March 16, 2023
Taking the leap into cybersecurity: My very nonlinear journey
Written by: Laura Kenner
It took me a long time to find my way to my current happy existence, with a fulfilling career in cybersecurity. It was not an easy road and definitely not a direct route.
I am sharing my story with the hope that someone who can relate finds a way to get here too. Join me! The grass is in fact greener on the other side.
When I was young I was like Jon Snow - I knew nothing.
I graduated from high school in 1990. I was independent and headstrong, and I had this naïve idea that things like a rewarding career, finding true love, traveling the world, and having a family would just sort of… happen in due course.
Turns out, adulting is hard. Making it in the real world, with no college degree and few marketable skills is even harder. Though I would assess myself as reasonably intelligent and very teachable, I had a hard time.
My first jobs were in food service. Over time, I worked in every kind of restaurant from fast food to fine dining. As those who have done their time in the hospitality industry will know, working in a fast food joint is hard work. I learned to think fast, move fast, be efficient, and to not breathe in while cleaning the restrooms. Serving tables, though I enjoyed it and I developed great customer service skills, was difficult in a different way. Some people are just plain mean, and servers tend to end up on the wrong end of their wrath.
I didn’t see a future for myself in the restaurant industry so, in my early 20’s, I decided to skill up and get into a better line of work. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a medical secretarial adult education (noncredit) program that would take six months to complete. It was affordable and fast…and so I signed up. The program focused on learning medical terminology, including pharmaceuticals, procedures, treatments, instruments, anatomy, symptoms, and diagnoses. I also learned medical billing and coding, and basic office skills, including - gasp - WordPerfect!
I enjoyed learning these new skills and enthusiastically entered the world of medical office support with my first job in a dental office as a receptionist. From there, I started making lateral moves, from dental assistant to medical receptionist to medical transcriptionist. I worked in small offices, hospitals, and even from home, long before all the cool kids were doing it.
Time marched on and all those things I thought would just happen somehow…didn’t.
Though I was working hard–sometimes two jobs–I could barely support myself. I was alone and I was going nowhere. With the best of intentions I attended college a couple different times, but I never could stick with it while trying to support myself. I dropped out. Now, I had student loan debt, no degree, and I was becoming resigned to a bleak future.
I couldn’t understand how I ended up here. I was smart and capable. I was a well-rounded individual, an avid reader, kept up with the news, and watched documentaries for fun. I was an early adopter of technology (as soon as I could afford it) and I was addicted to the Internet long before my peers even had computers of their own. I was a naturally curious person with a love of learning. I just couldn’t see a way out of the mess I was in.
Then, this nut finally found her bolt! I was 38 years old when I married the man who gets me and has always believed in me. As a couple we didn’t have a lot of money in the beginning and we struggled together, but we were happy because we had each other.
Of course, the moral of this story isn’t to “land yourself a man,” because that is not a guarantee of a happy ending. I will say, though, that love and emotional support go a long way when you are doubting yourself and afraid to go for what you want.
In fact… it may have been the support that allowed me the mental space to have an epiphany.
I realized I was working in a semi-skilled, pink-collar job, not a career. I haven’t heard the term “pink-collar job” in a long time, but they still exist. They tend to have low wage ranges, offer little opportunities for advancement, and they are predominantly occupied by women.
I felt stuck. I was being pigeon-holed into support roles, with no chance to develop other marketable skills. I knew that getting up and out was going to take a massive effort on my part. I realized that if I was going to succeed this time, I needed to be excited about it. I would need that enthusiasm to drive me to the finish line.
"I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."
- Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones
As luck would have it, I got a little push in the right direction. I was working for a hospital when it was announced that the entire medical records department would be outsourced to another company within the year. Many employees would keep their jobs by simply transferring to the new company, but I knew my job would not. For one thing, that company didn’t hire transcriptionists. For another thing, transcription was quickly being replaced by speech-to-text technology. It was a trend I saw coming for a long time. This was my sign.
I took a long look at my options, and considered a new field entirely. Surveying the landscape, I concluded several things:
- My job was being replaced by technology. I wanted to be on the winning team.
