From No Technical Experience to Information Security Analyst: Adrian Villegas’ Story

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If you’re considering a career in cybersecurity but don’t have a technical background, you’ll want to meet Adrian Villegas, a recent graduate of our online Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership program.

‘Looking for Something More Challenging’

Adrian, who had earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, had been working in security and operations at Target for 12 years when he knew he wanted to go back to school. He wasn’t sure what kind of advanced degree was the right choice, just that he was “looking for something more challenging.”

His wife suggested a career within security operations and IT, which piqued Adrian’s interest. He started researching colleges and universities and narrowed his focus to cybersecurity because he was fascinated with the inner workings of businesses and corporations.

A Good Fit for a Working Professional

The University of San Diego was one of the first schools that he came across, and it seemed like a good fit since Adrian was looking to continue working while he earned his degree. He wanted an academic program that could accommodate his work schedule, and he liked what he read about USD’s online degree.

In terms of quality, flexibility and tuition cost, USD met all of Adrian’s requirements.

“USD was always hitting every check mark,” he said. Plus, the school came highly recommended from a few friends.

Adrian reached out to USD and was encouraged to apply, even though he didn’t have a technical background. He did, however, have plenty of professional experience in a variety of skills sets that are essential to cybersecurity positions, such as leadership, problem-solving, working with employees and clients and managing a team. Adrian had also been working at Target during its 2013 data breach, so he knew the value and importance of cybersecurity within a business.

“My background definitely gave me the confidence to do this,” he said. “I knew that I just had to learn as much as I could about the technical aspect.”

He took a few classes on Python programming and information security, submitted his application — and was accepted. He started the 20-month program in January 2019, all while juggling a full-time job, buying a new home and starting a family (their first child born a few months later in April).

“The program really did help me with how to manage my time efficiently,” Adrian said, adding that he couldn’t have done it all without such strong support from his wife.

‘I Invested in This Program, and I Got Everything I Wanted Out Of It’

Six months into the program, Adrian started thinking critically about how to transition to a career in cybersecurity. He credits much of his success to Sue Kelly, USD’s assistant director of  Career Exploration and Experiential Learning, who provided a wealth of career-related information, including tips on resume writing and networking.

She also recommended that Adrian reach out to USD alumni on LinkedIn. He did, and received a response from someone who recommended the company NextGen Healthcare, which is where Adrian started a new job as an information security analyst in January 2020.

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“I tell everyone ‘USD and the program changed my life.’”Since he didn’t have a technical background, he feared that me might not be accepted into a master’s program and therefore wouldn’t be able to successfully pursue his chosen career.

But USD changed all that, and ever since, he’s been a huge advocate of the school’s Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership program — so much so that he’s inadvertently recruited two new people to the program who are now interested in pursuing careers in cybersecurity. He credits his success to his support system — the program, faculty, his family and his classmates.

“Honestly, this program helped me, the faculty helped me, and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “I invested in this program, and I got everything I wanted out of it.”

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