Master of Science in Cyber Security

From ‘American Idol’ to a Tech Company Dream Job

If you are fascinated by the idea of a career in cybersecurity but daunted by the challenge of earning your master’s degree, you’ll want to read about the experience of Kylee Lockwood, a soon-to-be graduate of our online Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership.

Kylee had worked in a number of industries unrelated to cybersecurity, including as a hearing health practitioner and as a production assistant and audio engineer in the entertainment industry.

One of the highlights of her early career in show biz was a stint as a production assistant on the iconic TV talent show “American Idol,” where interacting with judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez was part of the job.

Today, she works as an Information Assurance Analyst at General Atomics, a cutting-edge San Diego-based firm that specializes in advanced defense, surveillance and nuclear fusion technologies.

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Kylee’s path from a behind-the-scenes role on a show that launches singers to stardom to a behind-the-scenes role at a firm whose homepage sizzle-reel shows a jet being launched from an aircraft carrier includes 20 months of challenging work to earn her master’s degree.

She said that she at first felt a bit intimidated about applying at General Atomics because “employers are like, ‘We want you to have 50 years of experience’.”

However, “one of the reasons my boss hired me was because of that master’s degree, and he told me that,” said Kylee. “He said, ‘You know, a lot of employers are sometimes afraid to hire students fresh out of school. But I am of the theory that you are already learning the newest avenues of how to do things, and that anything you come here for we can just teach you right off the bat and it’s a big plus.’”

So far, so good. Kylee reports that she loves her new job and sees opportunity for future advancement within the company as she works hard to build her knowledge and experience.

“We have such a large IT security structure and we meet with the heads of every department to go over what we’re doing and if we’re in compliance.” Thanks to her graduate studies, said Kylee, “I understand things that people are talking about in those meetings.”

Earning USD Master’s Degree Was 20 Months Well-Spent

When Kylee was first considering going back to school to earn her master’s in cybersecurity, one of her questions for the enrollment advisor was, “Are you sure that I can do it with no previous background in cyber security?”

The ensuing conversation, along with her own self-reflection, gave her assurance that a number of important factors appeared to position her for success:

  • Though she did not have a deep IT background, she did possess some technical experience, both in audio engineering and web development
  • The cyber program she was considering, Operations and Leadership, though intensely challenging from a technical standpoint, was actually less technically demanding than USD’s sister program in cyber engineering and placed considerable focus on the communication and documentation aspects of cybersecurity.
  • The USD degree program starts with foundational courses specifically designed to equip students who are newer to this domain with a broad understanding from the outset.
  • She was also confident in her abilities as an industrious, self-motivated learner who knew how to research and educate herself on complex topics.

“I am one of those people who is pretty industrious, and I figure things out,” she said. Figuring things out as you go was a big part of the challenge, but Kylee said she found plenty of support, not only from her instructors but from fellow students, as well. “If you don’t know how to do something, sending out an email to the class is so beneficial because somebody is going to understand how to” and share that information.

The program also helps students “build connections with people,” she said, recalling time spent online via communication channels or on the phone working in group projects. Those connections can be helpful after the program is completed as well. “The greatest part about it is that I feel that at any given time in the future I can email anyone from the program,” she said.

Once you decide to make the commitment, the two-year online program can feel like it flies by rather quickly. “I was surprised at how much they fit into 20 months,” said Kylee, as she reflected on her master’s degree journey, from her initial apprehension to her fast learning curve to her new job at a company she loves.

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