We sat down with 6 inspirational young women to discuss their experience of CyberStart and the cyber security industry.
Shruti Agarwal, Allison Jensen, Emily Best, Desen Basaran, Talya Friedman and Sophie Park share their advice, experiences and future ambitions!
How did you get started with cyber security?
Shruti: I got started with cybersecurity through Girls Go CyberStart. My first year participating was in 2019, and I’ve stuck with CyberStart for 2 years now.
Emily: My first educational exposure to cyber security was through the Cyber Discovery programme. I was introduced to the Cyber Discovery programme when the leader of the school programming club, which I attended, sent out an email recommending students to look into the programme. I decided to embrace the opportunity as the idea of starting off with no experience in cyber security to potentially becoming knowledgeable and fascinated in this area really appealed to me, as at this stage I knew I wanted a career involving technology, but I had not yet found where my passion in this massive area was. I have always enjoyed working with computers and my passion surrounding computing increased as I embarked on GCSE and A-Level Computer Science. My passion for computers quickly turned into a passion for cyber security as I made my way through the Cyber Discovery programme.
Desen: CyberStart is actually how I got started with cyber security! My dad received an email about this program and asked me if I wanted to sign up, since I’ve always had an interest in technology and enjoy programming. I signed up and have learned so much ever since. When I used to hear the word cyber security, I would think of hacking and stealing information. I never realized there was so much more to it until I joined CyberStart!
Talya: I started participating in cyber security programs when my Civil Air Patrol squadron started going through a module called “An Introduction to Cybersecurity” for aerospace nights primarily during the summer of 2020. I had no previous cyber security experience. I found myself unexpectedly interested in the simple ciphers that we started with, and continually interested as the material became more complicated cyber security concepts.
Sophie: I joined a CyberPatriot team at my middle school last year and specialized in Linux! It wasn’t the easiest at first but I learnt a lot over time, and it was totally worth it.
Describe your experience of CyberStart?
Shruti: My CyberStart experience has been genuinely amazing! Even though I’ve only been involved with the organization for 2 years, I’ve learned so many new concepts that I can apply to a professional career. I can spend hours completing challenges without getting bored. I enjoyed it so much that I started a local club within my high school for CyberStart! We have about 40 members and are ranked 7th in NJ participation.
Allison: Exciting, fun, frustrating at times, but it always makes finding the final answer all that more rewarding and satisfying!
Emily: For someone who had never participated in a cyber security related programme, the content was very accessible. The later challenges built on the knowledge gained from the previous challenges which was satisfying as you could expand on the skills you had learnt earlier in the programme. Not only did I learn about cryptography, cross-site scripting attacks, digital forensics, binary exploitation, and Linux fundamentals (to name a few), but I was also fortunate enough to be selected for the ‘CyberStart Elite’ phase of the programme where I spent a week being taught an industry standard SANS course covering Windows Forensics from which I attained the GIAC Certified Forensic Examiner certification. A year on, I was elated to have the opportunity to complete two more GIAC certifications thanks to Cyber Discovery’s Elite Talent Development Programme.
Desen: My experience with CyberStart has been super enriching and entertaining. The challenges in CyberStart Game are exactly how they sound, a game! Except you’re actually learning about how cybersecurity experts keep information safe or how a group of criminals might try to steal or actually conceal information. As you progress through the levels, they get more challenging. While I do get stuck sometimes, the CyberStart community members help me out. And there’s always no harm in looking up information on Google!
Talya: While going through the module “An Introduction to Cybersecurity”, my squadron introduced the opportunity of joining CyberStart, which they only had a few slots for. Immediately I emailed my squadron aerospace director for a slot, expecting CyberStart to be an enjoyable competition where I might learn some more material. It has been even better than that. Through CyberStart I’ve learned most of my cyber security knowledge, am having a blast satisfying my competitive spirit, and have a fun, rewarding game to challenge myself with in my free time. Additionally, I have met teens in the same grade as me with the exact same interests and dreams through the CyberStart Community, despite how high-flying my dreams are.
Sophie: At first the HQ levels were a lot easier than I expected so I thought that CyberStart would be on the simpler side. But nope… there’s so much more once you get deeper! I’ve learned about crazy things like command injections, buffer overflows, and steganography that I would never have known otherwise!
If you had to give advice to anyone who was worried about giving cyber security a go, what would you say?
Shruti: CyberStart is a very beginner friendly organisation! If you are worried about giving cyber security a go, at least try to do the CyberStart Game. It serves as an introductory platform for several cyber security concepts, and you can work at your own pace. Chances are, if you enjoy playing the game (which you definitely will!), then cybersecurity is a good choice for you.
Allison: I would tell them to try it! You don’t need to have any prior experience to succeed and Google is your best friend to learn everything you need to!
Emily: I entered the Cyber Discovery programme with fundamental GCSE Computer Science knowledge and came out with a deep understanding of a plethora of cyber tools and techniques. I would definitely recommend others get involved in the Cyber Discovery programme as it has opened doors for me which I never thought it would. The skills taught are invaluable, especially to those wishing to enter this amazing industry. However, no matter what industry you plan to go into, the skills used in this programme, such as problem solving, can be applied to many job areas.
Desen: I would say go for it and try it. There’s no harm in learning something new, especially if you want to. The only thing holding you back is you! If you think you’d be up for the challenge, I’d recommend joining CyberStart. No matter your experience level, CyberStart is a great program to learn cybersecurity with.
Talya: If someone came to me for advice on whether or not to give cyber security a go, I would say, “Go. For. It.” I am a very athletic, active, ambitious teen. If you told me two years ago that I would be interested in cyber security, I would laugh a good deal. At first, I thought cyber security was only for shy, awkward nerds. Having tried out cyber security, advanced in it, and met other people who also thoroughly enjoy it, I have come to realize that cyber security provides thrill, teamwork, mystery, competition, and challenge that gratifies both shy, awkward nerds and animated athletes. It doesn’t matter what your personality is, cyber security could very likely fascinate you.
Sophie: You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Knowing even the basics is incredibly helpful in everyday life and who knows, you might end up really liking it! There’s no type of person that can or can’t do cyber security, it’s made by people for people and if you have the patience and perseverance you’re bound to succeed!
Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?
Shruti: In five years, I hope to be pursuing a degree in computer science in college. Because cyber security is super niche, I will most likely explore it after college.
Allison: In 5 years, I hope to be pursuing a degree in cyber security or another related field, but no matter what I choose, I hope to be doing other CTF’s like CyberStart for years to come!
Emily: In 5 years time, I hope to be successful in a cyber security orientated role, where I will hopefully continue to grow my passion and knowledge around the subject.
Desen: In 5 years, I hope to be in college studying computer sciences and programming. I aspire to be a programmer at Apple one day, so hopefully I will be working towards achieving my goal. Or who knows! Maybe I’ll already be working at Apple along with going to school!
Talya: After joining the Civil Air Patrol and finding myself in multiple cyber security/computer science programs, I know just where I want to be in five years. Everything I do now- school, athletics, extracurriculars, Civil Air Patrol, cyber security programs- all points to one large goal: studying cyber science at the Air Force Academy. With this goal in mind, I have been able to find new vigor and increased energy to push through tough times. Let’s keep America cybersafe!
Sophie: College! Preferably a school with a great cyber and sociolinguistics programs where I can pursue my interests!
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