For 2021 Infosec Scholarship winner Olivia Gallucci, proof that it is never too early to follow your passion
Like many in the cybersecurity world, for Olivia Gallucci, a student pursuing a dual degree in Cybersecurity and Computer Science at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), working with technology isn’t just about a paycheck. It’s a passion.
Gallucci has already accomplished so much: academically, personally and professionally. But it is her focus on what lies ahead of her, her admiration for those that have helped her get to where she is, and her desire to continue to give back to the larger technology community that sets her apart from many her age.
“The commonality between these accomplishments and activities is my desire to explore new people, ideas and activities,” Gallucci shared with Infosec. “I strive to promote inclusion, collaboration, respect and curiosity, which is why I will be successful in cybersecurity.”
It’s accomplishments and perspectives like these that made it easy for Infosec to name Gallucci a 2021 Infosec Scholarship winner.
Charting her own educational path
With exceptional grades (and even pressure from her parents to attend other schools or pursue other degree programs), Gallucci stayed focused on her passion and chose RIT because of the school’s ability to offer her a unique blend of information security and computer science experiences.
“The reason why I chose RIT as a school was for so many reasons: They’re really the perfect fit for me, but their cyber security program specifically focuses on offensive cybersecurity.”
Gallucci worked with her academic advisors to pursue a second degree in computer science to balance these slightly differing perspectives.
Because the programs do not have much overlap, Gallucci has developed an aggressive course schedule that cuts the time to complete both programs down to five years from eight.
Despite such a heavy schedule, Gallucci has also found time to be an avid participant in many sports and clubs at RIT, including the competitive sailing team and other cybersecurity-focused teams.
“There’s a club called RITSEC, which is RIT’s hacking and cybersecurity club. It is the largest academic club on campus, and we have a very strong alumni base. I was eventually elected treasurer, and I help to run even the international competitions that we have.”
This has allowed Galluci to participate in local and national capture the flag and hack-a-thon events.
Expanding her reach to open source technology
Woven throughout her academic and personal schedule is Gallucci’s strong interest in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).
“I really like open source security and working with open source. That’s my favorite thing on the planet. I like to be able to teach other people the skills that I learned because I learned a lot from the open-source community, and I learned a lot from people responding to my posts and my questions on Reddit and other forums,” notes Gallucci. “At RITSEC, the slogan is ‘Security through Community.'”
In particular, Gallucci has found herself drawn toward The Debian Project and the Free Software Conservatory.
“The reason why I like Debian is that they made the Debian administrator’s manual, which has taught me so much. They have great documentation, and everything they do is open source,” Gallucci shared with Infosec, “But I also like the fact that they’re so dedicated to their cause.”
Gallucci plans on using her Infosec scholarship to continue her education in FOSS.
“This scholarship will allow me to immerse myself in new research pursuits, advance my FOSS cybersecurity research and contribute to developing open-source security initiatives at RIT like Open@RIT. I hope that my research will inspire others to pursue secure coding and contribute to FOSS.”
The power of mentorship and balance
In addition to her community at RIT, Gallucci credits four people with motivating, supporting, and guiding her academic and professional journey. These mentors have taught her important soft and hard skills that have helped her continue her amazing upward trajectory.
In addition to her father, Gallucci also thanks her high school robotics teacher for introducing her to programming and motivating her to follow her interests, especially since she was her first female student. “She was the person who spent tons of time and energy making sure that I was technically competent in comparison to all the guys on my team.”
In addition to helping her find RIT, another mentor has helped Gallucci find the clubs and other organizations that support her interests, including the open-source community. Finally, a fourth mentor continues to motivate her not to sell herself short when searching for internships and job opportunities.
Together, these mentors have helped Gallucci find that one needs to have a balance to be successful in cybersecurity.
“The people who are going to succeed the most are the people who are working the hardest at their technical skills but are also aware of their social growth areas, too. If you can’t come to terms with the fact that you will need to convince people to value your ideas and your opinion, it’s going to be very hard to succeed.”
Put another way, Gallucci believes that one will reach a ceiling with just hard skills; if you want to get into management or more senior positions, you also need to focus on people skills and collaboration.
Although many eagerly count down the days before their school work is behind them, Gallucci is looking forward to the interesting coursework and training she has planned for herself.
“With cybersecurity, I am looking into things like the cloud, web development, developing malware and securing coding. Those are kind of the four interests that I’m using both computer science and cybersecurity to explore.”
Gallucci would also like to be RIT’s first Rhodes Scholar, hoping to continue to focus on open-source software.
While these paths can lead her into very different experiences, challenges, and opportunities, what’s certain is that Gallucci will continue to follow her gut, her abilities and her passions on where to go next. It’s also very clear that this unique combination hasn’t failed her yet.