Written By Jess Feldman
Shay Crane is no stranger to career changes. When a health crisis required her to pivot from her career in sales management, Shay studied to become a paralegal. And when the Covid pandemic left Shay laid off, she looked to federal and state workforce development programs to help her learn technical skills. Thanks to the State of Washington's partnership with Code Fellows, Shay was able to enroll tuition-free to learn everything she needed to launch a new cybersecurity career. With no previous experience, Shay excelled in the bootcamp and landed a job as a Support Engineer at Amazon!
What inspired you to make a career change?
My previous career was as a business development manager for a high-volume Hyundai dealership. I had my own department that I grew and integrated with the rest of the dealership. It was a successful and lucrative career and I was respected professionally. A health crisis made it unfeasible for me to continue thriving at this demanding career, so I bowed out and created a startup where I provided remote sales training for a few dealerships across the country.
I then went to Tacoma Community College with the hopes of getting an associate's degree in software engineering, but they didn't have a two-year program available, so I chose the paralegal program. At the time, the paralegal profession was a career in high demand but within a few years it became a profession in decline — both in demand and pay — as a result of the restructuring of the employment sector during the peak of Covid mandates. Unfortunately, I found myself laid-off from my paralegal role and again looking for a new career.
When you were looking at possible tech careers, why did you choose cybersecurity over software development?
As a kid, I loved tech and taught myself an early programming language, called BASIC. At that time, I had resources at school and learning tools at home, but life and circumstances changed and my ability and resources became outdated. I did not have a way to replace them. By the time I revisited computer programming, the languages had changed and what I once knew had become irrelevant.
Cyber security was a data-driven decision because I knew the next move I made needed to offer job security and my new field needed to be in high-demand for the long-term. Due to the ever-evolving nature of security risk remediation, cybersecurity is a field that will not settle in. It needs new minds with creativity regularly to stay one step ahead of potential attacks. I feel like I got into the field at just the right time, when the need for cybersecurity professionals has been realized by major companies and before the industry has become saturated. If anyone out there is considering cybersecurity as a field, I highly recommend you go for it as soon as you can. It's a hot market and your skills will be valued.
What brought you to Code Fellows?
Since I was an adult worker who experienced a legitimate layoff, I qualified for a program that was federally funded by the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA), which supports laid off adult workers with strategies for starting a new career, which includes the option of "worker retraining.” Code Fellows was in the state's database of training providers, and I jumped at the opportunity.
Did you need to know basic cybersecurity skills to apply to Code Fellows?
Not at all. Code Fellows instruction is designed in such a way that complete beginners and those trained in computer science enter as equals, learning the skills needed to start a cybersecurity career from the ground up.
Would you recommend others who are laid-off consider workforce development grants to fund their career change?
Absolutely. The basic food employment and training program (BFET) covered my tuition through course 301. I didn't have funding for course 401, but I applied for a Code Fellows scholarship and was awarded one that covered more than half of my tuition, and my WIOA Career Team career advisor, Andrew, advocated for the funds from his program to cover the remainder.
Do you feel like you needed to complete all of the Code Fellows’ Ops & Cybersecurity levels (101–401) in order to land a job in cybersecurity?
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be trained in a high-value, high-quality program while being invested in by our local and federal government for doing so. Because of this, I expected myself to see it through all the way.
To provide some insight, the first two courses prepare you for quality work in a respectable career as a help desk/technical support professional. The 301 course covers network administration, which is extremely technical and specific — it takes a lot of knowledge to do it well. The capstone course is 401: Cybersecurity Engineering, where we did in-depth cybersecurity exercises, like performing cyber attacks in a sandboxed environment and penetration testing within an approved cyber-range network while using the tools actual hackers and professionals use for their opposing purposes.
Did you also learn how to code in the cybersecurity bootcamp at Code Fellows?
We learned Bash and Python scripting to create and implement automated computing processes, as opposed to coding for the purpose of designing software or web applications.
Which certifications did Code Fellows prepare you for?
