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My Experience Pursuing Computer Science & Cyber Security During High School

My Experience Pursuing Computer Science & Cyber Security During High School

It was a Khan Academy email that originally planted the idea in my head.  2015, I was a rising 8th grader bored out of my mind during a rather sweltering summer when I saw the words “Hour of Code” flit across my screen as I perused through emails. With quite literally nothing better to do, I decided to give it a try and discovered the wonders of programming. I got halfway through the JavaScript course before school started again, and my interest fading away with the summer heat. However, one thing I was now assured of was that my idea of giving into my parent’s wishes for me to study medicine was now obsolete. In the next few years, I threw myself into exploring STEM: taking classes on video game design and AV arts,  becoming head of logistics for our varsity robotics team,  joining clubs geared towards girls in STEM, etc.

In 11th grade, I figured out that computer science was what I wanted to pursue after taking AP Computer Science in school. The prior year of learning drag and drop JavaScript was dull, but this new introductory course on Java brought my interest in computer science back to life.  I joined the computer club and participated in programming competitions,  learning new algorithms, and joyfully wracking my brain for solutions to challenges. I even got the opportunity to add a new plaque on my CS teacher’s wall: 1st place, Novice Division. 

Near the end of my junior year,  a Google Classroom message from my teacher flashed on my phone screen. It was a link she had copied and pasted, which took me to this site. SANS Girls Go Cyberstart, is an online training game that teaches girls about cybersecurity, ethical hacking, computer forensics, and so on by having them compete in teams,  doing challenges that teach them cybersecurity principles to collect points. The top 3 teams in your state with the most points move on to a national 48-hour jeopardy style competition for cash prizes.  I was intrigued and asked my teacher to let me start a team for our school. I found 5 girls to meet the requirements, and we played. It was exhilarating in a way, the rush of decoding steganography, SQL injecting, learning to SSH.  We moved onto nationals in May, and I was awarded as one of the top 10 scorers in my state.  

Cybersecurity was something I never considered before,  a whole new subfield of computer science that was still so incredibly vast. I knew computer science was what my future degree would be in, but as for what I’d do with that career, I had not the faintest idea. Software engineer didn’t feel quite right, and coding apps were definitely not the move for me. This competition awarded me more than just a scholarship, it dropped a plausible career path into my lap, one that I’d enjoy. 

Summer 2019, I was volunteering at a fundraising event for a nonprofit I worked with. While cleaning up a check-in table at the end of the luncheon, I overheard the nonprofit’s Chief Operating Officer and Head of IT discussing internships. The Head of IT was talking about considering high school interns in addition to the college ones they normally employ. He explained that college students usually had to start from scratch when interning with him, and learned as they dealt with issues on the fly. Since not much prior experience was necessary, why not allow some older high school students to intern? My interest in their conversation was picked up on by the COO, who introduced me to the Head of IT as a viable intern (she knew I was pursuing computer science). I spent my summer working in their IT department, one set up a bit different from most businesses.  For the sake of brevity, I won’t include my interning experience in this post but you can find it here.

The following year I took the course Honors Advanced Data Structures and Algorithms, my final year of high school Java. I have a post compiling what I learned in school during my 2 years of college-level Java coursework here. I also became my computer club’s cybersecurity officer as well as the captain of our cybersecurity competition teams. Throughout the year we competed in: the AFA’s CyberPatriot, Lockheed Martin’s CyberQuest, SANS Girls Go CyberStart, and PicoCTF. 

I’m now enrolled in a 4-year university’s (well ranked) engineering program and pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in computer science. My college offers a fast track Master’s program where you start graduate-level coursework in your junior/senior years and do one more year of school after receiving your Bachelor’s to get a Master’s degree. I am currently working towards this program as well as minoring in cybersecurity.

I will eventually do a post about my experience with attaining CISCO cybersecurity certifications, so sign up on the right/below through either WordPress or your email to receive updates about my blog! 

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