“The Duke Cybersecurity program has provided me with the tools to succeed in my cybersecurity career, regardless of the position or organization where I work.”

December 13, 2023 | Emilia Chiscop-Head, PhD

Duke Cybersecurity Master of Engineering 2023 Alumna reflects of how the program prepared her to succeed.

Sparsha Perupalli, 2023 Duke ME in Cybersecurity Alumna

Read an interview with Sparsha Perupalli, a senior cybersecurity consultant for Fidelity Investments. 

Why did you apply for the ME in Cybersecurity? What career goals did you come to Duke with?

Sparsha Perupalli: During my bachelor's education, cybersecurity captured my interest the most. At the time, I could only dedicate my spare time to exploring the field. I wanted to gain specialized expertise in cybersecurity by having a formal education. I wanted to learn beyond technical aspects and understand how cybersecurity translates into real-world scenarios.

When I started to explore master's degree offerings, Duke's Cybersecurity program stood out because of its focus on an interdisciplinary approach. I was excited to learn the business, law, policy, and human aspects of the field and get exposure to the overall cybersecurity culture in the organizations.

What was your area of interest in the program?

Sparsha Perupalli:The Human Element in Cybersecurity class, taught by Benjamin Bauchwitz is one of a kind for me. The contemplation of social engineering, intricate decision-making from both a hacker's and a defender's perspective, and the ethical implications were genuinely eye-opening. Further, I loved the coursework in Security Incident Detection and Response, taught by Arturo Ehuan. It made my learning very real when I had to design and simulate a Tabletop exercise collaboratively with my peers. Putting myself in the shoes of a consultant, deep diving into a ransomware incident, and providing security guidance was a unique experience that I can readily apply to my work.

How did you find your current job? What is your primary role in the company?

Sparsha Perupalli: I am a Senior Cybersecurity Consultant for Fidelity Investments. In my role, I promote business enablement with a cybersecurity mindset. I contribute towards adopting several cybersecurity initiatives and provide ongoing support to business partners in information security-related matters. I also participate in process improvements for my team's success, monitor compliance with enterprise-wide cybersecurity policies, and help drive remediation efforts.

How has your ME degree helped you prepare for the role?

Sparsha Perupalli: I primarily benefited from interacting with cybersecurity leaders from enterprises across various industries and federal agencies. It was constantly humbling to hear the unique stories of speakers from different backgrounds who provided a true reflection of cybersecurity culture in organizations. Before a speaker's session, I would research their role and the organization the leader works in and prepare for questions to participate in meaningful discussions. Today, in my job, this practice of research and preparation before a consulting engagement helps me to be productive in discussions and ask curious questions, which improves our engagement and creates positive outcomes.

What are some of the most essential skills you gained during the Cyber ME program?

Sparsha Perupalli: The program has provided me with the tools to succeed in my cybersecurity career, regardless of the position or organization where I work. My takeaways from the program are dynamic communication, presentation skills, and the ability to think of cybersecurity as a business enabler. The opportunity to prepare for scenarios that demand data-driven conversations and those needing impromptu analysis is valuable to me. I could articulate cybersecurity priorities in a consumable way to a varied audience. Preparing executive summaries in class has helped me condense technical aspects into presentations and align them precisely with business objectives.

Where did you do your internship? In what way did the internship experience prepare you to be where you are now?

Sparsha Perupalli: I interned at Amazon Web Services as a Security Engineer intern last summer - my first endeavor into the corporate world. Knowing how to overcome ambiguity in resolving security challenges and effectively use my previously learned cybersecurity skills in a working project was exciting.

During my time there, I started being an active listener to interpret the asks from critical stakeholders and truly understand their points of view. I learned to comprehend the true spirit of 'bias for action' (Amazon's leadership principles) and realized that speed matters in business. I gained confidence in navigating my tasks and coping with sidetracking or analysis paralysis. These takeaways helped me draft actionable goals, make calculated decisions, and apply creative solutions.

What advice do you have for incoming students to have a good internship and job experience?

Sparsha Perupalli: Never shy away from pointing out problems. Having an investigative mindset to identify problems by checking the effectiveness of the current approach and recognizing areas of improvement is of profound importance. Taking responsibility to apply creative solutions where possible would benefit everyone around you. In this constantly evolving field, proactively be a part of the change.