Code Fellows self-declares that they are not a certification prep course, however, part of the curriculum for 201, 301 and 401 is to take the CompTIA ITF+, Network+ and Security+ exams, respectively. Students are not required to pass these exams, but taking them is part of the grade. Code Fellows teaches the baseline of what you would need to know to begin studying for them. Code Fellows offered us students flexibility for our assignment due dates as needed as exam time approached.
I earned my CompTIA ITF+ certification first, which I found to be more challenging than I expected. But I am most proud of myself for earning the CompTIA Security+ certification. I cried when the test results were presented at the proctored testing center because it was hard-earned! Most people who earn these certifications have worked in the industry for at least a year or two, so the fact that graduates leave Code Fellows certified without prior experience is a major accomplishment!
How did Code Fellows prepare you for the job hunt?
Career support is an important part of the curriculum at Code Fellows. Networking and its importance in the job hunt are greatly emphasized. We were assigned to regularly attend professional meetups and to reach out to a professional contact and invite them to coffee to ask them about their work. Networking only works when it's genuine — when you're not just there to get something from others. It’s important to have a large network of people in the same industry as you, and I would personally emphasize the importance of doing this in person at least some of the time.
If you complete the program in full and perform some further assignments, you have the benefit of a post-graduation career coaching program that includes job placement services when there is a match with one of their partner companies.
Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating?
Different organizations call roles different things. My current role's title is Support Engineer within a greater information security team, which I wouldn't have known to look for when I was initially job-searching. I honed my search to entry-level cybersecurity or managed service providers (MSPs) because they tend to be operated by the same people doing the work, so they are typically approachable and willing to invest in "newbies.”
Congratulations on your new Support Engineer role at Amazon! How did you get the job?
Joining a meetup group was a requirement of Career Service at Code Fellows, which is so important for networking. I'd already attended at least two in-person meetups with DEFCON 253, a tech networking and meet-up group in Tacoma, WA and a branch of an international hackers convention, DEFCON. I put it out there that I was beginning my hard search and listed out the skills and credentials I'd have learned and earned by the time I would start a new role.
The first time I posted, I didn’t get any traction, so I accessed my old sales training and "went for the ask" again with a value proposition, highlighting my customer success background and other soft skills that are valued in any team environment. One of the group's organizers contacted me about an opening within an information security team at Amazon — a team he used to be a part of before being promoted to a security engineer role. He gave me the team's email address and told me to send my resume in and as a referral!
What was the cybersecurity interview process like for you?
They reached out within a few weeks and the interview went really well! The big takeaways were confirming a good personality fit and being able to work with people professionally and positively. My certifications and credentials were a plus, too.
Was Amazon interested in your Code Fellows experience?
Bootcamps are well-respected now. Graduating from Code Fellows and gaining cybersecurity certifications gave me more than enough to be referred to, and then considered for the role.
What does a Support Engineer do?
When a risk or vulnerability is detected on a service team's resources, that team will be notified. Sometimes the users will run into technical issues when performing the steps provided to patch their system. When this happens, they reach out to us for help. This is my favorite job I've ever had in my entire life, and the company is great to work for.
Are you using what you learned at Code Fellows now on the job?
Everything I learned at Code Fellows prepared me for this role and then some! On my first day, I felt so prepared. That was when I saw how Code Fellows' curriculum and study flow is modeled after the workflow and team work style used in the field. Completing labs and assignments for my Code Fellows courses involved research by consulting our knowledge base, which is something I now do on the job whenever I'm helping someone troubleshoot. The process is pretty much the same.
At this point in your career, was enrolling at Code Fellows worth it for you?
Yes, it was definitely worth it. I'm in the career I wanted to be in since I was a little kid and I got there in six months, which was so important for me because I cannot spare several years to go back to a university in the hopes someone will value my degree in the future.
What are the benefits of being a former salesperson on a cybersecurity team?
The main benefits I see translating from sales to tech are having a strong work ethic, a service-oriented approach to helping others, the use of plain language to describe technical details, and an outgoing personality.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps.
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