An interesting concept in technology is how we, as a society, have transformed throughout the years to depend on it. The generational adaptation toward technology has been interesting to witness. When you think about it, an entire generation was born into a world that has always relied on technology. Then there is the generation that experienced what I like to call the "in-between" adoption of technology. This generation experienced half of their life without most of the technology we use today.
I spent 13 or so years on this planet without a computer in my home, and I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 17. I am a member of that generation that falls in that in-between spot. I’ve experienced life with and without technology. Yet how I would eventually embrace tech doesn't just start there, it's in how I’ve shaped my everyday life and even transitioned my career into cybersecurity.
Pivoting My Career Path
The path leading me to a cybersecurity career didn’t start when I used to explore on the internet as a teen. It started much further down the road. I had personally experienced the Target data breach in 2013. My information, along with more than 100 million people, was compromised during that data breach, it still didn't draw me in. However, in late 2016, I was feeling stuck in a dead-end job and was frustrated with my career.
That time was life-changing in many ways. What really shift my attention towards cybersecurity was a several-week-long experience with my then-employer’s corporate IT department. During then, I was working as an insurance account representative, and I’d often encounter numerous IT issues that required me to be in regular contact with the tech support department.
However, this situation was different than any prior support request I had. I’d been able to pinpoint the issue from the beginning – a corrupt application. I told the support department that I believed there was a system issue. After several weeks of going back and forth with multiple support specialists, it turned out I was correct, and they needed to remote access my system to repair or remove and reinstall.
Realizing My Unexplored Skills
After the issue was resolved, I asked myself why wasn’t I in an IT role? I knew the issue from the beginning but was unable to correct it myself. Up to this point, my professional experience had been in roles that focused on problem solving – and this seemed like a new way to explore that skill set.
I have always enjoyed being the go-to person for others, and I strived to be resourceful and knowledgeable. My managers had always praised me for fixing issues and finding solutions on my own. But this was unchartered territory. I never expected solving IT issues to come as naturally as they did. This realization lit a fire in me, and I soon started researching how to go back to school and change my career.
I spent close to two weeks of my free time that month researching different degree paths. I already had a Bachelor of Science in sociology and a strong class emphasis in criminal justice. So I first looked at criminology or forensic degree programs. As a lifelong lover of true crime shows and podcasts about technology, I wanted to make a difference in the world bigger than myself.
Researching Career Change Avenues
I stumbled across digital forensics as a career choice during that research phase, and I was intrigued. One night while I was out with a group of people, I spoke with a dear friend about my research and confided that I was unsure which path I was going to take.
This friend happened to be a web developer who had landed a prominent role on a government contract. She encouraged me to pursue this path because of the demand for more females in STEM fields. We discussed several pathways that would blend my passion for criminal justice and technology, and that conversation led me to more actively hone in on cybersecurity.
After nearly eight years in the corporate insurance world, I was doing work that was centered around risk management, account management and banking. In some ways, I already had that security-level mindset and a more technical background, so it seemed ideal for me as a career choice.
From this point, I began my search for schools that offered this degree or certification program. I spoke with many different admissions counselors and advisors about my potential opportunities between getting a master’s degree or a graduate certificate in cybersecurity.
At the time, certification programs were rare in comparison to degree programs, and financial aid favored a degree over a certification. Looking back, I would have more than likely chose a more accelerated certification or degree program than the initial master’s program I was in, as it would have been beneficial to my career. I submitted my application to the cybersecurity graduate programs for two local schools and was accepted to both programs.
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Choosing My Cybersecurity Education
When faced with a choice of schools, I was sold on the structure of the Masters of Science in Cybersecurity degree program at my alma mater, Webster University. I was able to blend most of my prior scholastic and corporate experience while learning more research and technical skills that I needed. Additionally, the program was structured for the working student, allowing me to excel at school and work simultaneously.
One of my favorite courses in school was digital forensics. This course allowed me to dive into the hands-on technical forensics side of cybersecurity while learning how to analyze a hard drive for deleted programs and files.
There are many different avenues you can explore with a cybersecurity degree. I am still in the beginning stages of my cybersecurity career, as I obtained my degree in 2019. I am learning that cybersecurity isn't just a high-demand field, but that it helps fulfill a lifelong passion for embracing my self-taught technical skills.
A big bonus has been being able to intertwine my degree and career journey with talking and writing about cybersecurity from a communications approach, emphasizing awareness and education. If you’re interested in a move to cybersecurity, I recommend that you get a good grasp of technical, security and risk-related types of skills. The possibilities in the cybersecurity field are endless – all you need to do is some research that will help you map out the right path.