6 In Career

Career Change at 23: How I Got Started in Tech

I was a semester away from graduating with my art degree, and I already knew I needed to do something else.

During the summer of 2013 I worked my dream internship as a visual information specialist for the federal government. I had wanted this position since I was a junior in high school, and did everything in my power to be a model student in order to be chosen for the program. The plan was that I would knock their socks off (I did) and get a job offer for after graduation (not so fast!)

In order for me to stay on with the agency there needed to be a hiring slot, and at the time there were none. As someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer, I searched and searched all of the pathways in which one could get a job there. I ended up uncovering their “graduate scholar program” which funds those with a financial need to go to grad school in exchange for a service commitment. Bingo.

So there I was with the opportunity to go anywhere and study anything at about a 75% discount. I had to think quick though, because they needed to know the plans and have them locked down by the very next month.

The decision wasn’t very difficult.

For nearly ten years prior I had been involved with FIRST: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. They organize robotics competitions for K-12, of which I participated in during my school years, and worked for while in college. They were the whole reason why I wanted what I thought was my dream job–it was at the FIRST World Championship event that I met a recruiter for that government agency. At the time I joked with him about how I wasn’t going into STEM, so he probably didn’t want me, but he assured me there was something for everyone (like the design position I ended up pursuing).

Well, now joke’s on me! I wanted to go back into tech!

If someone were to ask me why I didn’t go into tech in the first place, the expected answer might be that I didn’t feel confident enough, or I lacked a role model, or something along those lines. But while those are very real and significant issues for attracting women to the tech field, I can honestly say that I just wasn’t interested at the time.

So what changed?

For starters, I was sick of art school. The other driving factor was that, where I worked, the designer profession provided limited opportunity for upward mobility and growth. Meanwhile there were lots of super-cool-sounding jobs in tech, some of which were less technical and seemingly attainable for someone trying to transition. So when I looked at Master’s programs, I focused on programs that were more contextual in nature. I ended up being one of the first accepted into Northeastern University’s new Security and Resilience Studies program with a declared concentration in Cyber Policy.

I graduated from art school in December of 2013 and worked as an intern for the government up until the start of my graduate program in August 2014. The year I spent in Boston was one of the happiest of my life and I loved what I was studying.

As it grew close to graduation, complications with the government hiring process made my future uncertain (a long story that we’ll leave at that). So for the sake of my financial security, I started applying to jobs in the private sector. I piqued the interest of several companies, including Capital One, and the position they offered me couldn’t have been more perfect–Cybersecurity Process Engineer for their Cyber Resilience and Strategy program. It required a combination of visualization skills and technical writing, and through that position I would get to partner with all different types of cybersecurity roles and learn what they do in order to document it for resilience and regulatory purposes.

To abandon my dream job, dream employer, and a field that I had demonstrated success in was certainly quite the leap, but in the moment I acted fearless and it certainly paid off. Fast forward to today and I couldn’t be more happy with my decision. I am living a life that wouldn’t have been possible had I’d been stubborn and stuck to the career I’d been dead-set on.

Since switching to tech I’ve remained at the same company but moved roles twice. I’ve been given some pretty cool opportunities, such as working as an insider threat analyst, and now I’m with the Technical Investigations team doing digital forensics in support of legal, HR, and corporate security. My passion for cybercrime has grown exponentially, and I’m looking forward to expanding my footprint in the tech field.

Through this blog I can’t wait to share everything I’ve learned and so much more. Cyberly exists for the tech-minded and tech-curious alike, and my goal is to make technology–and especially cybersecurity–accessible to anyone. I believe that embracing technology and living a tech-rich life can lead to your very best life. Even if you don’t pursue a career in tech, understanding how to work it into your day-to-day and to keep your digital presence safe can be a life-changer.

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Derryn
    January 9, 2018 at 1:01 am

    Nice! At my workplace, we have people who studied law and psychology working in tech. Nowadays, if you have the passion for tech, you can reach high places you never imagined before.

    • Reply
      Stacey
      January 9, 2018 at 8:16 am

      Agreed! Law and psych would be especially helpful when it comes to dealing with “the human element” side of cybersecurity, very cool.

  • Reply
    H. Carvey
    January 9, 2018 at 6:21 am

    Great stuff, thanks for sharing! You’ve inspired me to consider writing about my own decisions. I’ve blogged enough regarding my views as to what it takes to get started, based on my own experiences, but I really haven’t taken the time to “put pen to paper”, as it were, regarding the turning points and decisions.

    • Reply
      Stacey
      January 9, 2018 at 8:22 am

      Thanks for the comment! I think if more people write about their decision-making process, it will hopefully show others that there’s not a single track into the field and motivations are more diverse than one would initially think. I love reading stories of people’s why+how.

  • Reply
    H. Carvey
    January 10, 2018 at 6:39 am

    Stacey,

    “I think if more people write about their ….”

    I’ve been saying this for years! No one of us is as smart as all of us working together, but there are simply too few in the field (compared to the total number) that are passive.

    Thanks for stepping up to the plate and taking a swing!

  • Reply
    H. Carvey
    January 10, 2018 at 6:49 am

    It’s funny, your “About” page mentions a “lack of upward mobility”. Oddly enough, I’ve faced that all of my career. I started out doing vulnerability assessments, and even got to the point where I was writing an app called “NTCAT”, something we were using to replace the use of ISS’s Internet Scanner, due to all of the inaccurate answers it was giving. I never got to “move up”. More recently, I was told (at an employer previous to my current one) that I was being utilized as a “junior incident responder”. So, yeah…others face this same frustration.

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