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How I Went From Studying Theater To Staging Cyber Attacks

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Allison Ritter is a Threat Gamification Engineer who works at the X-Force Command Center. This sentence is neither the beginning of a spy thriller nor a part of a futurist plan for Earth 2030. It’s the reality of an IBM employee and her role in keeping data secure.

If “Threat Gamification Engineer” doesn’t translate for you, then you’re not alone. Even Allison didn’t know about the role before she applied to it. In fact, she didn’t study a technical field as an undergraduate. So, how did she end up where she is? Well, she worked hard—really hard. She drew on the skills she honed while in college and in the working world. And she acquired new skills while working at IBM.

If you are interested in a career at IBM, sign up for the IBM Talent Network.

Threat Gamification And X-Force

Every day thousands of companies face the threat of cyber attacks. Hackers who steal data can cost companies billions of dollars or derail the faith that they spent decades building with their customers. The X-Force Command Center is a team of security experts, artists, and strategists who come together to simulate the effects of these hacking breaches on major companies. Their goal? To make sure that businesses are prepared to prevent cyber attacks and mitigate their damage in the event that they aren’t thwarted.

In Allison’s case, “Gamification” describes turning the scenario into an interactive simulation (or game). The “engineer” component comes from the design element of her job.

“I create storytelling simulations of what it would be like if your company was going through a cyber breach,” Allison says. “My team focuses on the entire breach process, from when hackers gain access, to when the news of the hack reaches Twitter, or the company’s stock is dropping as a result.”

Making The Perfect Role

The best part is, because of the entrepreneurial culture at IBM, the role shaped itself to her interests, and the skills required followed from company-provided training and hands-on experience.

Because of her theater minor and her post-grad job in security, Allison was well-suited to the role. However, there was still plenty for her to learn when she arrived at IBM. That didn’t mean her ideas weren’t heard, though. For one scenario, Allison suggested streaming live news broadcasts to turn up the heat on security and PR teams—even though there was no infrastructure in place for this. Her boss gave her the go-ahead and made sure everyone got the training needed to make it happen.

Working in this creatively supportive environment, Allison’s list of interests quickly became her list of skills.

According to her, that’s why IBM looks at candidates of every college major when they’re hiring.

“If you don’t have certain skills, we can teach you that here,” she says. “What you do need is to have an openness to learning something new and jumping outside your comfort zone.”

If you think that you could be like Allison, turning your passions into skills that add value to the team, then IBM might be the perfect environment for you. “We’re looking for people who can adapt to change,” she says. “Not just a checklist of skills.”

“The great thing about being at a big company is that you can work on health care one day, finance the next, security the next,” she says. “You can look to experts in all those fields and they’ll mentor you. You get to write your own adventure book.”

Now, only four years out from graduation, Allison is running the show as the recently appointed Creative Director of the X-Force Command Center.


Her latest project? A six-step cybersecurity and tech challenge called The Vault. Over the month of September, six unique problems will appear on the Vault website. Solving these problems will give you access to the next step—and, finally, a chance to attend an in-person event with members of the actual IBM cybersecurity team. The first lock appears 9/10 and registration closes 9/16, so get hacking!

Sign up to open The IBM Vault and compete for a trip to IBM Cambridge Research. It won’t be easy, you’ll need to be fast. Think outside to get inside.


There is no other company like IBM and there is no business professional like the IBMer. We are experts in nearly every technical scientific and business field. We are citizens of, and apply our expertise in, more than 170 countries. Yet we are united by a single purpose: to be essential. We do that by creating the most advanced technology to change how our clients work and run their businesses. And through them, IBMers change how the world works.

The article first appeared on WayUp:

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