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  • Writer's pictureAcademic Incubator Staff

Inside the NSA: Q&A with a Former Intern

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

Tiffany Rose Miller spent a summer as an intern in the National Security Agency Civil Liberties, Privacy and Transparency Office. Upon graduation from New York University, she chose to return to NSA to continue her work in ensuring the agency upholds civil liberties and privacy values while keeping our nation secure.

AIP: What is NSA culture like?

Miller: I would describe NSA’s culture as innovative and mission driven: consistently seeking new ways to remain at the cutting edge of emerging technologies and allowing employees to present their ideas to leadership. Within two months of being an intern, I had the opportunity to brief senior intelligence leaders at NSA and across the Intelligence Community, and I had the opportunity to help contribute to critical agency reports sent to the Director and members of Congress. Everything we do is focused on the current mission of the agency, I’ve had the opportunity to use what I’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to real-world events that focus on NSA’s key objectives—this has made my experience particularly rewarding.

AIP: What do you want students to know?

Miller: While you’re in school it’s important that you push yourself to learn more than one skill. Minor in something different than your major that will make you a well-rounded individual. At NSA many skills are utilized, you open yourself up to a wide-range of opportunities based on what you can offer.

AIP: NSA has an incredible array of student opportunities, do you have any advice for helping students choose? Can one student apply for multiple positions?

Miller: Yes, you can apply to more than one internship program, don’t limit yourself to only one job posting. Every opportunity allows you to contribute to NSA’s overall mission whether it’s an administrative, policy, analytical, or cyber-focused role. Any job you take at the agency will expose you to key mission strategies that are critical to national security.

AIP: What are “stand-out” or impressive traits and accomplishments in a student intern or entry level hire?

Miller: The most important traits that will make you a successful candidate here include having integrity, being reliable, and being self-motivated. When you enter NSA spaces you’re trusted with a lot of information that may not be available to the public, NSA depends on you to protect this information and relies on you to use the information you are given within the scope of your job.

AIP: What brought you to the NSA and why do you stay?

Miller: I was accepted into all of the intelligence agencies I applied to; what brought me to NSA was its technological capabilities and signals intelligence mission. NSA stands at the forefront of collecting key intelligence against America’s foreign adversaries, which in turn helps inform policymakers to make decisions. As a former policy student who specialized in quantitative analysis, I’m able to leverage everything I’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to what I’m doing at the agency.

AIP: Can you give me a common misconception/myth about working at the NSA?

Miller: The common misconceptions are about the security clearance process and polygraph: that it’s nearly an impossible process to go through and that you need to fully prepare for this in advance. This is not true. The security clearance process is relatively routine and thorough. The only thing you need to do to prepare for this process is a willingness to be open and honest with the questions they ask you.

AIP: Are there core/ foundational classes all students interested in the NSA should be taking?

Miller: Majoring in STEM, social science, communications, or business will allow you to have a strong foundation to prepare you for a career at NSA. In addition, taking reading and writing classes are important skills to bring to the agency. You’ll definitely find yourself conducting research and writing reports, some that may be read by senior leaders at the NSA.

AIP: What piece of professional advice do you live by?

Miller: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity; as NSA is a mission-driven agency, and things can change quickly and incredible new opportunities may open up for you sooner than you may expect it. Work hard and maintain great relationships with your peers and leadership team.

A word from the current NSA Intern Management:

Caitlin Zohdi, who leads the NSA Summer Intern program, encourages all students to consider applying for an internship at NSA.

She explained that NSA offers a wide array of career field exploration opportunities in cybersecurity, computer science, signals intelligence, languages, policy and more amongst the 31 paid internship programs for students. Although many programs are held in the Washington, D.C. area, several are located at other NSA locations across the United States including Colorado, Texas, Georgia, and Hawaii.

“We recognize innovation comes from a workforce with a diverse set of views, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives – people who can apply their talents to the nation’s most challenging problems in unique ways,” said Zohdi.

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