Around 1975, while I worked at the Federal Trade Commission, a female mentor told me that accidents of life lead to interesting opportunities – and she was correct.
I tell students at the Maurer School of Law that all of the most interesting work assignments and positions I have held in the ensuing 41 years have involved someone asking me to join a project. These were projects about which I knew relatively little at the beginning and much more by their ends. The people inviting me to join them took risks in designing theories of recovery or other strategies, or new ways of teaching students next-generation skills. And, frankly, they took the risk that I could help them.
One example came the first week of my employment at the Federal Trade Commission. I was assigned to a team to bring the first enforcement action using the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This was in an era when consumer credit histories were not computerized, even though they would be in the next decade. But it was the combination of consumer privacy concerns and the vast amount of data in the hands of credit bureaus, as they were known then, that launched me on a long path to working on larger privacy issues and on data security.
I had two prior experiences with computers and data. First, my late father had been in the computer and accounting fields. He owned an IBM computer in the 1960s and later a Wang computer that arrived in two large briefcases. He and my late mother developed a system that was comparable to the bar code, but they did not file for their patent fast enough. Mom had the idea; Dad crafted the system.
I was comfortable with early computers before I left for Mount Holyoke College in 1967. Mount Holyoke belonged to a group of colleges that had access to a mainframe computer at Dartmouth via telephone lines — pretty primitive by today’s standards. Later, a path-breaking female political scientist assigned projects that required students to use that computer. I designed an analysis of presidential inaugural speeches for recurrent themes. I had to learn rudimentary programming to manipulate the data we hoped to derive from data we entered onto paper tapes. This was before Microsoft and other commercially available software.
My current interests in privacy, data security, and cybersecurity, thus, were piqued by assignments given me by one man and three remarkable women — my mother, a faculty member, and my FTC mentor. They each took risks in their careers and they gave me space to take on such rewarding work in the public interest before I came to the Maurer School and to give me the confidence to dabble in new technologies over my 28 years at IU.
Today, I do research about privacy and payments methods such as debit cards, prepaid cards, and virtual currencies. My female mentors and my father and the Maurer School gave me the confidence, tools, and opportunities to work in these fields.