Ginger Armbruster was working “the worst job in the world,” and she knew, one way or another, that it had run its course.
“It was kind of a race to the finish,” she said with a laugh. “Am I going to quit, or are they going to fire me?”
It turned out to be the latter. Ginger had never been fired before, but once she left her job in sales and marketing she knew she needed to make a career change.
“Getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Ginger said. “I realized I had to go back to school and get educated on something else to move my career in a different direction.”
Ginger had always had an interest in cybersecurity, but, with a political science bachelor’s degree and her background in sales and marketing, she wasn’t sure how to revamp her career.
But just two hours after losing her job, Ginger discovered the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service, a program that provides scholarships for students to pursue cybersecurity education and work in the public sector.
The University of Washington was a participating institution, and the scholarship for service gave Ginger the opportunity to simultaneously earn a
Master of Infrastructure Planning and Management, a Certificate in Cybersecurity Risk Management and work for the City of Seattle, first as an intern and then as a full-time employee.
There she helped launch Seattle’s municipal privacy program, the first of its kind in the United States. After a two-year stint in the private sector, Ginger returned to the public sector as the city’s Chief Privacy Officer in 2017.
Now, she’s overseeing the city’s Privacy Program and leading a team that grapples with the kinds of data and privacy questions that are increasingly pressing in 2019.
And it wouldn’t have been possible without going back to school at the UW.
“None of it would have happened without the degree and the certificate,” Ginger said.
In Her Own Words
Ginger Armbruster describes the "life-changing" impact the Certificate in Cybersecurity Risk Management had on her career.
Protecting Our Data
Like many in the social media age, Ginger first grew interested in digital privacy and security for a reason close to home: she wanted to share photos of her child online.
“Shortly after my daughter was born, I went on Facebook to share some pictures,” Ginger said. “It became clear to me very quickly how much information we are giving away for free.”
Ginger began to see how her private information — and the private information of all social media users — was much more valuable to the social media behemoths than the service they provided was to her.
“All of those who participate in social media have to realize that you’re the product,” she said. “Whether we know it or not, we are giving away a lot of information about ourselves — and not only that, this information is sought after in data breaches and identity theft.”
Now, as the city’s Chief Privacy Officer, Ginger is thinking about digital data and privacy on a much larger scale than her personal Facebook account: she administers the data of 38 different city departments — from pet licensure to public utilities to arts grants — in a city of nearly 800,000 people.
Education changed my life. I know people say that, and I know it sounds trite, but it absolutely changed the trajectory of my life.
“Cybersecurity is a growing area for cities as they start to realize that not only do we provide services, we have a whole lot of information and data on people,” Ginger said. “There’s an incredible amount of information that can drive interesting and needed programs but also really needs to be paid attention to through good data stewardship.”
A Crash Course in Cybersecurity
Because she was interning while also taking her certificate and graduate courses, Ginger was able to use what she was learning in school at work — and vice versa.
“Every class I took, I was able to do research through the lens of municipal government,” Ginger said. “And in class, I could use what I knew and what I was experiencing here at the city to inform that. My internship helped me with my schoolwork, and my schoolwork also helped me become more relevant when this privacy position became available.”
As someone who returned to school to completely change her career, Ginger feels especially grateful for the opportunity that her internship, the
Master of Infrastructure Planning and Management and the Certificate in Cybersecurity Risk Management provided.
“When I had the opportunity to come back after a few years away from academia, I realized exactly what I wanted to do — I was laser-focused on where I wanted my career to be,” Ginger said. “My master’s degree helped me understand critical infrastructure, and the certificate helped me understand risk modeling and applying the critical thinking required. It was all there.”
Ginger knows that “education changed my life” is a cliché, but she also knows that, for her, it’s true.
“It changed my life,” she said. “I know people say that, and I know it sounds trite, but it absolutely changed the trajectory of my career.”
Now, seven years after she started her career-changing journey, Ginger has been named one of
Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers of 2019 and has reached new career heights — all because she went back to school at the UW.
“Education opens your world up to new people and ideas and allows you to find a path where you can contribute,” Ginger said. “It really changed my life.”