Dominique Calder

3rd Year PhD Student/Software Engineer
Computer Science/Digital Forensics
George Mason University

About Me

I never put much thought into what I would be when I got older. I have always been a ‘live in the moment’ type of individual. One thing I can say is I never thought I would own a business or continue on to pursuing a doctoral degree after obtaining my undergrad degree in Computer Science from Norfolk State University.

How was your experience with STEM classes and teachers in middle and high school?

STEM was more physical science as we know it now in middle school and high school for me. IT was just emerging (in my schools). I think I took a keyboarding class in 12th grade and that’s as tech savvy as it got. There were programs designated for students interested in IT but at the time, I had no clue what I wanted to do after high school so I never looked into it.

What’s next for you?

I plan to finish my PhD and I would like to teach at HBCU. In my experience, my HBCU professors truly cared about my education. I hope to provide that same care for students with the same insatiable appetite for learning as I have and create areas of opportunities that do not currently exist today.

What do you do to unwind?

To unwind, I like to roller skate. It’s the most liberating feeling I’ve ever experienced. Any stress I may be experiencing suddenly escapes me as soon as my wheels hit the floor. I also like to create digital illustrations and of course, photograph new things and people

My Security Operations Career

What motivated you to pursue a career in information security?

I am currently a security operations engineer. I specialize in vulnerability management on our team. I analyze data found in vulnerability scans, check for false positives, and develop remediation plans for patching of the systems. I am also responsible for setting up servers and automating tasks through Python scripting. I chose this path because I knew I needed a strong foundation in computer/cyber security to even begin to understand some fundamental values of digital forensics.  I like that I have an “important” role because keeping vulnerabilities down keeps people way above me very, very happy. Staying abreast of new vulnerabilities can be challenging though. At times, there may be a zero day event and this calls for quick reaction time and off the top of the head knowledge. No time to sit down and read security books and blogs on how to fix the issues.

What are some challenges you face as a Black, female Information Security Engineer?

I think people are still adjusting to seeing women in STEM. I work on a team of about 15 people and only 3 of us are women. I never felt like anyone (male or female) doubted my capabilities, but when I was able to talk the talk and walk the walk, I seemed to gain a higher respect in the workplace.

My Research

Tell us about your graduate research

During my master’s program, I developed an Android application prototype that securely overwrote and deleted social media metadata. For my dissertation, I will be researching how a particular malware effects Android devices, how it can alter file system files, if the malware can open an avenue to time stomping system files, and how long these malware files stay persistent in memory all through forensic analysis.

What motivated you to pursue this line of research?

I chose this path of research because anti-forensics is not a heavily explored field, let alone Android forensics. I hope to greatly advance the scientific knowledge of this area in digital forensics.

What is the coolest thing about your research?

The coolest thing about my research is being able to spin up a virtual Android device without having to buy one. I can simulate all data as if I had an actual Android phone in my hand without spending hundreds of dollars on a test device. If I completely trash the device, I can just delete it and spin up a new one.

What is the most challenging part of research for you?

The most challenging part about my research is working around the security measures that have been developed to address the vulnerabilities found in previous versions of Android. A new version of Android was announced in August 2016 which locked down many areas so that developers and hackers cannot access them.

My Grad School Experience

Why did you choose to go to Grad School?

Grad school chose me. By the time I left undergrad I was still very undecided on my career path. Graduate school offered many opportunities to me in exchange for 2 more years of patience. I later decided to pursue my PhD because I wanted to teach full time at the collegiate level and further advance the area of digital forensics.

Do you ever feel discouraged? How do you get around that?

Yes, I have felt discouraged many times. I’ve been told I wasn’t allowed to adjust my work schedule by 30 minutes. I needed to come into work early in order work my shift and make it to class on time. I was 30 minutes late to class every day my first semester and almost flunked out of graduate school. My boss at the time told me the company did their part by helping me through my undergraduate degree and I would have to work around the company’s time for any further education. She also told me I would never find a better job than the position I was in at the time. Boy, was she wrong!

Who are some of your biggest cheerleaders?

My biggest cheerleaders are definitely my family. My parents pushed me when I felt like giving up, my younger sister watched and mimicked my every move, I had no choice but to keep going, even if I didn’t know exactly WHERE I was headed. My sorority sisters (Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.) have been instrumental in keeping me motivated and recognizing how far I have come. My friends are all equally as successful and driven as I am. We keep each other on our toes offering healthy competition so nobody falls stagnant.

What has been the most useful life advice you have received?

The most useful life advice has come from my parents. They told me that I could do anything I put my mind to. It sounded good, but for the most part I just thought that’s what parents are suppose to tell their children (I mean, who wouldn’t believe in their kids?!). It took almost 30 years for me to fully understand the meaning.

I remember being 5 years old, scared to run the ball as a running back and the only female football player in the league. I remember being in high school, nervous about running the floor on the basketball court because I knew as a point guard the ultimate fate of the ball was in my hands. I remember being nervous to try my new rollerskating tricks being scared that I would fall (or flat out embarrass myself). I remember not being able to get the grades I really wanted because I had been lazy in the classroom. I remember only sticking to the things I was “naturally” good at. At some point, I put in the extra effort to overcome all of those scenarios, though I had once doubted myself. Now at 28, I’m a PhD seeking, rollerskating, business owner. My parents’ advice had been the foundation of what it really meant to unleash my untapped potential.

What else are you up to?

I am a freelance photographer and graphic designer based in the Washington, DC metro area. I’m 100% self taught. Photography was the creative escape I was looking for while in graduate school. It just so happened to stick with me as a hobby and now a business. The coolest thing about running your own company is you make your own hours and rules. I can wake up at noon and start working in my pajamas, right? The hardest thing about running your own company is you make your own hours and rules. A business owner has to learn when to say yes/no, go to bed, table this for later, work harder, longer, more efficiently, turn down work that’s not suitable for the business, etc.

What do you want to say to up and coming Melanin Genius?

I’d like to tell an up and coming #melaningenius that you’d surprise yourself. Don’t be scared to unleash your untapped potential.

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