Brian Davidson can never be accused of complacency. Brian leans into difficult. He moves toward challenges and embraces the hardship that so often accompanies new opportunities. A United States Marine Corp. rifleman, economist, and software engineer, Brian has taken an ambitious and circuitous path to the SANS Technology Institute. His broad-based background demonstrates his willingness to grow and innovate – much like the cybersecurity sector itself.
Distinct from most of his student peers at SANS.edu, Brian is not looking to become a network security engineer, information security analyst, penetration tester, or even chief information security officer. Brian loves being a software engineer and technical leader. He came to SANS to learn about cybersecurity to enhance his job performance. Brian sought to arm himself with the latest industry knowledge to make informed decisions in the software design process and thus improve the protection of sensitive data.
In April 2023 he earned a Master of Science in Information Security Engineering from the SANS Technology Institute. Here he tells us about his experience participating in the program in the hope of inspiring others who are thinking about taking a similar path.
Q. How did you get interested in cybersecurity?
A. I always loved technology. When I was studying computer science, I found myself intrigued by cybersecurity. I viewed mastering cybersecurity as a complex challenge. Hence, I targeted it as something I needed to pursue as I got further along in my software engineering career. Cybersecurity became a priority for me as a valuable complement to my software engineering role as both a leader and an individual contributor.
Q. What is your education background prior to enrolling in SANS.edu?
A. In 2009, I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Geography from Rutgers University. Five years later I was awarded a post-baccalaureate degree in computer science via an online program from Oregon State University. Go Beavers!
Q. What is your current position? What does that entail?
A. I am a software engineer. I have often played a lead role in designing and building applications on a global scale around sensitive data for big tech FAANG companies and financial trading firms.
Q. What do you like most about cybersecurity?
A. Cybersecurity and software engineering are inextricably linked. Exposure to cybersecurity tools and knowledge is critical to me as a software engineer. It enables me to see the big picture — to design with the whole ecosystem in mind.
Q. How did you hear about the SANS Technology Institute?
A. When I started getting interested in cybersecurity and furthering my education, I joined VetSec, a veterans technology group, to learn more and that is how I heard of SANS.edu. I now understand that in the cybersecurity world, SANS is considered the best. The quality of the curriculum and the instructors cannot be beaten.
Q. Why did you choose to enroll in the SANS Technology Institute?
A. I have one speed, fast. I was looking for the optimal way to gain the most cybersecurity knowledge in the shortest amount of time. I was extremely impressed by SANS.edu’s extensive course catalog. And I loved the idea that I could study at my own pace – quickly. I was sold.
Q. From your research how did the SANS program differ from other master’s degree programs of its kind?
A. When compared to other programs, I could see that SANS.edu courses are far more current and continuously updated. Conversely, in traditional academia, many classes remain stagnant with little changes for years. Further, SANS.edu students are given invaluable hands-on experience versus other programs that are mostly theoretical. Also, SANS.edu gives students the opportunity to take classes at their own pace. The on-demand option is not everywhere and yet for busy professionals it is the only way to fit classes into an already packed schedule.
Q. How did you fund the program?
A. I paid for my SANS education using a combination of GI Bill benefits and self-funding. And while SANS is certainly not the cheapest program out there, it is worth every penny. It has allowed me to move around in tech with a lot more comfort and ease.
Q. What did you find most valuable about the program?
A. I really valued the research requirement. I never really had an opportunity to do technical research. To take a novel idea and turn it into something tangible is extremely exciting. I continue to work on my research today.
Q. Can you tell me about your research and patent?
A. I’ve created a human interface device firewall, which means a firewall between a keyboard and the computer. It is patent pending and I continue to develop it towards a full patent. Right now, my proof of concept works end-to-end. There is nothing like this in the world.
Q. What did you like most about the program?
A. Aside from the excellent hands-on education, superior instructors, research component and flexibility, I must say that I loved being a member of the SANS Capture the Flag (CTF) team. I was on the team since the beginning, the spring 2021 season. I participated in CTF for five seasons. We have multiple #1 rankings in the team game. It was truly a differentiating experience that enabled me to enjoy the camaraderie of a terrific community and allowed me to reinforce and sharpen skills learned at SANS.edu. It was such fun!
Q. Did you take classes online or at live events?
A. I took all classes online. I am the parent of two children under the age of four. Online is the only way I could get my degree.
Q. How has your SANS.edu degree impacted your career trajectory?
A. When serving as a Director of Engineering I could manage networking issues using the skills I learned at SANS.edu. I could jump in when needed to debug networking issues, which is usually not a software engineering issue. My value to my employer grew. When I changed jobs and went to a new technology stack, my background in cybersecurity gave me the context to seamlessly switch from back-end to full stack development. Having a SANS.edu background has made it infinitely easier to get through security design review and keep the process moving, saving my company time and money, and making me an increasingly valued asset to my employer.
Q. What advice would you offer someone considering applying to the SANS Technology Institute?
A. Understand what you are trying to accomplish. Is it something the master’s program will provide? Map the skills you need to jumpstart or enhance your career to the classes that will get you there. Get to know all SANS.edu’s offerings to find the right program for you.
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