I used to be a college dropout. To be exact, I failed out of school. Was it because I wasn’t smart enough? No. I simply didn’t care and had no desire to push myself. However, when I turned 25 I was fed up with myself and the poor choices I was making. Beginning at the age of 26, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in cybersecurity policy, a master’s degree of business administration, and passed the ISC2 Certified Authorization Professional (CAP) certification. I was able to accomplish all of those goals within a five-year time span, all while working a full-time job, having been pregnant and given birth twice, and caring for my family. On several occasions, I diligently pursued my dreams while taking on the active parent role because of sporadic separation from my husband due to his commitment to the military.
Throughout those 5 years, I also served 3.5 them in the U.S. Navy as an administrative assistant. While employed with the Navy, my husband served long distance and my family relocated. I continued to work various administrative assistant positions, all while applying to cybersecurity and/or IT internships, journeyman positions, on the job training, and several other positions. After applying to more jobs than one could think of, no one called me. During that time, I received a lot of advice from individuals who were already in the field. The most prominent ones were to start from the “bottom”, to accept any position so that I could gain experience, and that I needed the security + certification or else no one would hire me.
More than a year into my master’s degree in cybersecurity policy, I began working for Test Resource Management Center (TRMC), an organization within the DoD, as an administrative assistant. It was there, where leadership saw the potential I had to serve as a cyber professional. I was paired with a mentor who didn’t “have time” to mentor me. He actually expressed to me that the role I was being groomed for shouldn’t have been happening, and that I should have had at least 10 years of experience before being offered the role. Two assigned mentors and one master’s degree later, I was offered a position as an Information Systems Security Manager (ISSM).
Shortly after receiving this position, my family received orders to move to Ohio. I continued to work from home but desired to collaborate and learn from more seasoned cyber professionals. I took a leap of faith and applied for ISSM positions in Ohio. I was still new to the career field and wasn’t qualified for the positions I applied for, but I didn’t let that deter me. Three days after applying to approximately 23 job postings, I was hired by a contracting company to work for the Air Force as an ISSM. I didn’t possess any of the required qualifications, but all it took was an interview for me to sell myself, the knowledge I had gained thus far, and a contract to pass the required certification within six months of being hired.
My advice to anyone who is attempting to transition into a stem field with limited to no experience is to:
1. Keep learning, and never become complacent.
2. Sometimes all it takes is for that one person to recognize your potential and your desire to be a trail blazer.
3. Never ever sell yourself short! You deserve to be where you dream to be. The only person stopping you is yourself!
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Erika Anderson enjoys spending time with her family and working out. She also owns an online jewelry boutique, Bella Valentina, where 10% of customers purchase goes to fostering minority girls interest in STEM.