At the intersection of curriculum and career is the National Cyber League (NCL). And for students looking to enter the profession and HR professionals seeking talented new hires, NCL competitions are a big deal. If you follow the NCL tournaments, the name Jesse LaGrew may sound familiar. Jesse, along with seven team members, represented SANS.edu in the fall 2022 NCL Competition, earning second place and outscoring more than 1,000 teams. Jesse and crew demonstrated they are a force to be reckoned with in the world of tech vulnerabilities, threats, and attacks.
Jesse is a graduate of SANS.edu where he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in Applied Cybersecurity in May 2022. Not one to let grass grow under his feet, Jesse is now on track to earn a SANS.edu master’s degree in cybersecurity. Here Jesse speaks with us about his experience as a student of the SANS.edu bachelor’s degree program and offers advice and insight to others considering a similar path.
Q. How did you get interested in cybersecurity?
A. My background is in desktop support. I began my career working for the University of Wisconsin, Madison where I helped students, staff and faculty address computer software and hardware problems. In this role, I saw more than my share of viruses, attacks, and threats. And I found myself enthralled at the prospect of solving these significant issues. My fascination for cybersecurity was further ignited while attending a local cybersecurity conference almost 20 years ago.
Q. What do you like most about cybersecurity?
A. Cybersecurity attracts a remarkably diverse group of people with various perspectives and backgrounds. There are so many paths to take no matter your skillset and areas of interest. One person’s journey in the cybersecurity profession can look totally different than another person’s path. You get to choose your own adventure.
Q. What is your current position? What does that entail?
A. I am an information security architect at Madison College, a local technical college in Madison, Wisconsin. I help lead a team responsible for designing, developing, and implementing security standards and protocols, including operationalizing key tools to support security monitoring and management; and maintaining business resilience and continuity plans.
Q. Prior to attending SANS Technology Institute, what was your educational background?
A. I was awarded an associate degree in Information Technology in 2010 from Herzing University after taking a few undergraduate courses at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Covid-19 lockdown prompted me to revisit the idea of pursuing a bachelor’s degree. I was working from home, and it just seemed like a good time to do it. And here I am.
Q. How did you hear about SANS Technology Institute?
A. While working at Madison College, I knew that securing industry certifications was particularly important in this ever-changing profession. My employer, who is a big believer in professional development, would cover team members’ tuition costs for SANS certification prep courses. My manager had experience with SANS and believed that the classes were first rate and knew SANS to be the leader in the industry. I now have 10 certifications to my name.
Q. Why did you choose to enroll in SANS Technology Institute’s bachelor’s degree program?
A. I had been thinking about going back to college for some time but had not put much thought into whether this would be a more traditional route or remote. What I did know was that I loved the SANS courses that I had taken over the years. I knew that I could not wait to dive into the SANS materials. During the COVID lockdown I decided it was a good time to get my degree remotely. It made most sense to enroll in SANS.edu where I would get my degree while gaining knowledge that I could apply immediately to my current position. It was a natural progression from my one-course-at-a-time approach.
Q. From your research how does the SANS program differ from other bachelor’s programs?
A. SANS.edu differs in a few ways. SANS offers all-important industry-recognized certifications as part of their undergraduate and graduate degree programs. You will not find this at other schools. SANS course content is up to date and is highly applicable to real-world work scenarios. Being able to apply skills immediately on the job is a terrific benefit.
The diversity in student population also sets SANS.edu apart. Traditional bachelor’s programs tend to enroll students from high school who are unsure of their path. SANS’ student body encompasses people who know what they want to do. They tend to be working professionals who come from many different backgrounds and industries. You get incredibly interesting and varied perspectives from fellow SANS students; far more than you would at a conventional college.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about your SANS internship experience?
A. As part of my degree program, SANS arranged an internship for me with the SANS Internet Storm Center (ISC).The ISCis a program of the SANS Technology Institute, a branch of SANS Institute, which monitors the level of malicious activity on the Internet. The ISC features daily a “Handler Diary” which is prepared by one of 40 volunteer incident handlers who summarize the events of the day. It frequently is the first public source for new attack trends. I interned at ISC for several months. I was able to hone my analysis and writing skills. It was a terrific opportunity to publish content to a worldwide audience. This position also pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone. It was a wonderful experience.
Q. What did you find most valuable about SANS.edu?
A. I didn’t just want a bachelor’s degree; I wanted to strengthen my skillset to become a better employee and advance in my career. I wanted to gain confidence in my own abilities especially since I didn’t come from a traditional cybersecurity background. I wanted to gain knowledge that I could use right away on the job. SANS.edu did all of that and more.
Q. How has your SANS.edu degree impacted your career trajectory?
A. My supervisors have expressed their enthusiasm for my ability to take the knowledge learned from SANS and directly apply it to my job. I have come out of SANS with new information and new knowledge that I can share with colleagues and in turn grow the team’s skillset and competence. In January 2023 I was named interim security director at Madison College.
Q. What’s next for Jesse?
A. I am enrolled in the SANS.edu master’s degree program in Information Security Engineering. I jumped right in after I completed my bachelor’s degree. My goal is to increase my management competency and round out my strategy and project management skillsets. I am looking forward to taking on the role of interim security director at Madison College. That is an exciting next step on my journey. I am eager to see where this path takes me.
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