What does an IT Security Specialist actually do on the job? How many certifications should an IT Security Specialist get in order to stay relevant? And how can you become an IT Security Specialist with no experience? Vianey Luna, an alum of Springboard’s Cyber Security bootcamp, gives us an inside look at her job today – find out which projects she’s invested in and how she is already climbing the ladder in cyber security. Plus, find out if Springboard’s Cyber Security Career Track – with caring mentors, asynchronous learning, skilled career coaches, industry certifications, and a job placement guarantee – is worth it!
What inspired you to launch a career in cybersecurity?
Before enrolling at Springboard, I was a Spanish teacher for eight years in the US, Korea, and China. I have a bachelor's degree in Spanish literature and broadcast journalism and a master's in public policy and public administration. I love learning and talking to people, which got me into journalism because I am nosey! I focused on public policy because I wanted to learn how people make decisions and policies that affect others.
Since I enjoyed studying behavior, I got interested in cybersecurity, especially cyber warfare. I was interested in how governments and nation states utilize propaganda to influence people and journalism. That got me thinking about cybersecurity in terms of data governance and policy.
Did you know anything about networking or cybersecurity before applying to Springboard’s Cyber Security Bootcamp?
I didn't have any technical experience going into Springboard! I knew I wanted to learn more and was ready to apply myself.
There are so many cybersecurity bootcamps -— Why did you choose Springboard’s Cyber Security Bootcamp?
There are some big names in bootcamps that promise a lot, but I didn’t know anyone personally that had gone through any of those programs. A coworker of mine went through the Software Engineering track at Springboard and had a great experience, so I decided to give it a shot. Since the purpose for me enrolling at the bootcamp was to switch careers, the job guarantee for Springboard’s Cyber Security Bootcamp was an intriguing option to me. Speaking with the admissions folks at Springboard solidified my decision.
Springboard offers options to pay monthly, which I took advantage of since I was still working during the program. They also gave me a Women in Tech Scholarship, which I received as soon as I was accepted into the program. I understand why Springboard offers the Women in Tech Scholarship now that I'm in the field because I’m usually the only woman present on a tech team.
What were your career goals when you enrolled at Springboard?
My career goal was to simply enter the cybersecurity field. I hoped to work for an organization that understood that I was coming in fresh to this career where I could learn as much as I could at the beginning and then focus on areas I enjoy. Springboard taught us everything, but through practice I would really get to see which areas I would really like to explore in the future.
What was it like to juggle the bootcamp and your full-time job?
Completing the Springboard bootcamp was totally doable with a full-time job, thanks to Springboard’s point system which kept me on track with my assignments. As a teacher, there were some weeks (such as midterms) when I wasn't able to work on the bootcamp. During those weeks, I was able to look at my dashboard and know what to prioritize moving forward. Plus, I had great support from my mentor, who helped me schedule my work and offered feedback on what to prioritize to maintain a doable pace. All of this combined surprisingly made the experience not overwhelming!
Who was your Springboard mentor?
Springboard hires mentors that care about what they do and want to see their students succeed. Compared to a professor that's interested in their field of study but not necessarily interested in their students, the mentors at Springboard really care about their students as well as the subject matter. The mentors at Springboard understand that they're more than cybersecurity help, but our support systems throughout the program.
My mentor was Jay James, who worked for Auburn University and had a passion for cybersecurity. We met once a week, and I could always reach out with questions about anything regarding cybersecurity.
How did you land your first job in cyber security?
I loved the career coaches at Springboard — they were so amazing! They're like life coaches. I say that because I see many students struggle with imposter syndrome, coming in with no technical experience and then trying to find a job. Low morale happens, especially when we see jobs that require more experience. The careers team at Springboard is able to gather all the experiences you've had and help you apply that to your cybersecurity job search.
It's required to talk with a career coach every two weeks, which wasn’t a problem for me because I looked forward to talking to them. The careers team was great at coaching me through behavioral interviews, technical interviews, resumes, and LinkedIn profiles.
Graduates continue speaking with their career coach every two weeks after bootcamp, so they have support in their job search. Springboard also has a platform where they connect employers with graduates. I didn't need it because I got a job a few weeks after graduating!
Which cybersecurity roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from Springboard?
I was definitely looking for junior roles, analyst roles, something entry-level as a cybersecurity analyst or beginner in governance, risk, and compliance. Surprisingly, when I finished the program, I was told to apply for mid-level jobs, which I did and I received offers! It depends on the student and how much effort they put in as to where they will land. You definitely can graduate from Springboard and land a mid-level position.
Congrats on your IT Security Specialist role at Cooper Machinery Services! What was the interview process like?
Cooper Machine Services operates within the oil and gas industry, and they were looking for someone who they could train. Even though there are many cybersecurity jobs right now, organizations can't find people with the necessary skills. What I like about this organization is that they want to teach people on the job.
During the interview, they wanted to know if I could perform the daily tasks and how well I could document and communicate. Since it's a customer-facing business, they focused on the skills that would apply to my communication with customers, executive staff, and other organizations and my ability to transmit that information. They were also looking for how willing I was to learn and have the necessary certification and skills to continue my position.
What team do you work on at Cooper Machinery Services?
Since we’re a small team, our whole IT and tech team works together and we communicate with each other daily. It requires good communication, which I like because I'm learning about what everyone does in relation to cybersecurity. Working on a small team can be overwhelming, but I really like learning every single aspect of the company.
I communicate with everyone from users and customers to developers and data scientists to C-level executives. I often speak with our Vice President of IT and our executive team, which involves many meetings where I explain complex cybersecurity information in a way they understand and that makes sense financially. I have to learn how to make a good argument for why we do what we do. I also speak with outside organizations about our network. Overall, I'm very involved in the company, which I really like.
