"How did you get into cybersecurity?"
I've always loved and had a natural talent for mathematics. Whether it's part of my being on the Autism spectrum or not, math has always been the one language that's never given me social anxiety - it just makes sense.
I majored in Mathematics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, USA - a feat which seemed impossible to a chronically ill child (a story for another time). I loved all of my college courses, most of all the ones focused on the more theoretical side of mathematics (I've never really been a fan of statistics for some reason). I always knew I wanted to "do math" when I grew up…but what exactly did that mean? Whenever I asked my college professors this question, the response was always grad school, research, or teaching. "Meh", I thought, "those are fine options but I want to DO something with my math - make a difference in the world."
While on a quest for the answer, WPI required math students to take some computer science courses. Computers scared the crap out of me. Mysterious, powerful creatures I never bother to understand. And that's where I learned - computer science can make your math DO things! Long story (for another blog post) short - I ended up achieving a minor in computer science.
After graduation, I worked in a cryptanalysis development program for the U.S. Department of Defense for about 5 years. Having interned there during the college summers, I really enjoyed the sense of mission. This is where I got my first glimpse into how math and computer science fit into "mission" and can make a difference in the world.
After dealing with heath issues that didn't make government life easy, I turned to the internet to search for online trainings, classes, and conferences in all things technology and science. Having little money, I happened upon the free SANS Digital Forensics and Incidence Response (DFIR) virtual summit and signed up on a whim. During this conference, I learned SO much about SANS, the DFIR community, and all of the amazing things those two groups do for the world. This summit was the first place I felt comfortable enough to engage with others in industry. The summit speakers, hosts, and attendees were all so warm and inviting, answering all of my questions, no matter how basic, making me feel like part of the "global cybersecurity community".
Connecting with SANS employees, my would-be best friend Brian, DFIR analysts, and other cybersecurity professionals, I quickly became invested in learning all things DFIR/cybersecurity. I connected (via Twitter) to this incredible group of fellow nerds, so focused on sharing ideas, continued learning, and solving real-world problems. After lots of networking, I met Phil Hagen (who's now my manager), interviewed and signed on to work at the SANS Research and Operations Center (SROC). Now I'm working from home, constantly learning new things every day as an SROC courseware engineer, part an incredible team of analysts with brains, dedication to mission, and empathy that's unmatched.
The moral of the story is - cybersecurity is where I found my "people", my "tribe". People who cared about mission, making a positive difference in the world, the sharing of new ideas, and continued learning for all just as much as I did. People who also understood that we're all human and we all need people to push us to be better, to stoke the fire of intellectual curiosity, to bounce ideas off of, to collaborate with, and to assist in whatever way we can when the struggles of life pop-up. Cybersecurity - the perfect workplace blend of endless learning opportunities and good people wanting to do "good" by their people and for the world.