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Curiosity Doesn’t Kill the Cat: My Journey in Cybersecurity

By Emily Erlien

We asked Elise Marchant, Cybersecurity & Curriculum Development Analyst at the Carolina Cyber Center, about the importance of curiosity in cybersecurity and her own journey to get where she is today. Here’s what she told us: 

 

In high school, every subject I took felt bland until cybersecurity. Then, curiosity changed everything.

I’m not a huge fan of your typical subjects—math, English, you name it—but I was curious about what else was out there. One year, my friend started a technology and computer club. That was all it took to begin my cybersecurity journey.

Joining the club introduced me to an in-depth understanding of computers. The club’s dedication outweighed our lack of members (there were only four of us) and we explored technology in a way I never had before. We played around with computing kits, like Arduino boards—which look like tiny motherboards but are single-board microcontrollers—and completed fascinating projects.

Curiosity: the insatiable need to question, learn, discern, and solve problems.

Sophomore year we were introduced to Cyber Patriot, a cyber competition held by the United States Air Force. Sitting in the Yorktown, a WWII aircraft carrier in Charleston, SC, my teammates and I spent hours figuring out system vulnerabilities. Checking for updates, attempting to answer forensic questions, looking at system programs for any suspicious activity…my curiosity was sparked! Curiosity isn’t just about finding something that interests you, though. After graduating with a degree in cybersecurity, and now teaching as a TA at the Carolina Cyber Center, I see curiosity as an essential quality for all cyber professionals for two reasons.

First, curiosity makes you take the extra step to know. Now helping teach classes myself, I find that the curious students are the ones who know what they’re doing. In labs, they focus intensely, not on completing the assignment, but on understanding how each component works. One student pores over labs again and again, just to make sure he knows the ‘why’ behind it. That’s curiosity and it’s powerful.

Second, curiosity makes you willing to try something different. That may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s necessary in the real world for a cyber professional. During my time in college, I participated in the Southeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, a simulation of real-time hackers attempting to break into your system. In the cybersecurity workforce, our ability to remain curious builds a foundation of knowledge. On a deeper level, though, curiosity makes you think: ‘what can I do to get better results in a timely manner?’ In moments of crisis, this is what we need.

All of this points to one thing: be curious. Without curiosity, I would never have thought to look beyond the subjects that bored me. I wouldn’t have a foundation of knowledge to carry me into the workforce, or the flexibility to find solutions that work in a cyber crisis. My journey into cybersecurity started with simple curiosity; maybe yours will too.

Are you age 17-21 and curious about a career in cybersecurity? Begin your cybersecurity adventure in our Cyber Defense Analyst 6-month program beginning July 12th or find out more about the other programs we offer. Apply here today!

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