Alumni Spotlight

From Blue Collar Jobs to Cybersecurity Analyst with Penn LPS Boot Camps

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Last updated on December 11, 2021

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Tired of working laborious, blue-collar jobs, Berlys was ready to make a change into a stable yet exciting tech career. Berlys chose Penn LPS Boot Camps, offered in collaboration with edX, to give her the real world experience she needed to launch a career and a prestigious name on her resume. Berlys built her portfolio throughout the bootcamp, which helped land her first role as a Cyber Security Analyst at Quantum Research International. Now Berlys shares her tips on how to make the most of the boot camp experience, even when you feel overwhelmed!

What inspired you to learn cybersecurity?

From warehouses to shipyards to the military, I’ve worked many industrial jobs. I love working with my hands, but I didn't want to be a blue collar laborer forever so I decided to go back to college when I turned 30. I wanted to transition into something that would offer financial stability and independence, so I chose cybersecurity because it's a stable career that offers good money. Having already lived through one recession as an adult, I intentionally chose cybersecurity that felt more stable. 

You were enrolled in a Bachelors of Science degree program for network and security  when you began looking for a cybersecurity boot camp. Why did you decide to do the cybersecurity bootcamp at Penn LPS Boot Camps in addition to your degree program?

My friend referred me to Penn LPS Boot Camps, and I was so inspired by the boot camp’s hands-on approach, especially when compared to the e-books and labs I was experiencing in college. I wanted to gain experience before I graduated, and the boot camp is a hands-on environment that I had never before been exposed to. I also chose Penn LPS Boot Camps because I wanted an Ivy League school on my resume. 

I’ll continue to get my bachelor's and then a master’s in cybersecurity. Neither of those degrees are necessary to start a career in cybersecurity, but earning these college degrees has been a personal dream of mine for a long time.

What was the boot camp application process like for you? 

I was nervous going into the boot camp interview because I had never had a job working on a computer all day. The admissions rep was gracious with my questions and let me know that the boot camp is for people with or without prior cybersecurity experience. After talking with the admissions rep, I felt comfortable attending the boot camp as a beginner. 

There was suggested prework to complete, which includes performing a Linux command line alone. I found this pretty intimidating as a beginner without help!

What was the online community like during the bootcamp? 

My experience was unique because I began this boot camp in-person, which meant I was commuting 45 minutes to the Philadelphia campus three days a week. The COVID-19 pandemic hit one month into my program, so we then transitioned online. I loved getting to meet my cohort in-person so we already had rapport by the time we went online. Going online was nice because everyone could hear people's questions and answers, compared to in-person when people are talking and it can be hard to hear.

How did you juggle working full-time while completing this part-time boot camp?

I was working full-time, finishing a semester in college, and commuting to Philly three days a week when the boot camp was in-person. It was pretty rough. I would go to work in the morning from 7am-2pm, go home for a few hours or go right to Philly to start studying and eat dinner before people arrived. If I had time, I would pick up overtime at work. 

I loved it when the boot camp went online because I didn't have the commute to campus anymore, plus I didn't have to pay for tolls coming from New Jersey, or gas, parking, or dinner three nights a week. It was easier to go home and work on homework and go to class without the commute. 

Did the teaching style match your learning style?

Our instructor was so smart. My cohort was so new to cybersecurity, so sometimes it was hard to learn from someone who knew so much because we weren’t all at the same baseline. But our instructor was always available for questions, as were the TAs, which helped alleviate any of our confusion over the material. 

You're now a tutor at Penn LPS Cybersecurity Boot Camp! How are you supporting boot camp students?

I just started as a TA and I think students trust me because I’ve been through the boot camp myself.  A lot of boot camp students coming in are nervous, including me when I started.  I’m here as a safe space for incoming students to share their concerns about starting the boot camp. I spend time talking with them and boosting their self-confidence before they start this boot camp. This boot camp helps people understand if they want to work in cybersecurity. 

What is the difference between learning cybersecurity in a boot camp versus at college?

The learning style at a boot camp versus a college is so different. College was filled with reading e-books and writing a paper on a topic the professor gave me and hoping I got a good grade. The cybersecurity boot camp offers hands-on labs with relevant and varying environments for us to learn. 

