Competence Before Certification: A Letter to Cybersecurity Students

By Adam Bricker, Executive Director of the Carolina Cyber Center
To Current and Future Students,

 

Our jobs are not easy. By ‘our,’ I mean yours and mine. We prepare long hours, studying to create a technical foundation. We work to understand the ins and outs of networks, applications, and firewalls. We painstakingly analyze threat vectors, amass a wide spectrum of “cyber” tools, and read voraciously. We learn endpoint detection and response and evaluate and imagine different email gateways. We do all of this because we believe in the same thing: information security is critical.

I believe in cybersecurity because I believe in the people it represents. Every data breach represents a man, a woman, a family, or a business, that has lost something. Even while we gloss quickly over them in the news, that loss is long-lasting to the victims. Vice versa, in each of my students that pass through our program, I see a man, a woman, a family, or a business that has not only stepped up to protect themselves, but passionately believes in the importance of protecting others as well.

Our curriculum is not designed to be easy, either. Its strong, technical foundation allows you to earn certifications verified through CompTIA, EC Council, etc. and stands out for employers as recognized by employers as foundational IT skills and certifications include things like Network+, Security+, and SOC Analyst certifications. You’ve gotten to work, hands-on, with a wide variety of commercial and open-source tools (e.g. Microsoft, Cisco, QRadar, Splunk, etc.) in realistic environments to build competence and demonstrate those skills to employers (and yourself!).

At the end of the day, the instructor’s primary focus is to help you learn. It isn’t to help you pass certifications or ace a quiz. It means meeting you where you are, at your technical and professional level, to help you get where you want to go. My favorite moments have come from working with you on real-world incidents, assessments, and threats. When we explore them together, we challenge each other to think more holistically and more deeply about cybersecurity (e.g., through adversarial plus integrative critical thinking). For example, when we work together on a current client’s incident, like the recent power plant scenarios, you practiced what you learned: segmented vs isolated network designs, identity and access management, mobile device security, progressive web apps, and how public versus private IP addressing works (and the associated security issues). There’s a world of difference between teaching to certify and teaching to build competence. Believing in cybersecurity, to me, means forging the competence of cybersecurity professionals, whoever they are and wherever they are at.

This is why we structure the Academy and our programs the way we do. Take up the challenge. Do more than pass a certification test. Move past filling a seat in a class to check off a goal, and instead allow us to support your learning journey to becoming a cybersecurity professional of character. Make the most of every opportunity to become a cybersecurity professional who believes and cares deeply—as we do.

Best regards,
Adam Bricker

 

 

Are you interested in mentorship and training from the Carolina Cyber Center? Don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions or apply!

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*First attempt for certification included. The cost for additional certification attempts is the responsibility of the student.