The Bus to my Future
In July of 2020 on my way home from work, a bus drove by that would change my life forever. The bus had an advertisement plastered on the side “Learn Cybersecurity in 6 months with ASU’s Boot Camp.” I was intrigued and it stuck out to me enough to head home and research the boot camp. It sounded incredible! Hands-on training, career mentorship, a voucher to take the CompTIA Security+ exam, and a certificate of completion. I excitedly brought up the program to my wife and saw a light in my eyes she had not in years fully supported my decision to enroll in the boot camp.
That night I signed up for an advisor to reach out to me and enrolled in the boot camp the next day after speaking with the advisor.
Imposter Syndrome Strikes Back
I had apprehensions about joining the boot camp. I was not coming from a technical background so would I be able to keep up? I had never touched the command line before the boot camp and was terrified that I would brick my new laptop if I did something wrong.
On the first day we went through an introduction exercise, something that I had done dozens of times in my career as a trainer, but this time I was the learner and it felt weird being on the other end of a new journey for the first time in years. So many of my classmates relayed their years of IT experience, either through their careers or hobbies and I felt extremely out of place. I was a trainer in a call center, who outside of standard Microsoft Office products and company-specific programs, had not had any IT experience since my coding class in high school 13 years prior.
I thought maybe this was a bad idea and contemplated using the one-week get out of jail free card before my tuition was locked in and I either completed the boot camp or dropped out and was out of the thousands I had spent on it.
I am glad I never cashed in that get-out-of-jail-free card.
The Spark That Lit a Fire of Passion
The first two weeks were a blur of panic and nerves. I was the least experienced person in my group activities, my years of teaching myself to be outgoing and take charge went right out the window and I became the fly on the wall for the first time since middle school when I was too scared to even attempt to make friends. I barely participated in any discussion’s cybersecurity-related and was severely regretting my decision to join the boot camp.
Slowly I began to get more comfortable and realized the command line was not as terrifying as I believed it to be. I discovered that yes you can completely brick your laptop, but you need to know the correct commands to do it first otherwise you just get an error message. I began looking forward to each class instead of dreading it, began showing up early and staying late for office hours to ask questions and get some one-on-one time with the teacher and TAs. I even began to research the topics outside of the boot camp to take a deeper dive into each lesson and prepare questions to ask for anything that caught my eye.
By the end of the boot camp, I had come so far from the terrified individual 6 months prior who was too nervous to touch the command line! I ended up getting an A+ in the course, leading my team in the Capstone Project, and earned the respect of my peers for coming so far!
While the boot camp was over my journey into cybersecurity was just beginning.
Security+ + Regret= Success!
After the boot camp was over, I began my studies to pursue my Security+ exam. I would spend 3-4 hours every night after work, my entire lunch break at work, and all day on the weekends reading, practicing, and researching all things Security+. I had set a goal for myself that I would take the exam by the end of March, less than 2 months after completing the boot camp. I even told my classmates that I was going to cash in my voucher by the end of the month to hold myself accountable.
On March 29, 2021, I sat for the Security+ exam and had never regretted a decision more up until that point. Imposter syndrome hit hard minutes before the exam. I felt like I did not study enough, did not practice enough, and was doomed to fail. Why did I not wait a few more months to take the exam?! But it was too late, the exam started, and I was immediately overwhelmed. My mind was blank and the first practice-based question was on Kerberos, a subject that I just never could get right in the practice exams. After staring at the question for 5 minutes straight I took a deep breath, told myself it would all be ok, I would do my best and pass or fail at least I made it this far!
An hour and a half have never passed so quickly in my entire life. In the practice exams, I would finish all 90 questions in less than an hour, and even after reviewing I always had 10 to 15 minutes to spare. I used every second of that clock and when it was over, I prepared myself to see by how much I had failed and get my report. After clicking the view score I saw something that made me fall out of my chair in shock.
I had done it! I passed my Security+ exam only a month after I had completed my boot camp! I called my wife and cried as I relayed great news to her. I felt like I was on top of the world at that point!
Even though I now had my Security+ certification under my belt I knew I wanted to study more but did not know where to begin. For a few months, I did a few hands-on labs, read a couple of books but was now stagnant and needed a way to continue my education.
One day I came across a post from a recent connection that had just graduated from Western Governors University with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and just like the bus, I found it was a sign on my road to cybersecurity.
Networking My Way to the Present
For the last 3 months I have studied non-stop every day for my degree, self-studying for topics outside my degree like the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification and getting hands-on practice with TryHackMe.
I began watching numerous videos on wonderful platforms like Gerald Auger’s Simply Cyber, Neal Bridges’ Cyber Insecurity, and several others that I found along the way and there was a common message they all shared for breaking into cybersecurity. It is not just degrees, certifications, or technical skills that will help you break into this industry, but your network.
I had been on LinkedIn for almost 6 months and never put much effort into it, but if these huge names in cybersecurity say this is the way, then maybe I should add a little effort into it. I had already tried firing off hundreds of applications and it never got me past a “sorry not interested” email at most so what did I have to lose? I excel in talking to people, making connections, and enjoying helping every person I can so why not?
Slowly at first, I began building my connections on LinkedIn. Began commenting on posts, making connections, cheering on people’s accomplishments, and having conversations with the community. I started to get messages from people asking me questions, for advice, and thanking me for my input and it was the most incredible feeling in the world to be able to help every person I could!
I had never thought that so early in my journey into cybersecurity that I would be looked at as a mentor or someone that people could go to for advice, but I have embraced that role and a new passion was born.
No Matter What You Got This!
I started Cyber Gnome as I wanted to share my story, provide encouragement, and cheer every person on as they work towards their dream. I want to provide the collection of resources I have found over the last year to those that have the passion but don’t know where to start.
I share my story because I want people, like me that don’t come from technical backgrounds, suffer from imposter syndrome, have doubts about their abilities to know you are not alone! It is never too late to pursue your dreams, there are no prerequisites needed other than drive and determination.
Everyone starts somewhere, your path may be longer, you may have more detours and stops along the way but one day you will reach your goal. You can and will do this and I 100% believe in you! It will take time but never give up on yourself or your dream. I almost did and I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.