What’s It Like to Work in Cybercrime? An Inside Look with Jen Hicks of Chainalysis
Do you know how terrorist attacks are stopped?
Military intervention is certainly one way, but Jen Hicks prefers another.
"I really, really believe that the key to preventing terrorist attacks is by cutting off their finances," explains Jen, a senior cybercrime investigator at cryptocurrency compliance and investigation firm Chainalysis.
Growing up in a military family and serving in the Navy herself, Jen has lost friends to war and considers it her life's work to help develop a more humane way of stopping attacks and stemming the growing wave of cybercrime. "I like to think that at least in my small corner, it's making a difference," she says. "That if we're able to stop things from happening without violence, then that's all the better."
We sat down with the veteran, blockchain expert, and steampunk enthusiast to unpack her role at Chainalysis, her personal interest in investigating and stopping crime, and why it's so vital that women continue to join and lead the rapidly growing fields of cybercrime and cryptocurrency.
Falling in love with financial intelligence
Jen was born in Okinawa, Japan to an Okinawan mom and Black American dad and raised between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island. Following in her dad's footsteps and joining the military wasn't her original plan.
"As a high-achieving military brat, doing ROTC and becoming an army officer felt like something I was expected to do," she explains. "But I never took a moment to do any self reflection."
When she did, around age 18, Jen realized she had political reservations about the U.S.'s involvement in the Middle East and decided against enlisting in ROTC. That was an early example of Jen breaking out from other people's expectations for her and building her own path, but it wouldn't be the last.
When she did go into the military a couple of years later, it was because she realized she couldn't afford college and didn't want her parents to go into significant debt to help her pay for it. Inspired by her Marine father, she decided to pursue a more cerebral position and became a linguist, studying Mandarin at the Defense Language Institute.
After working for a few years as a hybrid translator/cyber analyst, looking at sensitive data and combing it for intel, Jen wanted to stay in the Navy and work as an instructor, but didn't get those orders.
She decided to leave the military and look for a civilian job. Not everyone agreed with her decision, but Jen was sure of it. "I knew I'd figure it out on my own. I said, 'I know what I don't want to do, and it's this,'" she remembers.
After being recruited by Booz Allen Hamilton and working as a critical infrastructure analyst, Jen became a threat finance analyst at Leidos, where she got to combine her long-standing loves of cryptocurrency and intelligence.
"I fell in love with it," says Jen. "I saw how financial intelligence is crucial to national security—money laundering, trafficking, terrorist financing, all of that. I thought those were fascinating. So I soaked everything up like a sponge."
Jen had been following cryptocurrency as a hobby ever since she read Satoshi Nakamoto's Bitcoin whitepaper when it was published shortly after Jen graduated from high school. "I can't say that I understood every single thing at the time, but from then on, I was hooked on this idea of peer-to-peer digital currency that was, like, very cyber punkish," she says. She kept her early interest to herself because "it was such an obscure, nerdy topic," she says. But once she realized that she could work in a security capacity, investigating the dark side of cryptocurrency, from the darknet to hacks and scams and more, Jen decided to lean into her interests.
"I made it my life's mission to map how terrorists and violent extremist organizations were using cryptocurrency around the world," she says. But that mission wasn't a business priority for the company where she worked at the time, so Jen started looking for a company where it would be.
That's how she found Chainalysis.
A colleague of hers suggested she apply to the blockchain investigation firm, but Jen wasn't sure she qualified. "I had such a high opinion of them, like 'Oh my god, they're all super smart, they probably talk in Bitcoin addresses,'" she says. "But as it turns out, they really wanted me on board, so I was hired and now I get to indulge in my 19-year-old fantasies of exploring illicit activity as a job."
Jen splits her time doing investigations tied to business priorities—from looking into exchanges targeted by malicious cyber actors to investigating how someone could avoid compliance regulations and launder cryptocurrency to identifying who's phished millions out of people's accounts—and doing the work she considers her "moral responsibility."
That second set of projects includes looking into things like child sexual abuse and terrorist financing. "The spectrum is vast, and it's super, super exciting. In between these cases, I have the freedom to pursue the research that I've been wanting to for the past couple of years now," says Jen. "It's really gratifying."
Some of those leads come from her team's research; others come from law enforcement. Her team has relationships with different agencies, from local to federal. "We provide them with data to track people down and make arrests," explains Jen.
Other leads come from individuals in the community who find people like Jen via LinkedIn or Chainalysis's contact form and ask for help. "People will come and say, 'I was scammed out of thousands of dollars,'" says Jen. "It's almost always part of a larger phishing campaign. So we take that, ingest it into our database, and absorb that information into our research to see if we can find where the money went."
