Want to break into cyber?

Get career advice from three diverse employees with STEM degrees
In this three-part series, we are celebrating National Cybersecurity Awareness Month by profiling employees who are building a career in the cybersecurity field.
 
George Velasquez
“Obtain certifications and build your resume. This can truly get your foot in the door in getting into the cybersecurity field.”
 
George Velasquez
Senior IT Security Specialist
BAE Systems Intelligence & Security
“I have always had an interest in technology and computers,” said Velasquez. “I started off as an 'undeclared' student in college, but when I took a few computer classes I was intrigued. I also discovered that there were plenty of job opportunities in the information technology (IT) field. IT is a fast-growing field and it allows you to take your career in a number of different directions, e.g., programmer, web developer, system administrator, engineer, network architect, cybersecurity—all of which are very much in demand in the workforce today.”
 
Velasquez graduated with a degree in IT and a minor in business in 2007. He also earned a master’s in information systems in order to open the doors for a management role in IT.
 
“As an IT professional, I wanted to find a career path that would give back to society and protect people and institutions from threats,” said Velasquez. “That is what drew me to going into cybersecurity. Being a contractor for the U.S. Government, I have the opportunity to contribute to our nation by protecting its computers, networks, programs, and data from unintended or unauthorized access, change, or destruction, all in support of the mission.”
 
Velasquez said what keeps him interested in cyber is how dynamic and challenging it is as a field. “Cybersecurity not only requires a thorough understanding of IT principles, but also the ability to apply security principles in new ways to counter new threats,” he said. “It allows you to be creative and the learning never stops.”
 
In his prior roles, he worked at an IT helpdesk, then moved to desktop support, system administration, and system engineering. He said his prior experience helped him “get a foot in the door in cybersecurity” to become a security analyst and a senior information security specialist.
 
Velasquez continues to progress in his career. In his current position as senior IT security specialist, he is part of a team that is responsible for ensuring security policies, procedures, and recommendations comply with regulations, organizational guidelines, and technical best practices. He develops, maintains, and manages Security Authorization and Assessment packages that include system security plans, contingency plans, and other relevant security documentation for existing and new systems.
 
“Although my current position is very different from my previous position, I see it as a promotion because it’s expanding my experience in cybersecurity,” he said. “In my previous position as security analyst at the Security Operations Center, I was responsible for incident response and detection on a company network. I also remediated and contained breaches, protected sensitive data, and efficiently restored the IT enterprise system.”
 
Velasquez said, “BAE Systems offers many positions one would need to move from a technical into a management track, which I am looking to explore in the near future for my career. In order for me to make the move into the management track, I hope to obtain management certifications like the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Project Management Professional (PMP).”
 
Velasquez’s advice to college students or recent graduates looking to get into cybersecurity is:
 
  • Intern within the IT field in your junior or senior year of college.
  • Obtain experience or volunteer. A good cybersecurity professional is one who has experience and has developed a good foundation of how the IT world operates.
  • Find a company that will sponsor your security clearance.
  • Obtain certifications and build your resume. This can truly get your foot in the door in getting into the cybersecurity field.  A good approach is to start off with the CompTIA certifications (e.g., Security+, Network+, CASP) and then move onto the SANS Institute certifications (e.g., SEC 504 - GCIH).  From there, you can branch off and explore other cybersecurity certifications in the path that you wish to take.
  • Refer to the list of DoD Approved 8570 Baseline Certifications. Most cybersecurity jobs require certain certifications in order to work in the field. Obtain some of these certifications from the list and you will have a great head start.
 
Want more? 
Read tips from Bridgette Townsend, systems engineering manager, as she encourages fostering good relationships within an organization through mentorship and outside of work with expert community groups. And look for next week’s tips from Erika Mallow, technical intern, as she shares her perspective on gaining experience through internships.
 
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