Michelle Porter was awarded an undergraduate degree in music education from Penn State University in 1997. Theater, choir and acapella were among her favorite activities throughout her college years. Michelle even had plans to pursue a graduate degree in music performance with a dream of one day becoming an opera singer. However, a detour between undergraduate and graduate school had Michelle singing a very different tune.
In the late 90s Michelle started dabbling in web development an emerging field at the time. She was intrigued by html. A friend helped her get started and immediately she fell in love with website development and design.
Fast forward more than two decades to 2022, Michelle was awarded her Undergraduate Certificate in Applied Cybersecurity from SANS.edu. Here Michelle talks to us about her experience as a student at SANS.edu and offers guidance and personal insight to others considering a similar path.
P.S. Michelle did not abandon her musical roots completely. Today, she is also the lead singer in a local Portland rock band Piefight.
Q. How did you get interested in cybersecurity?
A. When I noticed "strange" messages on my computer and realized I was hacked, my curiosity piqued. I was unwittingly lured into the world of cybersecurity by my own experience with cyber vandals. I was determined to learn how the hackers "broke into" my computer and how to prevent it in the future.
Q. What is your current position? What does that entail?
A. Currently I am a solutions delivery analyst at Deloitte in Cloud Managed Services in the Security Operations Center. When I graduated from SANS, I started in the company's inaugural Cyber Career Accelerator Program. There were over 10,000 applicants for only 20 spots. I fully credit SANS for helping get into the program. When I completed the program, I was offered my current full-time position.
Q. What do you like most about cybersecurity?
A. I like that the industry is ever changing. I am always learning and I have fun.
Q. How did you hear about SANS Technology Institute?
A. I first heard about SANS from a friend who was helping me learn html. A few years later he was doing a weeklong SANS class and was talking about how great it was. He encouraged me to take some SANS classes. And here I am.
Q. Why did you choose to enroll in SANS Technology Institute?
A. I knew that SANS was highly regarded by all in the industry. SANS has a stellar reputation for its terrific curriculum and excellent instructors. I knew that if I could graduate from SANS.edu I would absolutely know what I was doing on the job.
Q. From your research how did the SANS.edu program differ from other programs of its kind?
A. I tried some free online cybersecurity courses such as Cybrary.it. I also took a Linux class through Coursera. At this time, I had not taken any structured programs and because I kept "dabbling," I was getting nowhere. When I learned about SANS, I realized that I could get four cybersecurity certifications quickly by taking the accelerated program. Originally, I had discounted SANS.edu because it was more expensive than other courses. However, I eventually understood the value in SANS' reputation, up-to-date curriculum, hands-on labs and flexible programming. I knew that it made the most sense.
Q. How did you finance your SANS education?
A. I applied for the SANS.edu Income Share Agreement. Under the program guidelines, SANS does not begin billing you until you graduate, get a job, and earn a minimum of $40,000. SANS then takes 8% from each paycheck until the tuition is paid off. No interest is charged. And if for some reason you become unemployed, SANS will halt payments due until you are getting a paycheck again.
Q. What did you find most valuable about the program?
A. That's a tough question. There were so many valuable elements to the program. The knowledge that I came away with left me with the feeling that I could step into a variety of cybersecurity positions. There was such a breadth of knowledge that I do not believe I could get anywhere else. I feel more prepared than many others at my level.
In addition to the extensive knowledge shared, SANS networking opportunities were also so important and worthwhile. In fact, I met the friend who introduced me to the Deloitte program on SANS' Slack community. I've made so many friends and business connections from my time at SANS.edu. It's been a great source for career advice and introductions.
Q. Did you take classes online or at live events?
A. I took my classes online, which really suits me. I am used to working for myself and setting up my own schedule. And I am highly self-motivated. I really liked the online option and working at my own pace.
Q. How has your SANS.edu degree impacted your career trajectory?
A. My SANS degree helped tremendously. My GIAC certifications, which are highly respected in the industry, helped open a lot of doors for me. SANS gave me the knowledge that I need to do my job well.
Q. What advice would you offer someone considering applying to the SANS Technology Institute?
A. Do it! In my experience SANS.edu paid off. While I will be paying off the tuition for a little bit, the ROI has been worth it. I am very satisfied with where I've landed. I gain a lot out of the program in terms of experience, industry connections, and earnings.
Q. What's next for Michelle?
A. I am very curious about chat bots and artificial intelligence and their impact on cybersecurity. It is fascinating. At the same time, I am digging a bit more into the defensive side of the industry now. That is my new next interest. Career-wise, I can see myself moving in that direction one day.
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