era that is unlike anything before – Cloud, mobile, social, big data, the Internet of Things, etc. – that is both exciting and, in some cases, frightening. As ‘scary’ or as complex as some innovations might be, however, we have to engage with them so that we can understand what the real risks are to us and how we can minimize their negative impact.”
“Digital security would make a great topic for Hertie students,” she points out. Given the growing importance of this field, she envisions a future in which it will be included even more in the Hertie curriculum, and she encourages students to grapple with it. According to her, “technology is changing very rapidly and not many people realise what is possible with the capabilities out there. Now more than ever we need our policy makers and administrators to learn – not hide from – new technology and innovations. We need them to ask tough questions that separate FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt – about what is new, from real risk.” Ultimately, the risks companies face with new business models and emerging technologies are there, but Grace works on making them more manageable.