When James Childers was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 2016 after 11 years of service, he felt ill-prepared for civilian life. As James would tell you, “I had no plan. I was naïve to think that because I was a U.S. Army officer, I could just walk into a management position.”
From infantry officer to construction worker was not a deliberate nor welcome transition. According to James, “It was an awful job. I knew I disliked construction, but I didn’t know what else to do.” Serendipitously, a flyer advertising a GI Bill-friendly IT/Cyber training program found its way into the hands of this soon-to-be father. James enrolled and said it was one of the best decisions he ever made.
James could see a path and a future for himself and his growing family. That future would eventually include serving as a threat detection analyst, resilience tester, and security analyst at leading companies including Lockheed Martin, Collabera, nLogic, and First Citizens Bank. Today, James is vice president of Cyber Detection and Response at City National Bank.
In 2020 James received an Undergraduate Certificate in Applied Cybersecurity from SANS.edu. Two years later, he earned a Graduate Certificate in Incident Response from SANS.edu. And in 2023, he was awarded a Graduate Certificate in Cyber Defense Operations from SANS. Here, James shares his story and offers insights for those who may be interested in following a similar path.
Q. How did you get interested in cybersecurity?
A. Honestly, my interest in cybersecurity was sparked by a flyer for a certification program (not SANS) targeting veterans. It looked like a way out of construction and seemed like an interesting career possibility.
Q. What does your job entail?
A. As vice president of Cyber Detection and Response at City National Bank, I lead a team of seven security operations center (SOC) analysts. The team and I analyze and respond to security incidents with the goal of preventing attacks on the company network. In a nutshell, my job is to ensure City National Bank’s systems are secure. Without my SANS training, I can confidently say that I would not be in this position.
Q. What do you like most about cybersecurity?
A. Cybersecurity is a career field that offers tremendous flexibility and job security. I really like the idea that I am not tied to any one location; people with my skills are in demand everywhere. As someone who has spent much of his adult life traveling with the Army, I like knowing that my career choice does not limit my lifestyle choices. I can live just about anywhere should I choose. I’ve also found that cybersecurity professionals are among some of the most dedicated, mature, and disciplined workers, and among the most enjoyable people to be around.
Q. Prior to attending the SANS Technology Institute, what was your educational background?
A. Before entering the Army, I earned a bachelor’s degree in business finance from Radford University in Virginia. My original plan was to join my sister at JP Morgan Chase, but I switched gears and joined the Army instead.
Q. How did you hear about SANS Technology Institute?
A. While working at my first job as a security analyst, I overheard some of my colleagues talking about SANS.edu. They explained that a SANS education was expensive, but it was a top-tier program and well worth it. I soon came to understand that all interviews in the field rested on one’s ability to secure SANS certifications. It was like getting a golden ticket to a successful and lucrative cybersecurity career. The very same day I discovered the GI Bill would cover my SANS.edu tuition costs, I filled out an application. It was the beginning of my professional transformation. I am not exaggerating when I say SANS.edu changed my life.
Q. Why did you choose to enroll in SANS Technology Institute certificate programs?
A. My manager told me that employers are looking for hires who have SANS certifications. SANS.edu training would make my resume stand out. I was advised that SANS’ real-life hands-on exposure across all sectors of cybersecurity is unparalleled. SANS would give me the exposure and the mentors needed to establish myself in the field and successfully climb the corporate security ladder. It was really a no brainer.
Q. From your research how did the SANS program differ from other programs of its kind?
A. Certification standards fluctuate from institution to institution. With SANS.edu you know what you are getting. Like McDonald's where every hamburger is the same, SANS.edu courses are consistent every time. SANS does not deviate from its winning “recipe.” If you want the best program out there, you need to go to SANS.edu. Nothing else compares to it.
Q. What did you find most valuable about the certificate programs?
A. The breadth and depth of the SANS.edu courses are unparalleled. By the time you have completed the course work you are a subject matter expert.
Q. Did you take classes online or at live events?
A. COVID did not allow for in-person classes. However, I have a young child, so in-person classes were likely out of the question anyway. On-demand was a great option for me. Because I could choose my own pace, I was able to revisit classes anytime I needed. And believe me, I did a lot of revisiting.
Q. How have your SANS.edu certificates impacted your career trajectory?
A. I would not be where I am today professionally without SANS.edu. Every time I connected with a recruiter or hiring manager, the first words out of their mouth have been, “I see you have SANS certifications.” They prioritized my SANS education above my college degree and my employment resume. It quickly became clear to me that companies are looking for individuals with SANS.edu certifications.
Q. What advice would you offer someone considering applying to the SANS Technology Institute?
A. There are so many avenues to take within cybersecurity. SANS.edu covers it all in great depth. For me, it was like being a kid in a candy store when it came time to select courses. I wanted to learn everything. If I had chosen a specific path earlier on in my studies, it may have been easier when it was time to look for a job. I would suggest giving some thought to what area of cybersecurity intrigues you the most and SANS will show you what you need to do to not only get there but to excel when you do.
Q. What’s next for James?
A. I love what I do, and I want to remain a technical engineer in a leadership position. I want to keep my hands on the keyboard while mentoring others. I think I can do the most good by mentoring and training men and women to become top-quality analysts and incident responders. I’d also like to look into teaching over the next 10 years – perhaps at a boot camp or at a university or college. I am passionate about taking what I’ve learned and sharing it with others in interested in entering the field.
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