Q&A with Julie Simms Holder (MS ’20, MS ’25)

Julie Simms Holder 

Julie Simms Holder is a native Chicagoan from the South Side who currently works as a Sr. Cybersecurity Supervision Specialist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Julie received her MS in Data Science from CDM in 2020 and is currently pursuing her MS in Cybersecurity.

Can you talk a little about the path that led you to pursue your graduate education at CDM?

Coming from Lindblom Technical High School, I’m not surprised my career path led me into computers/technology. After several years working at major law firms in various IT positions, I decided to finish up my undergraduate degree from Chicago State University before moving onto DePaul to pursue my Master’s in Data Science. It was actually through an assigned project at work that I developed a curiosity for data mining.

While pursuing my master’s at CDM, I also started working in cybersecurity, eventually moving to the financial sector. Periodically, I get an opportunity to marry cybersecurity to data science to help understand trends and threats related to evolving technology. In fact, I’m now back at DePaul pursuing a Master’s in Cybsersecurity.

Describe your experience in the Data Science program.

The Data Science program was challenging. I entered grad school as a mature adult full of insecurities and time mismanagement skills. Feeling old and apprehensive about taking advanced statistics, I promised myself I would stay committed and persevere.

After completing a few classes, I began to feel a bit more confident, which I attribute to having supportive professors. One of my favorite topics in the program was principal component analysis, which was taught in the Advanced Data Analysis course. My professor was engaging and excellent at explaining and demonstrating the concept. This class was pivotal because it was where I found my “forever confidence.” My curiosity for predictive analytics moved from curiosity to love.

The program took me longer to finish than the typical 2- 3 years. But I finished, and I finished strong. With confidence from the journey and a support system from the DePaul community, I graduated eager to put my degree to good use.

Tell us a little about your job.

I work for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, as a Sr. Cybersecurity Supervision Specialist, examining risks in the IT/cyber areas of financial institutions. To be successful in this field, you have to understand how banks are structured, which gives you better insight into non-financial risks. The job requires an understanding of many areas related to cybersecurity including regulatory compliance, third party relationships, governance and leadership structure, network architecture, network security, and access control among many other areas.

Although there is no requirement to know all things financial, there is an expectation to possess some fundamental knowledge of the financial industry. Periodically, my team works to evaluate specific areas to determine the impact of certain risks. Those risks are evaluated through discussion and evidence reviews.

In addition to examining risks, my team shares knowledge with the division to help keep cyber-related topics relevant. We also have specialists who monitor current threats within the cyber threat landscape.

What aspect of your success do you specifically credit with your time at DePaul?

My education at DePaul helped launch me into my current position. During the application process, I was able to list my Master’s in Data Science as part of my education. Although it was not Cyber related, it is valuable to be knowledgeable about the use of data, and how it can apply to any area within an organization.

Excited about having the degree and being eager to use it, led me to opportunities that allowed me to work on data-related projects with other teams. In addition, I have the opportunity to keep my skills up by participating in employee groups with similar interests in Python, data visualization, and more.

What advice do you have for students who plan to pursue a career in this field?

My best advice is believing in yourself and staying committed to your process (obtaining the degree, starting the new job, changing careers, etc…), even when things seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Accomplishments do not come without challenges, but challenges develop you in areas that are beneficial in the workplace and in your career.

For students pursuing education in data science or cybersecurity, I recommend staying engaged with student organizations, classmates, peers, and professors. Connections at DePaul have proven to be beneficial and potentially life changing. Stay up-to-date on relevant real-world events to remain aware of how your subject challenges and changes the world.

Entering into a new career field can be challenging. I believe it’s important to have a strategy going in the door when you don’t know what to expect.

  • Be willing to do the grunt work. It speaks to your character and willingness to learn.
  • Advocate for yourself by expressing where you want to see yourself within the organization. And believe you can get there.

Remember, you deserve to be there because you’ve done what it takes to get there.