What did you learn in the Penn LPS Cybersecurity Boot Camp?

The boot camp introduced us to a variety of tools and environments relevant to the field. These included Linux, Splunk, and SQL. My favorite week was learning Splunk, which offers a visually appealing way to deliver data and translate raw material to different departments of a team using colorful and graphically informative dashboards. One of my favorite topics was SQL injection, manipulating a web browser, and hacking to get people's credentials. 

Which industry certifications did the boot camp prepare you for?

The boot camp offers a helpful introductive baseline to familiarize oneself with the content that will be on the CompTIA Security+ exam. Plus, the boot camp gives each student a voucher to take the exam.

Do you need certifications in order to work in cybersecurity today?

The short answer is: no. I'm new to cybersecurity and there's a huge emphasis on getting certified, but I still don't have my certification. I asked a college professor who's been working in cybersecurity for years whether certifications are necessary and he also told me they're not. You can pass an exam all you want, but if you can’t apply that information to real-world situations, then what’s the point? You don’t need to cram information to pass an exam to understand the practical application to excel in cybersecurity. 

What is your advice to incoming cybersecurity students on making the most of the boot camp?

Make sure you have a solid understanding of the homework, then move on. Don’t dwell on the fact you don't know something. This boot camp offers great resources if you’re struggling. Reach out to your tutor, go to their office hours, and get yourself caught up again. 

Congrats on your Cyber Security Analyst role at Quantum Research International (QRI)! How did you land the job?

Quantum Research International in Huntsville, Alabama creates cybersecurity standards and policies. Through networking at the boot camp, I was hired along with two other students while we were still attending the boot camp. QRI were looking for more employees with or without cybersecurity experience for a government contracting job. You never know what these boot camp relationships can lead to! 

As a Cyber Security Analyst, I’m on a team that monitors the cybersecurity systems and networks of military depos, so they don't have to. I’m using Splunk and Linux regularly. We actually just introduced Splunk in the workplace and it’s cool to have a baseline understanding of it, thanks to what I learned in the boot camp. My team knows there's always more to learn, whether for personal or company goals, so we’re always learning new tools and resources. 

What was the remote interview process like? 

QRI reviewed the labs we worked on at boot camp. The portfolio I built at the boot camp definitely boosted the QRI team’s confidence in my ability to do the job.

Is this the career that you expected? Are you happy that you went down this route and got into cybersecurity?

Yes! Cybersecurity is interesting to me. I was looking for financial stability, variety, and newness. This job doesn't get stagnant, it’s stable, and there are always new things to learn. 

Women and LGBT folx are often the minority on cybersecurity teams. Do you have any advice for other women or LGBT folx who are getting into cybersecurity?

Don’t be scared! Don't be scared to apply, don't be scared to relocate for a cybersecurity job. I’m originally from Panama, I claim New Jersey as my home state, and I was scared to move to Alabama! I live and work in Huntsville, Alabama, which is a pretty progressive city that has a lot of tech headquarters for big companies like NASA, the FBI, and Facebook. I don't regret making this move at all, so I recommend that other women and LGBT folx also take the chance and do it. If you're even considering taking the chance on yourself by attending a boot camp, that says a lot about what you can do. For LGBT folx, I recommend Out In Tech, which is a great place to find community in the tech space.  

At this point in your cybersecurity career, was Penn LPS Cybersecurity Boot Camp worth it for you?

Absolutely. Penn LPS Cybersecurity Boot Camp offered me real world training, especially through labs. The boot camp is not the easiest thing in the world (it's tough!), but anyone can do it. It might seem hard at the time, but you can do it. 

What has been the biggest challenge in this journey to become a cybersecurity professional?

This boot camp throws so much at you in a short amount of time and there is always something new to learn. Even when you complete the boot camp, you still deal with imposter syndrome. I was really hard on myself during the boot camp and I see that a lot now with my students. We beat ourselves up when we don’t know what the instructor is talking about. Be kind to yourself!

Find out more and read Penn LPS Boot Camps reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Penn LPS Boot Camps.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

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