It's that open-ended puzzle-solving that Jen loves so much about her job.
"It's the ultimate puzzle to be solved every time you're given one of these cases," says Jen. They'll start with an address and an initial transaction and will follow transitions in and out of different cryptocurrencies, building a graph of transactions and understanding of what is happening.
Jen has two goals for her work: first, to make cryptocurrency more accessible and safer, and second, to help educate people on how it works to empower them to participate in crypto.
Now is the time to get involved
Financial crimes are here to stay, says Jen, even for people who aren't in traditional finance.
"Let's say you're a social worker or a mental health counselor or provider of some sort, right. And you have an elderly patient who just happens to mention that they've struck up a long-distance friendship online. You're going to have to know what the red flags are for possible scam attempts," says Jen.
And cybercrimes often exploit social vulnerabilities, not just technical ones. Look at the 2016 election, says Jen: "They're able to exploit deep fissures that we've always had here and do some considerable damage." On a smaller scale, criminals are sending phishing emails that look like crowdfunding campaigns which people are less likely to look closely at in their rush to help. "It's a new flavor of social engineering that malicious actors are latching onto," says Jen.
With cybercrime already impacting so many aspects of our lives and soon to impact more—"targeting IOT devices, medical technologies, self-driving cars, NFTs"—it's a prime time to shift into the field, and Jen believes that there's no one 'right' way to make that pivot. You don't have to come from traditional IT or finance backgrounds to make an impact in this space, and if you come from an underrepresented background, that's especially true.
"It's easy to build up that psychological barrier of entry to the crypto community when you see that these huge online communities might be filled with trolls saying derogatory things that are either racist or sexist, or that conversations surrounding cryptocurrencies are being dominated by certain personalities on Twitter, or there are men around you who try to confidently tell you the most contradictory things about investing in crypto. To me, all of that is just noise and you have to block it out," says Jen.
"What I want women who are interested in this stuff to do is just be hands-on with the technology itself," says Jen, who suggests starting by creating a private wallet, understanding how privacy coins work, and learning about centralized versus decentralized systems.
If you're a woman interested in the field, reach out to others! Jen is happy to talk to anyone interested, she says. "People in the field are way, way too happy to talk to you for hours about how it works or how they got there," she says. "Chainalysis is doing a fantastic job of hiring women as investigators, and our director is a woman, and it's really cool seeing the empowerment there and knowing that we're considered the best of the best. But we always want more! So feel free to reach out."
💎Want to know what engineering teams are like at Workiva? Watch the video to the end to find out!
📼 Engineering teams at Workiva are constantly hiring. Marie Yue, Senior Engineering Manager at the company, tells you what they look for in a candidate and what the dynamics of teamwork are like.
📼 The typical path in the engineering teams at Workiva is that you grow into a senior, and then you move into a lead role. From there, there are a few different tracks that you can take depending on your interest. You can become a staff engineer, an architect, or even an engineering manager. What are you waiting for to apply?
📼In the engineering teams at Workiva every member should feel empowered to do their job effectively. For this, each has to understand how the work they do day to day solves customers’ problems. Managers will always seek to be aware of members’ career path aspirations so that they can look for opportunities and projects to help each person reach the next step in their career.
Engineering Teams At Workiva: A Safe Space
Marie Yue’s team is a safe space for people to make mistakes and ask for help, and each member feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. She wants to make sure that everyone is individually empowered to lead and make decisions. For this, the team has regular meetings where they do fun things like play virtual games or eat lunch together, and they also like to re-review and add to their team working agreement once a quarter.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Workiva? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Marie Yue
If you are interested in a career at Workiva, you can connect with Marie Yue on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Workiva
Workiva was founded to transform the way people manage and report business data with various collaborators, data sources, documents, and spreadsheets. Today, people all over the world use their platform to seamlessly orchestrate data among their systems and applications for transparent and trusted connected reporting and compliance. At Workiva, they are innovative in everything they do—from how they build their software, to how they serve their customers, to how they treat their employees.
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
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After two years of remote programming, we’re excited to welcome the 2022 NIKE, Inc. Internship Program back to our U.S. offices this week!
This year’s class of 318 represent the top 1% of 34,000+ applicants from 113 universities – including 10 Hispanic Serving Institutions and five historically Black colleges and universities. And that’s not all! Many of this year’s interns are Division 1 student-athletes, representing Track and Field, Rowing, Soccer, and Volleyball, to name a few.