- I loved computers and technology and better yet, I enjoyed learning about them.
- A career in technology would never be stagnant. There was always something new coming online and I could be part of that.
- Great pay and advancement opportunities are associated with careers in tech.
So, I did it. I made the leap.
At 44 years old, with my husband’s support, I returned to college, this time with intent to get a degree in “something IT.” At the time I did not realize that IT and cybersecurity were entirely different, though related, career fields. I had no idea how diverse each field actually was as far as the variety of career roles within each. But what I did know was that once I was in my first tech courses… I loved them. This was it. I found my passion. Now I needed to find my path.
In some ways, the path was clear. I may have been partially influenced by commercials I was seeing at the time, which advertised an acute demand for cybersecurity professionals. It was a prime example of just how much representation can matter–the ads showed women working away at their degree on their laptops at home, while balancing jobs and childcare. So I committed, scholastically and personally. If you had asked me ‘why’ then I might have said “why not?” but now, my answer is a bit more cogent:
- It’s so hot right now.
- It’s fascinating! The battle between good and evil, ethical and nefarious. From cyber bullying to international cyber wars. This could not be boring.
- High demand is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
- Let’s be real here, great pay!
Nearly every technology course I took was aligned with a particular industry certification. In fact, some of my college courses were directly completed within an official certification prep program online that anyone can take anytime. I figured out quickly that certifications are a great way to prove specific knowledge, skills, and abilities to employers, and that I could pursue these on my own, beyond what was part of my college program. I already had some college credits, and student loan debt, and at this point it was a matter of pride for me to complete my degree. The lesson I want to share though is it’s not necessary to get a degree to get your foot in the door in cybersecurity.
It was a long six years. I kept working in medical transcription while going to school part time. I was 45 years old when we were finally able to have a baby (another long story full of pure love and joy; okay, and exhaustion). The layoff I knew was coming finally happened. Our little family was able to make it on one salary, so I accelerated my studies to get to graduation faster. I graduated from community college in spring of 2020 (Yes, that 2020). Though the world was in chaos, I just kept moving forward. As planned, I transferred to a 4-year program to complete my bachelors’ degree. My program was entirely online, so I was able to care for my baby while going to school full time and gradually, as the world started to emerge from the darkness I worked my way to graduation.
I am so proud and happy to say that I graduated from University of Maryland Global Campus with a BS Computer Networks and Cybersecurity in May of 2022. I had just turned 50 years of age and for the first time in my life I had proved to myself that I could choose my own path, achieve my own goals, and secure my own happiness.
As I neared graduation I began my job search. I worked to optimize my LinkedIn profile and connect with people and professional communities in cybersecurity. It worked! One day in April 2022 I was contacted by someone from LinkedIn I didn’t know, from some company I’d never heard of, with a product I didn’t fully understand. That person asked if I was interested in working in the product marketing department as a technical marketing specialist for Uptycs. I went over the job description, read up on the company, and learned about what they were doing–and that was a big YES from me.
So, here I am, beginning my new career journey at Uptycs. I feel I’ve landed in just the right place, in just the right role for me. I get to be close to the product, dig into the technology, research and write on all things cybersecurity, and I love it.
Years ago I could never have imagined the kind of life I have today. I love my job. I’m never bored and I learn so much every day. I feel I have a very bright future ahead of me–and I hope my story helps someone, anyone, get to where they really want to be.
Do you want to break into cybersecurity?
We’ve curated a list of free and cheap educational resources for anyone who wants to shift up their career and break into cybersecurity.
When you are ready to begin your job search, don’t forget Uptycs. We’re hiring!
Laura Kenner recently made the leap into the cybersecurity field, having graduated from the University of Maryland Global Campus with a B.S. in Computer Networks and Cybersecurity in May 2022, previously having a diverse background in the medical field, customer service, and technology. Laura currently works as a...
Other posts you might be interested in
7 min read | December 7, 2022
Jack Roehrig: Why I Joined UptycsRead More
10 min read | May 7, 2020
Harnessing the AWS Nitro Architecture to Encrypt Inter-Node Traffic in KubernetesRead More
6 min read | June 7, 2018