As a double major, SUNY Plattsburgh student in both computer security and management information systems, going into my last year of college, there are so many things I’d like to go back and do over. Things I’d like to tell my freshman self that would have made a real difference in the path I took and given me a better chance in my future job searching. A lot of prospective college students come into their first semester with no idea where they want their life to go. I was lucky enough to stumble upon my path early in my career, and I truly believe that has made the most impact in the development of my future.
My computer security major is classified under the large umbrella of the Computer Science Department, and for a kid who hadn’t used anything other than Windows operating systems and never once opened a command line that was intimidating. One of the main points I want to stress to anyone going into any field in computer science is don’t be afraid of your lack of experience. I had been under the impression that the students in these majors devoted their whole lives to programming, hacking, and building computers, but in reality, they were just as inexperienced as I was. The first point will be a reoccurring motif through the rest of this because one of my biggest challenges was being afraid I didn’t know enough to enter the in-depth computing world.
That was a baseless fear and something I realize so obviously now. I wish that fear hadn’t stopped me from taking opportunities that had been offered to me. A big aspect of computer security is that conceptual learning in the classroom can leave you at a huge disadvantage. If you want to be at all competent, you need to try and grab any practical experience out there.
If you are more interested in developing, attending hackathons and continually visiting websites like Hackerrank to beef up on your developer skills is a good idea. If you want something that has less to do with scripting, try scouring your school’s resources for internship opportunities, or attempt to get jobs that involve some form of IT helpdesk work. Bestbuy’s GeekSquad comes to mind, your school’s IT help desk, or interning with a company like Twinstate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or not, trying to get these opportunities never hurts and the more experience you accumulate, the better.
Don’t be afraid to look at your school’s current student-run programs as these clubs or organizations should be something you consider. And if there isn’t anything, or you don’t like the current options, gather a group of like-minded peers and start your own. During my first two years, I accumulated two internships, a summer job in my field, and am now in leadership positions in two school organizations, including co-director of the SUNY Plattsburgh School of Business and Economics (SBE) Center for Cybersecurity and Technology (CCT). This has been due to persistently pursuing opportunities that have come to my attention or I have found.
Outside of real world experience, it is important to remember that the cybersecurity field is rapidly changing. Subscribe yourself to well-rated newsletters, magazines, and podcasts. Security Weekly is a great starting point, with a blog, newsletter, and podcast free to subscribers. These sites keep you up to date with the most current cybersecurity events, so you don’t have to. Since it is now a huge topic of discussion and there is such a spotlight on it, keeping yourself relevant in the news can be a huge advantage.
Something students don’t necessarily think about, is to look into getting security-based certifications in your field before graduation. The CompTIA Security+ is a great certification that any computer security professional should have. These certifications are expensive, but by taking advantage of your school’s grant programs these costs can be mitigated.
Some employers will pay for you to get certifications under them, but having a certification out of college can be an enormous advantage and some certifications can raise your pay grade by ten thousand a year.
Lastly, students can also apply for scholarships offered by different tech industries. There are also scholarships geared towards women in tech that can be applied for like (ISC)2 Women’s Information Security Scholarships. For more information, visit the Center for Cyber Safety and Education.