How Crime Shows Inspired Molly Sun to Pursue Cybersecurity
Lesa Bressanelli | College of Engineering News
Growing up, Molly Sun traveled a lot. From her home province of Shandong, China, she ventured to new cities and other provinces. But traveling across the world to Raleigh, North Carolina, has been one of her biggest adventures yet.
After graduating with her B.S. in computer science and economics this May, she’ll stay in North Carolina for her next adventure: moving to Charlotte to begin her new chapter as a software engineer at Bank of America.
She attributes much of her success to the resources, opportunities and mentorship that drew her to NC State four years ago.
Sun knew she wanted to go abroad for her undergraduate education, and her initial journey to North Carolina began when she and her family were deciding on candidate universities. She was ultimately drawn to NC State University because of its strong engineering program, suburban environment and variety of post-graduation opportunities in Research Triangle Park.
Her inspiration to pursue computer science came from two places: loved ones and crime drama series. She had years of experience solving technological issues brought to her by family and friends, and she liked watching web sleuths featured in crime series like The Blacklist and 24. She thought that could be her.
“It’s just a show, but I thought that the character’s ability to hack into a system in order to make something work or to avoid an attack was cool,” she said. “I thought to myself ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do this.’”
This led to Sun’s interest in cybersecurity — more specifically, to better understand how hacking works, what malicious actors hacking into a system means and what happens if personal information is leaked.
Sun also has taken on a second major in economics. While seemingly unrelated, she saw many ways the two fields intersect and benefit from each other to improve her own work. For example, she has used programming to build models that forecast the likelihood of economic events. Through experiences such as this, she sees how this can make her more valuable within a competitive field.
“My economics degree has expanded my career possibilities beyond software engineering to include roles such as quantitative analyst and data analyst, which require a combination of economic knowledge and programming skills,” Sun said.
This combination of coursework has provided her with a unique, interdisciplinary skill set, something she has been also leveraging during her senior project building a web streaming platform. Working with Diversity Movement, an organization providing training videos on diversity, equity and inclusion, Sun and her team are making a more manageable product for their client.
“It’s a great team, with one person working on the algorithm and another connecting the API to make the algorithms work,” she said. “It’s not just one person needed to make this work, we all come together.”
Sun has also worked as a Computer Science Student Ambassador and championed values of service and engagement as a University Scholar Program member. She was a member of Women in Computer Science and Rewriting the Code, and she felt her involvement helped promote a more gender-inclusive environment within computer science.
“Sometimes a class will only have a few girls and we’re typically separated, so it’s hard to build a community,” she said. “That’s part of why I want to get involved: to build a stronger community.”
One place Sun has always felt at home is with the User Experience Department at NC State University Libraries. As a student web developer for three years, she grew within this role, going from solving simple issues on the library website interface to doing backend coding.
“Compared to a project for a class where we submit on a due date and we’re done, it’s satisfying working on something for a bigger organization as a part of a cycle,” she said. “Someone will review it, push it and deploy it; it’s something with bigger implications.”
Outside of coding for the library and reimaging streaming services, Sun has made many cherished memories. Participating in Hack_NCState where she and friends built a stock simulation web app and gathering with thousands of others to listen and dance to American Aquarium through the rain at Packapalooza ‘22 have been highlights.
She encourages new members of the Pack to get involved and to explore their interests early.
“Explore what you like or think you might like, that helped me figure out I liked working in software engineering and that I didn’t want to do research as much,” she said. “If you never try you won’t know if it’s meant for you or not.”
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