What does a typical day look like as an IT Security Specialist?
When I was making this career change, I asked that same question to cybersecurity professionals and they would just laugh — Now I understand why they laughed because no two days are the same when you work in cybersecurity! You can plan for something and all of it could change as soon as you walk in the door.
Each day, I do a little bit of everything. On a typical day, I start my day with all of the emails that I have to investigate, and I do a lot of email security and remediation. I spend some of the day doing governance, risk, and compliance, and I contribute to the documentation, review our current systems, and conduct risk management. Since this is a business, I deal with our users on a daily basis and learn how our business operates so I can then establish policies to address security issues.
What’s the most important soft skill that you use as an IT Security Specialist?
Having great communication skills and being able to communicate with anyone. Cybersecurity often has to deal with a lot of really complex cybersecurity jargon that you understand and apply on a daily basis, but when you have an incident and are trying to communicate that with your user, you have to completely translate that into something they can understand. A lot of our customers are older, so it's important for me to be able to break down complex issues into something anyone could understand.
Do you need any networking or cybersecurity certifications to be an IT Security Specialist?
In order for you to graduate from Springboard with a job guarantee, you have to pass the CompTIA Security+ certification. Most of the class program prepared us for that. It was helpful to have a platform on which to study and take practice tests — I passed the exam on my first try! Coming from no technical experience to passing this test in just a few months surprised me. I've seen a lot of success stories of people with no experience being able to pass this difficult exam. Having this certification is very helpful when you're trying to get a job.
Springboard also offers Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure training to help students get certified. I received the Azure Fundamentals certification after the bootcamp, even though it wasn't required.
Does your CompTIA Security+ certification help you as an IT Security Specialist?
The CompTIA Security+ certification is definitely helping me. A lot of the information in the certification exam is basic IT stuff that you need to know to be an IT Security Specialist. For example, you need to know port lenders, how and when to scan your network, and the type of attacks that we experience daily, what they mean, and how to remediate them. All of that is involved in the CompTIA Security+ and I do it daily on the job.
Are you using all of the concepts and tools that you learned at Springboard on the job?
Springboard prepared me so well for this job. My team at Cooper recognizes that — within a few months working here, the CFO told me they were impressed with my work and gave me more leadership responsibilities. Now I actually manage some projects, which is pretty cool.
At this point in your career change, was enrolling at Springboard worth it for you?
Yes, Springboard was worth it. Honestly, the tuition made me pause, wondering if it was better to get another bachelor's degree, but that's always a risk. What you get out of the bootcamp depends on your drive to take advantage of everything that they provide and then apply it. I really took advantage of the bootcamp and applied myself. I used all of their resources. I asked for feedback on everything that I did, and it paid off.
What was the biggest challenge for you when making this career change?
I was 32 when I enrolled at Springboard and I worried I would be behind in my career change. Transitioning to another career in my 30s induced a lot of imposter syndrome. I had to say to myself that I could do this — If I put in the effort, had faith in myself, and really wanted this, then I could do it.
What is your advice for other women looking to pivot their careers into cybersecurity?
Take a chance on yourself, explore the field, make connections with other women working in the field. Women in cybersecurity are a strong community, and everywhere I turned there was someone who was always willing to help me out, look at my resume, talk to me about different jobs, and any questions I had they were always wanting to answer.
My mentor suggested I join a group of women working in cybersecurity from whom I could learn. He got the Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) group on LinkedIn on my radar, which he is involved with. WiCyS is an organization that empowers women to succeed in cybersecurity and this group changed my life! They have been one of my biggest support systems, and fill in gaps in the industry by providing trainings, talks, and discussions.
What was a typical week like in Springboard’s Cyber Security Bootcamp?
Typically, the program takes six to eight months to complete but if you want to be very ambitious and finish the program in five months, you can set that goal with Springboard to help you achieve that week by week. They offer a point system, which tells you how much you would accomplish based on the length of the program. Your schedule can be adjusted as you go, andI loved getting to define the pace of the program.
For me, a typical week was to be on pace to complete the bootcamp in six months. It included studying, working on projects and speaking with my mentor. Since I was working full-time, I prioritized the bootcamp for a few hours after work so I could achieve both work and bootcamp and be done during the weekend.
What did you actually learn in the Cyber Security Bootcamp at Springboard?
I can honestly say the bootcamp covers everything! It covers all aspects of cybersecurity, such as:
At Springboard, it’s up to the students to take ownership of their learning and focus on what interests them. Springboard teaches how to do all aspects of cybersecurity very well. I'm surprised how easily I was able to transition to this job and apply what I learned at Springboard to what I'm doing on the job.
Since this is an online bootcamp, how did you connect with your cohort and staff?
There are office hours where you can speak to a mentor or TA at any time. We have a Slack channel where we communicate with other students that's very active — I still have people reaching out to me now, even though it's been some time since I graduated. At Springboard, you feel the community despite none of us ever meeting in person or even being from different cohorts.
What kinds of projects or labs did you work on in the bootcamp?
There were two short coding projects, including one that focused on Python Pro. Those two projects, even though they were very small, introduced us to the capabilities of what these languages can do in cybersecurity. We also learned about tools used in cybersecurity, like Wireshark, which is really helpful to know when trying to find a job. Projects utilizing tools were the most helpful to me.
Our biggest project was a pen testing project for our capstone project. We had to be able to first recognize how to formulate a plan and then how to use many tools that we had learned to have a successful pen testing project. To do this project, we needed to understand mobility management and risk management, which are two things that are very important in cybersecurity. We were taught how to document and formulate a plan to do that and then how to carry it out.
Find out more and read Springboard reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Springboard.
Jess is the Content Manager for Course Report as well as a writer and poet. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education, and loves learning and sharing content about tech bootcamps. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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