Preparing for a Career in STEM
After cybersecurity expert Savannah Bleeker graduated from college,
she started her job at Raytheon Technologies and found herself
intimidated by how much expertise she was surrounded by in every
“You learn technical skills in school, but you don’t necessarily
learn job skills,” Savannah says. “You have to learn those on the
Fortunately, she says that her time in Girl Scouts helped her
develop a variety of skills, such as embracing activities that pushed
her outside her comfort zone and speaking up in teams. Both of these
have served her well in the workplace as a cybersecurity technologist,
Here are her tips for people who want to follow in her footsteps by
pursuing a career in STEM.
1. While you’re still in school, take initiative with professors.
“In school, the best mentors are your professors,” she says. “I learned a lot from them during office hours. A lot of my peers were intimidated to go to their offices for help. Show that you appreciate your professors’ experience and you’re interested in what they have to say.”
2. Don’t expect the answers to be handed to you in the work world.
“The things that pop up are not things you can’t plan for,” Savannah
says. “You have to think on the spot and make quick—but not
rash—decisions. In cybersecurity, you need to be able to think from
the perspective of a hacker, which isn’t something you learn in school
or that comes easily.”
“In school, you’re given assignments, and while there are some
opportunities to think creatively—to code a video game, for
example—the results of your actions are not the same.”
3. Expect to have to take initiative.
“In a technical environment, it’s fast-paced and you’re not always
going to have someone holding your hand,” Savannah explains. “It was
eye opening for me because in school there was always someone there
whose job it was to help me. In the work world, everyone’s objective
is to make the business run efficiently, but not everyone has the
intention of developing your career.
4. Get hands-on experience as often as you can.
What you learn in an internship has a different weight than what you
learn in school.
“It allows you to think on your feet and make decisions in a
stressful environment,” she says. “It allows you to be more innovative
because you’re in a real-life situation and you’re able to think more
about the impact of your work.”
5. Look for a mentor.
“Go to networking events and put yourself out there because you
never know who might help your career,” Savannah says, adding that a
lot of workplaces, including Raytheon, have formal mentorship
“When you’re young and you don’t have experience, learning from
somebody who has already been in the industry can help you adjust your
career path so you make the right decisions,” she adds. “They can also
keep you motivated because it takes a lot of holding yourself
accountable early in your career to focus on moving forward.”
6. Try not to let intimidation get the better of you.
There were lots of women in Savannah’s college classes. But when she
entered the IT-centered workforce, every meeting seemed to be filled
with older men, which Savannah initially found intimidating.
“If your coworkers are older than you, you know they have more
experience than you,” she says. “And you may feel like whatever you
have to say isn’t going to be as smart as what they have to say. You
may assume you have questions that everyone else already has the
answers to. But that mindset prevents you from being inquisitive. If
you keep silent, you miss out on the opportunity to share your
7. Take the time to learn how your organization operates.
“I started in governance, risk, and compliance, and I eventually
moved to cybersecurity because I took the time to learn how the other
departments work at our company,” Savannah says.
8. Take on more ambitious work whenever you can.
Look for rotational programs that let you work in different
departments, which may even be based in different parts of the country
“One of our goals is working cross-functionally at Raytheon, because
different perspectives can provide innovative solutions,” Savannah
explains. “I have been involved in ‘stretch’ projects at work that
allowed me to collaborate with other teams to solve problems. Working
with people of all different functions gave me a feel for what other
people do. They can be a lot of work on top of your regular role, but
they expose you to different groups without having to get a new
9. Don’t stick to just one path.
“It’s important to explore different areas early in your career because you don’t know what you might like until you try it,” she says. “Because our world is technologically driven, even non-STEM fields have STEM-related positions. Our world just keeps getting more reliant on technology, so your STEM career really could take you anywhere you want to go.”