Briana Van Epps
She writes reports about customers’ cyber security
... there’s so much that you can do. It’s all about knowing how to frame your experiences.
What started as an admiration of the Swedish band ABBA led Briana Van Epps to doing her master’s degree, and even PhD, in Language and Linguistics at Lund University. Nowadays, Briana guides the direction of technical writing at Orange Cyberdefense, a cybersecurity unit operating in 160 countries all over the world. She and her team write monthly reports that tell a story about the overall security posture for their customers, which involves interpreting and explaining graphs, as well as describing specific security incidents.
Linguistics of Swedish was her passion
Briana loved languages ever since she was a child. She was the kid in class who was always excited when they had grammar lessons. At the age of thirteen, she grew very fond of the Swedish band ABBA, which encouraged her to start learning Swedish at the age of fourteen. She borrowed Swedish books from the library and bought tapes of people repeating Swedish phrases. She couldn’t get enough of the way Swedish sounded! When she grew up, she did her bachelor’s programme in linguistics back home in California, but this programme didn’t give her an opportunity to focus on Swedish. That is why, when she finished her bachelor’s education, she decided to study in Sweden so that she could actually study linguistics of Swedish – her true passion.
With a background in linguistics and statistics, she was the best of both worlds
During her master’s education, Briana took a half-term course in statistics, offered by the Humanites lab, and worked with the software “R” for quantitative data analysis. Later on, when she decided to embark on her doctoral journey at Lund University, she even took a course in Python. According to Briana, these experiences were very influential in getting her to where she is now because apart from having majored in linguistics, she had gained competencies that were highly relevant to the tech world. Briana started her career at Orange Cyberdefense as a technical writer. When she applied for this position, Briana was the candidate that was language-focused but also had technical experience. She was the best of both worlds.
“They were primarily looking for someone who could write very well, even under pressure. But they also wanted to see someone with some technical background.”
At the interview, Briana was given a certain topic within cyber security and she had 1.5 hours to research about the topic and write a report about it. Briana handled the task with ease because, as she states, her education had prepared her for this:
“Both in your master’s thesis and, especially, while working on your PhD dissertation, you are dealing with a lot of information coming in from all directions. Thorough analysis, you synthesize this massive information and turn it into something comprehensible and solid.”
This is what Briana’s job was all about: Looking at and making sense of a lot of data, picking out important points that would be valuable to the customer and making recommendations related to incidents such as how the customers could improve their cyber security posture. To manage this, you need excellent skills in handling data and communicating it clearly. According to Briana, the master’s programme and PhD in Language and Linguistics prepare you for these kinds of tasks.
From writer to manager
From a technical writer, Briana was soon promoted to the Technical Writer Manager position which involves leading a team of writers in successfully carrying out the above-mentioned responsibilities. The job involves cooperation with a team of app developers. Here her knowledge in Python comes in handy: Even though she doesn’t write the code herself, she uses her knowledge of Python to test new features and to give direction to the development of the application that she uses on a daily basis in her work so that the app is adjusted to her and, ultimately, the customers’ needs. Apart from working with statistics, delivery of reports and occasional occupation with language style guides, Briana’s work involves a great amount of project management as well, which is something that she was trained for not only through her master’s, but also her PhD studies.
“PhD is an enormous project that you are managing completely on your own. After that, any project you get into feels very easy. When I finished my PhD, I felt like I could do basically any job."
Briana makes use of her linguistics background not only in terms of writing reports but also in terms of managing people.
“I think being aware of language is very important as a manager, in the way you communicate. Knowledge of Swedish has been very useful too. We’re originally a small Swedish company that expanded quite rapidly and we have a very Swedish core. It’s great to be able to communicate with my colleagues in Swedish.”
Here are Briana’s 5 pieces of advice to you as her fellow linguists:
- Try to do some quantitative courses (if you can stand it). It opens up a lot of options. You never know where life will take you afterwards.
- It’s easy to get discouraged when you come from a humanities background because there are not many jobs that are targeted to what you do. But there’s so much that you can do. It’s all about knowing how to frame your experiences.
- Don’t minimize your skills when you graduate and don’t limit yourself to language-related jobs.
- Obvious career paths involve e.g. localization, translation, becoming a professor. But you can do anything project management-related as well. If you have done your master’s, you have done project management.
- Your humanities background trains you as a resilient individual which pays off in the long run.
Text: Katja Woxell 2022