What if you could graduate from a cybersecurity master’s degree program and walk straight into a dream job at one of the world’s top tech companies?
With such high demand for trained cybersecurity professionals, this scenario is more realistic than ever. Just ask Paul Cho, who earned his cybersecurity master’s degree in May 2019 and started work as a security engineer at Salesforce in May 2019.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I actually interviewed with them on the last day of my finals and they made me an offer before I graduated.”
Passion for Technology: ‘I Was One of Those Kids’
For Cho, recent events are the culmination of an interest in technology that dates back to his childhood. “Early on, I was one of those kids that liked to figure out how things worked on a computer,” he said.
His innate curiosity about computers led first to jobs in tech support, customer service and as a computer game tester; then to university help desk roles and a position as a computer systems analyst at Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
“I’ve always been in technology and I think cybersecurity has always been an interest of mine,” he said, but “it took me a while to find the field of cybersecurity.” Of course, online security has been an issue since the dawn of the internet, but “cybersecurity” didn’t become an everyday term, or a full-fledged industry, until more recently when big companies started getting hit with data breaches.
“What kind of set it off for me is, I was working at Stanford and I was reading about all these massive breaches. I mean, there’d been breaches before but these breaches were millions of records and billions of dollars of damage and I felt that that’s an area of technology that could be improved, and so that’s why I went into the degree program.”
Master’s Degree Program ‘More Than Exceeded My Expectations’
Cho said he did “a lot of research” before selecting the University of San Diego program, which is offered in an innovative online format that was well-suited to his need to continue working full time while earning his degree.
“The program itself gives a very strong foundation” for a potential career in cybersecurity and “it’s a fantastic format,” said Cho, who spoke favorably of the program’s rigorous academic approach and of learning through a mix of video, audio, discussions with peers, written assignments, problem solving and more. He said some of the work he is doing now at Salesforce, writing two to three executive-type white papers a week, is “very similar to what I was doing” in the degree program. Overall, his experience in the USD program “more than exceeded my expectations.”
“The support structure with the school itself, with the professors, was excellent,” he said. “They were always available to answer questions and, more than that, their feedback on assignments was really invaluable. It made me aware of areas that I needed to work on.”
“I felt pretty lucky to be in the peer group was in,” Cho continued, because it enabled him to learn through interacting with senior-level cybersecurity professionals. In one assignment, a project involving secure software design, his classmates included a chief information officer and a financial industry software architect. He described the collaboration as an “eye-opening” experience in which “I had to raise my game and I learned a lot from it.”
Cybersecurity Careers: ‘A Definite Shortage of Qualified People’
For Cho, earning his master’s degree in a field that he loves was definitely worth the investment.
“A cybersecurity career is well-compensated. But for me, entering the field wasn’t so much about the compensation,” he said. “I wanted to do something that mattered; I wanted to make a difference. I think technology is a way that society can be improved and one of the things that has to happen for technology to flourish is it has to be secure.”
As for career advice, Cho suggested that a passion for technology and a desire to make a positive impact should be more important motivators than compensation. “If you’re interested in a career in cybersecurity you have to have a desire to learn, and specifically to learn technology. You have to be curious about it. You have to be unafraid of the unknowns in technology.”
For those who find this type of work inspiring, employers are definitely hiring for high-quality cybersecurity jobs. “There’s so much that needs to be done in the field, so many new technologies coming out. There’s a definite shortage of qualified people. I mean I see that even in the Salesforce organization. They’re having a hard time finding qualified people, and they need people,” said Cho. “I think the opportunities are unlimited.”