Computer science alumnus Mark Adams (BS ’02) is an avid reader, an aspiring guitarist, and a gamer at heart. He is also the current Chief Security Officer at Adobe, where his focus is on supporting the teams handling many aspects of cybersecurity, such as governance, engineering, and incident response. His daily experiences in this role, much like his personal interests, are varied and exciting.
“As CSO, my focus is to support and connect the dots between companywide risk and security program capabilities,” Adams says. “That can be as simple as working on the next version of a particular governance policy or as complicated as managing a global incident response exercise. One thing’s for sure…it never gets boring, and I wake up each day looking forward to a new experience.”
Adams has been aware of the benefits of taking on new or unexpected challenges since his undergraduate days.
When Adams started his education at Cal State Fullerton, he was an aspiring lawyer learning to install data routers and switches on the weekends to help pay for his education. When he realized how much he enjoyed working with technology, he switched his major to match his passion, enrolling at the College of Engineering & Computer Science (ECS).
His passion for problem-solving presented him with unique opportunities, including a full-time position at CSUF when he was only a sophomore.
“As an Information Technology Consultant for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, I was provided the opportunity to work on high-end Linux research labs and participate in a range of campus computing projects,” Adams says. “You could say that my education literally paid for itself.”
Finding His Path
At ECS, he met and learned from a number of inspiring faculty members, including current Dean Susan Barua and Computer Science Professors Bin Cong and Ning Chen. They – along with other CSUF faculty and staff, including Jim Friel, retired chair and professor of mathematics; John Foster, retired professor of geology; and Brad van Mourik, retired computer technician – were instrumental in encouraging him to dive full force into a technology career.
“While the projects and technology I’ve worked on over my career have constantly changed, the enjoyment a computer science career provides has never faltered.”
Mark Adams (BS ’02), Chief Security Officer at Adobe
“I remember when I first switched my major from political science to computer science, I was presented with a long list of courses to catch up on,” Adams says. “My first thought was, ‘Wow, this stuff looks really, really hard.’ What I came to discover was that, while the coursework was challenging, it was all rooted in real-world, useful skills.”
Adams says he still relies on core principles the ECS program taught him. This is especially true when he’s working with data structures, object-oriented programming, cryptography, and algorithm design. These areas, he says, are very much at the root of any technology career – and what a prolific career his has been.
A Man Who’s Worn Many Hats
Before taking on the role of CSO at Adobe, Adams worked for notable companies like Blizzard, Red 5 Studios, and Lending Tree. His past roles include software developer, ethical hacker, IT systems engineer, network architect, project manager, technology leader, chief information officer, chief technology officer, and chief security officer.
“I’m actually more of an engineer at heart who likes to tackle unique challenges,” he says. “For me, it’s always been about trying to find a unique challenge, often in an emerging technology, and being willing to stretch myself for a solution. This has led to quite an interesting career, as it’s required me to reinvent myself several times.”
Adams credits his success, in part, to his determination and flexibility, as well as not being daunted by new or challenging tasks.
Of his beginnings at CSUF, he says, “In those years, everything about information technology was new and evolving. Even websites were a novelty. We had relatively few specializations, and technology workers were expected to wear a lot of hats. I learned early on that adopting a flexible ‘try anything’ attitude opened a lot of doors.”
His ECS computer science degree provided an excellent foundation, so he could dive into the newest technology trends. While being a working student attending classes at night was challenging, Adams says CSUF faculty always provided ways to make it work, and the encouragement they gave him to stick with it really paid off.
He also looks back fondly at times he exercised his tech skills outside his courses.
“Back in the day, I was the founder of something called the Titan Underground BBS. This was a pre-Facebook site that allowed students and faculty to log in, communicate, and play some basic online games,” Adams says. “Good times!”
Bracing for the Future
Since Adams’s beginnings at CSUF, technology has come a long way, and so have the threats that cybersecurity specialists must work to protect against. Hackers have grown from being lone operators to billion-dollar businesses, complete with customer service support.
“These hacking agencies have customer service departments, human resource teams, sales staff, etc. If you’re not happy with the piece of malware they provided, you can always contact their 24/7 support line for assistance. It’s mind-blowing,” he says.
As hackers have evolved, so have cybersecurity defense tactics.
“The sheer amount of data our defensive systems collect has grown exponentially,” Adams says. “The challenge is to be able to analyze the data and quickly identify the highest risk indicators. The larger the data set, the trickier this gets. To that aim, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning represent a major technology leap that we hope will make a difference.”
The growth in computer science and information technology fields isn’t slowing down anytime soon. They are the fastest-growing occupational fields in the United States, projected to add more than 650,000 new jobs  in the coming years. That’s why it’s more important than ever to foster and support interest in computer sciences, and Adams has some advice for students pursuing a career in the field.
“The most valuable lesson I learned was that being scrappy and determined pays off,” he says. “I think it’s important to be willing to tackle challenges you don’t necessarily have the experience or answers for. It will be scary at first, but if you trust yourself and the skills you’ve learned, you’ll – more often than not – find the answer.”
He says this approach and willingness to seize new challenges has given him a broad skill set that’s helpful to companies across any industry, and it’s kept him passionate about working in a field that never slows down.
He also stresses the importance of honing communication skills.
“A lot of what we focus on in cybersecurity is reviewing large amounts of interconnected data, connecting the dots, and providing risk analysis,” Adams says. “When it comes to providing briefings, the most important skill in the room is being able to clearly and effectively explain the ‘why’ of what we are recommending.”
To stay ahead of evolving cybersecurity challenges, Adams recommends that students start developing relevant AI and machine learning skills now to benefit their careers.
“Take advantage of the range of online courses designed to provide accelerated experience with tools like Python, TensorFlow, and NLTK,” he says.
Adams looks forward to visiting the CSUF campus in the spring 2022 term and connecting with students who have similar technological aspirations. In the meantime, he advises, “Enjoy your time as a student! Don’t be afraid to try new things and stretch yourself to tackle emerging areas of technology.”