Recently, I was given the opportunity to speak at the high school I graduated at to students in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Program. 75% of AVID students are from low socioeconomic status background, and 80% are underrepresented students. However, these students outperform their peers in crucial metrics regarding college acceptance, retention, and graduation all across the United States.
I was asked to discuss how I got so far in my career and only being 20 years old. At the time of this presentation, I had graduated high school, attended college, joined a sorority, worked with The B.A.D.A.S.S. Army, attended Hacker Summer Camp, and have had awesome amounts of industry experience. I was terrified of giving this presentation to these students. Not because of stage fright (as a previous high schooler myself, I realized no more than maybe 1/2 of the students were giving their full attention to me at all times). I was worried about being a fraud. I came to who I currently am now due to some absolutely awesome mentors and simply knowing what I wanted out of my life.
When asking one of my best friends and mentors about how I should go about having this conversation with these students. I’m not much older than them, I’m nota senior professional, I haven’t been in the industry long, I still don’t know what I’m doing half of the time. He looks me in the eyes and goes “You’re not telling them anything you have on that slide deck about how to become a young professional. You’re telling them how to make friends like [REDACTED] just like you did all that time before.” He was right. Anything I was able to accomplish and will accomplish will always be tied back to having a support system of mentors that I knew would help me. I would like to share what I share with the students, with you.
Note: This content was geared towards a High School audience and made to be a broad overview of advice applicable for any career, not just information security. Some information has been redacted.
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is such a cliché, but it’s true! If you find passion in your career and your life, even the things that are not so pleasant, will be bearable. I, personally, hate being asked “what do you like to do outside of computers for fun”, because my answer is “computers!” I love what I do and want to spend the extra time learning and researching, not only for my own personal development, but also because I enjoy it!
Networking events are always thought be sitting in stuffy dress clothes talking to people twice your age about things you may not be an expert on yet. But it’s also complimenting someone on their shoes and quickly learning they have internship spots open for next summer! Networking and making friends in the industry is FUN and a growing network will mean nothing but success for you in the future.
One skill I struggled with (and still do) is balancing my college education with supplemental education (conferences, camps, talks, anything!). Sometimes I have a bad habit of pushing this kind of work ahead of the paper I have due next week in class…that’s okay sometimes. I’m still passing my classes, keeping my scholarships, and enjoying school. I’m no perfect straight-A student, but I’m managing just fine.
Trying to break into the industry is SCARY. Where do you even start? Step one is finding what it is you would love to do for the rest of your life. Step two is finding anywhere you can exploit that and do what it is you love! Ask friends in the industry already, google local opportunities, attend local meetups at colleges and libraries and other social venues. Make sure people see you! Make sure you participate in the events you decided to do! Do this over and over again! You never know who you may meet that one day will help you land a job, become a mentor, or even a best friend. Become active and stay active in the security community.