Knowledge is power; the more you know, the more you can achieve. Karim Lalji understands this well. He makes professional development a priority. Karim's commitment to career growth prompted him to explore enrolling in one SANS certificate course, with the intention that it would be the first of many in the coming years. However, upon discovering SANS Technology Institute's graduate degree program, Karim decided against his original ad hoc approach.
In 2017, Karim enrolled in the SANS Technology Institute's Master of Science in Information Security Engineering (MSISE) program, wholeheartedly jumping in with both feet. He graduated in 2020 with 10 GIAC certifications in total.
Karim's impressive achievements were accomplished all the while working full time. Today he is Senior Manager and North America Penetration Testing Lead for Accenture, supporting global market units and execution of penetration testing, red team, and adversary simulation engagements.
Here Karim talks to us about his experience attending SANS Technology Institute and its impact on his career trajectory.
Q. How did SANS Technology Institute differ from other master's degree programs available?
A. While I knew that SANS Technology Institute was the gold standard, I did look at a few other master's degree programs as well. I found them to be too theoretical. They did not provide the practical aspects that I was seeking. SANS courses are fully aligned to what is happening in the industry. Course materials are continuously updated based on new developments in cybersecurity. The program is not static. It is rigorous, challenging and relevant.
Q. Prior to attending SANS Technology Institute, what was your career background?
A. I am a graduate of BCIT and I possess a degree in Computer Systems. I started my career as a software engineer and systems administrator. When I applied to SANS Technology Institute, I was working as an application security consultant for Central 1 Credit Union. I entered the SANS graduate degree program with 10 years of professional information technology experience.
Q. Did you take classes online or at live events?
A. While some of the courses are only offered online, I was eager to attend every and all live events. I attended about three week-long events per year. I really enjoyed the interaction with classmates and instructors.
Q. What did you find most valuable about the program?
A. The cybersecurity field changes every day. Yet, the SANS Technology Institute ensures that the course materials are continually updated to reflect today's cyber environment. The courses are practical and highly relevant. Additionally, the instructors are amazing. Each is a professional working in the field. And each brings real-world experience into the classroom and via online curriculum.
Q. Tell us about your experience working with your SANS student advisor?
A. The SANS Technology Institute's student advisors are vital resources for anyone going through the program. I had a great experience working with my advisor. She provided ongoing support when and where needed. She also gave me invaluable guidance when it was time to select courses that would best meet my goals and ensure my overall success.
Q. What did you expect of the program and were your expectations met?
A. My expectations were exceeded. I looked at the course descriptions and understood what I was going to learn. However, I had no idea the depth of knowledge that would be provided and the practical applications of this knowledge. I was blown away.
Q. How has your SANS degree impacted your career trajectory?
A. My SANS degree makes me more valuable to my current employer. Everything that I learned from this program I've applied to my current position. And as a consultant, my ability to showcase my education, training and GIAC certifications gives existing and potential clients confidence in me and our organization. Further, the skills and knowledge I've acquired through SANS Technology Institute make me much more marketable among prospective employers. The SANS name can open doors. I feel like my degree will unlock endless opportunities.
Q. What advice would you offer someone considering applying to SANS Technology Institute?
A. Do it. A SANS degree is absolutely worth the investment. Just be prepared to devote a lot of time to the program. And don't forget to pace yourself. You'll get more out of the program if you take your time to absorb the information.
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