During the nine-week internship – built around the theme of Never Done Shining – interns will work across Nike, Jordan and Converse taking on meaningful projects for the business areas they’re supporting. We can’t wait to watch this talented, diverse group kick off their Nike journey and shine!
Want to learn more about the program? https://jobs.nike.com/internships
Joseph Arquillo doesn’t work in Human Resources — he works in People Operations. And the distinction matters.
“It was named ‘human resources’ because it saw humans as resources, utilized for certain tasks or behaviors. But that’s not really what it’s about,” says Joseph, who is a Senior Manager of People Ops at Clyde.
“Calling it ‘people ops’ adds back what you lose with ‘HR.’ My philosophy is that I am there to support you. I am there to work with you, empower you, and enable you so you can be your best self.”
For Joseph, a key element of helping employees become their best selves is making sure that the workplace, whether in-person or virtual, is an inclusive space for all. That doesn’t happen by accident — it requires a dedicated DEIB strategy and leaders who are committed to asking hard questions of themselves and others.
We sat down with Joseph to hear more about his professional journey, and the practices of leaders who create environments where everyone feels included.
More Than Just a Number
As a college freshman, Joseph planned on sticking with liberal arts when it came to choosing a major. But then he took a class in Boston College’s School of Education, and loved its holistic approach to applied psychology.
This inspired him to switch his major to psychology and human development, and select minors in political science, and management and leadership, where he enjoyed learning about organizational psychology.
After graduation, he explored the consulting space to put theory into practice, but found out during an internship at a multinational consulting firm that finance or accounting weren’t the places he wanted to build his career.
“Since Big Four companies have 250,000 employees, you become just a number,” he says of the experience. “It wasn’t my cup of tea. Too corporatized.”
That kicked off Joseph’s interest in startups.
“It’s always fun to get in the weeds! One thing that’s very interesting to me is a challenge,” he says. “When you’re helping a company like Clyde grow and scale, joining when they’re at a Series B and helping them get to the next level, you really get to focus on the interaction between people, process, and product,” explains Joseph. “You need to hire the right people to work towards increasing efficiencies in all areas, but also make sure that we’re enabling them to create a strong product.”
6 Keys To Building Inclusive Spaces as a Leader
Across the different industries and companies that Joseph has worked in, he’s identified the behaviors that create truly inclusive environments — as well as those that discourage them.
Here’s what he’s seen:
- First, recognize your own privilege. “If you’re a man, you have privilege, even if you’re a gay male. If you are a white woman, you have racial privilege. It’s really important that you’re cognizant while you interact with somebody how they might interpret the interaction based on your identity.”
- Leaders should always speak last. This is important always, but especially in in-person spaces, where it might seem even more nerve-wracking to speak up in a crowd, says Joseph. “You want to make sure you’re creating that space for employees who aren’t as senior to feel comfortable voicing their thoughts.”
- And, leaders should use check-ins liberally. “You need to ask yourself how you’re supporting your employees. Are you checking in on them as people before you ask about certain tasks? You want to foster a workplace where employees from all walks of life can feel supported,” he says.
- DEIB isn’t just about adding new initiatives — sometimes it’s about removing barriers. “You need to remove unnecessary bias,” explains Joseph. “That can mean making sure you have appropriate policies and practices that don’t hinder people depending on who they are or where they live.”
- Maximizing participation requires planning with a diversity lens. Joseph has helped the Clyde team gather together and bond as a group. Along the way, he’s been careful to consider physical and psychological safety for everyone involved. “For instance, if you’re doing an event, do you have someone who’s not drinking? Have you set up the environment for people who might have a physical disability, or carefully planned the flow of activities for people who might be neurodivergent?”
- Saying you want to be better isn’t enough — articulate actions you will take. “Pride is a great example,” explains Joseph. “Yes, June is a time to celebrate. But it’s also a time to march. And beyond that, how do you show up and celebrate with the LGBTQIA+ community throughout the year?”
Embracing the Unknown
If you visit Joseph’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll see his personal motto: “Without challenge, change, and a bunch of unknowns, it’s no fun.”
That belief has led him to study what he’s passionate about, to take on new and exciting roles at growing startups, and now, at Clyde, to help formalize what world-class people operations looks like at a fast-growing company.
“I view myself as a connector that really empowers people, challenges teams, and helps drive us towards what I consider to be an improved future,” he says. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to be the chief advocate for each of our employees, and remove any barriers in the way of their growth.”