Getting hacked can be a devastating experience. But for Lynn Hijar Hoffman, having her work website hijacked somehow felt more like an opportunity.
While working on a project devoted to better communication between the hundreds of World Trade Centers across the globe, “I got hacked and my website was taken over,” said Hoffman. Though she was able to recover her work, the experience “taught me a lesson.”
It also set her on a course to earn her master’s degree in cyber security at the University of San Diego and, ultimately, to start her own company — Cibernetika.
Earning her degree in this relatively new but vitally important field actually felt a bit like a homecoming for Hoffman, who had also attended USD as an undergraduate and later returned to earn a master’s in Global Leadership.
A strong believer in the connection between education and career opportunity, Hoffman recently took a moment to talk about her career and how her decision to return to her alma mater helped her reinvent herself as a cyber security entrepreneur.
Welcome to the University of San Diego!
For Hoffman, USD has been a common thread in a career journey that includes working in international trade at the World Trade Center in San Diego, handling community relations for a U.S. Navy admiral, serving as chief of protocol for the city’s mayor and now launching her own business.
She remembers first setting foot on the USD campus in her late teens thinking, “How am I going to decide right now what I want to be in my life?” With some vision, lots of hard work and three degrees from USD, she’s been figuring it out as she goes along, and having a lot of fun in the process.
A whirlwind of energy, Hoffman earned her bachelor’s in Business Administration from USD in 1998; this led to an internship and then a job as trade research manager at the World Trade Center in San Diego.
Next stop was a fascinating job serving as director of community relations and protocol for the admiral overseeing command of U.S. Naval Air Forces in the region. But one day while attending a lecture at USD’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace and Justice, Hoffman’s career curiosity was calling again. The speech by a United Nations spokesperson had awakened a passion for international affairs and the next day she started thinking about graduate school at — where else? — the University of San Diego.
“I thought, I need to keep growing,” said Hoffman. It turns out that USD had the ideal program for her to pursue her interests. When she completed her master’s in Global Leadership in 2006, she took on the role of chief of protocol for then-San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, making sure that visiting dignitaries were taken care of and a slew of related duties.
After several years there, she was invited to return to the World Trade Center. While there, her project involving coordination between international World Trade Centers was hacked … and the rest is cyber security history.
Cyber Security Degree Connects to World of Opportunity
Not surprisingly, Hoffman parlayed her “lesson” into more education and, ultimately, her own business. Ready for a new challenge — one that connected to her passion for technology, her work in government and the military, as well as her business management and leadership skills — Hoffman decided to return to USD once more, this time to earn her master’s in Cyber Security and Operations Leadership.
The program’s online format, designed to provide optimal flexibility for busy working professionals, allowed her to complete the work on her own schedule; while her proximity to the USD campus enabled her to meet with professors and take part in the series of “Cyber Mixers” and networking events held by the school. The cyber mixers are also streamed live so students who aren’t physically present on campus can take part.
“The people that they bring in as panel speakers have been amazing — very, very informative,” with plenty of opportunity for industry networking before and after. At one of the events, she even got a lead on a job offer. “It really helped with my confidence,” she recalled.
Hoffman has high praise for the USD program and its effectiveness in training current and future cyber security leaders in this still relatively young, yet critical industry. The majority of the professors draw on experience gained from working in the field (the San Diego region has emerged as a leading global cyber security hub), and Hoffman said she also gained “a wealth of information” from interacting with fellow students using program’s robust online educational portal.
With more colleges and universities launching cyber security degree programs to meet the rising demand, part of the challenge is to align the curriculum offerings with both the needs of organizations everywhere that are grappling with the effects of a cyber security talent shortage, while also connecting the academic experience to the regimen of professional certifications.
Before graduating Hoffman passed the exam to earn her credentials as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), which is one of the industry’s premier certifications. Though the programs are separate, Hoffman said she was pleased with how well her USD degree work prepared for her the CISSP exam. “At USD, in fact, it almost feels like each class corresponds to a domain of this particular exam,” she said.
Since graduating, Hoffman has realized a dream of founding her own company. Cibernetika works with companies to help them assess their technology infrastructure and operations, and to incorporate cyber security preventative measures and best practices into their business activities. One of her business strategies is to position Cibernetika as a women-owned small business to best compete for government contracts.
Hoffman loves that there is also room for creativity in her job. For example, she is launching a new blog featuring cyber security tips, helpful for companies from any industry or for boosting your own personal online security.
In terms of career advice for others interested in cyber security, she suggests taking a very focused approach to developing your own goals and figuring out where you want to take your career rather than just leaving things to chance. This is “definitely an industry of opportunities,” said Hoffman, who credits her USD master’s degree work with playing a vital role in positioning her to carve out her own opportunities as a cyber security entrepreneur.