After working in tech-support roles with several companies, Kerrington Hill found himself looking for two things: a vacation, and a more meaningful career.
“Nothing will test your mental strength and patience like working in tech support,” said Hill, while noting the positive side of the profession: “It does teach you a lot about following through until you get the job done.”
Today, Hill is getting a much different kind of job done, as a cybersecurity analyst at Charles Schwab in Austin, Texas. In his role, Hill helps protect identity and access-management systems for one of the world’s best-known financial services companies.
As someone whose academic background was originally in kinesiology, Hill is proof that a profession once considered a necessary evil within many organizations has become not only highly valued, but a realistic career path.
Developing a ‘security mindset’
Hill said his journey into cybersecurity began by enrolling in the cyber security certificate course offered by Brainstation, a digital learning company with campuses and office locations in both Canada and the U.S.
The part-time program, which can run five-to-10 weeks, is designed to explore technical strategies, common threat vectors, and security applications. For Hill, though, what stood out was seeing a list of companies that hired BrainStation graduates such as Cisco, IBM, and TD Ameritrade.
“It let me know BrainStation is legit,” Hill confessed. “Also, I had a good feeling that my employer would pay for the program consider payment options.”
According to Jackie Flores, Lead Instructor, Cybersecurity at BrainStation, the certificate course is geared to individuals without traditional IT or cybersecurity backgrounds because of how the content is broken down.
Instead, the emphasis is on developing what she described as a “security mindset” — where potential risks are assessed and acted upon. This is invaluable for anyone on the job market, she pointed out, given cybersecurity has become an agenda item at the board-of-directors level in many organizations.
“One of the things I constantly tell our learners is that people are the greatest weakness to cybersecurity. People can be too comfortable, carefree or sometimes just simply unaware that their behaviours are putting information and systems at risk,” said Flores. “You could spend millions on the best cybersecurity tools and programs, but all it takes is one person to be careless or have malicious intent and it’s over.”
Classroom discussions pulled from the headlines
This critical nature of cybersecurity skills has only become more apparent this year. As Flores pointed out, this past spring there were two major ransomware attacks — where cybercriminals penetrate a network and lock down systems and data until a ransom is paid — which completely paralyzed the supply chain of two of the largest companies in their industry. This included Brazilian-based JBS, and Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S.
“I had students that experienced the impact of those attacks – the price of fuel and meat went up because the supply was low,” Flores said. “Both of these are standard products that your average individual purchases on a weekly basis. While there is still a lot we need to learn about these attacks, it’s easy to speculate and tie in the concepts we learn about in class to develop theories on how these attacks may have originated and panned out.”
The Brainstation course also looks at other high-profile attacks and security incidents at companies ranging from Twitter and Capital One to Equifax, Flores added. For their final project, learners choose one of three scenarios to assess the security incident, perform an analysis of the event, and ultimately provide a recommendation to the company on how to move forward.
“It’s very neat to see our learners start from ground zero and then 10 weeks later they can speak in front of the class and even answer questions that are asked regarding how they came up with their recommendations and conclusion,” said Flores.
A field with multiple career paths
The course not only provided Hill with specifics on how to protect data, but a broader perspective on what a cybersecurity career might look like. In the first week, he said, his instructors showed a diagram that mapped out different areas within the field, and how it would be possible to move from one to the other.
Brainstation’s instructors introduced Hill to contacts at multiple companies that he wouldn’t have been able to connect with otherwise. Hill added that ultimately his self-identified strengths in communication led him to identity and access management.
According to Flores, the need for cybersecurity talent will only continue to grow as society becomes more technologically advanced and connected, adding more ‘smart’ devices in our homes and businesses. However, a successful career means staying abreast of new areas of risk and emerging best practices.
Flores noted that their course is great to have on a resume because it shows employers that you invested the time and energy into developing cybersecurity skills. “With any course you take, you have to take what you learned and build on it if you truly want to reap the rewards,” she added.
Hill agreed. “When I was hired, I was told that the deciding factor was that I committed to learning outside of work.”