ECPI Keynote Speaker Award – Christy Long
Click the Link for more information about the Author: 2017 Commencement Speaker
We are all here today because of an idea. Webster defines an idea as a “formulated thought or opinion.” At some point in our life, we had an idea about a desire to excel, a thought of how successful we could become or even graduating from college. For some of us, the ability to act on that idea took years, and for others, it was a natural progression from some other point in our lives.
Some of you started college out of High School, some of you wanted further your career, or even change your career. There are many reasons why we all started college. For me, I was transitioning from a Military Career as an Air Ambulance Medic with the idea of going to Physicians Assistant School when a friend of mine convinced me to take a free computer class. I had no clue this would derail my entire plans. Let me see a show of hands, how many of you in this room are pursuing something you did not think possible?
I started the free computer class without any knowledge of computers. My goal was to improve my efficiency and overall knowledge of technology. As the class continued, I thought to myself this is fun. My interest in computers began to grow. I compared the human anatomy to computers. The wires were the nervous system; the CPU was the brain. I was able to take all of the new terms and translate them into a language I understood.
My teacher was very encouraging during my endeavor to learn about computers; however, this was not the path I had planned. As part of the class, each student received test vouchers, similar to what ECPI does for several of their degree programs. One day my instructor would not let me leave class until I scheduled my first Exam. He blocked the door and handed me a phone, standing there until I scheduled my exam. How many of you have had a teacher or teachers step above and beyond what was expected? Because of his persistence, I took the first test in a two part series on computer hardware called the ComptTIA A+. I passed it on my first try. I felt a sigh of relief the exam was over. Probably as many of you felt when taking your exams whether they were the LPN exam, networking certifications, or another exam in your career field.
As the class continued, every once in a while, I would think, this could be a fun career but dismissed the idea because I thought I was supposed to remain in Medicine. As the classes continued, I began to think what if I changed jobs. I would start back at ground zero, take a pay cut, be the new kid on the block. Where do I start? What do I do? I had heard Raleigh was a great place to start a career in computers and moved to Raleigh, NC. I signed up for a few certificate classes, researched colleges, and found one whose goals aligned with mine.
Like many of you, I started college, a new student, new field, unsure of what to expect. There were so many questions, what classes do I need to take? Should I take any non-college exams? What about volunteering or internship opportunities? Where do I work? How do I begin? There were so many unanswered questions.
As classes continued, I began to learn more about what I liked and did not like in network security career field. I started researching the areas I enjoyed the most. As I continued to learn, I began working on my resume.
At this point, my experience consisted of a job with an Internet Service Provider called Frontier which lasted five months, during this time I googled the answers to their entrance exam and read the troubleshooting steps off of Wikipedia. This job was not what I wanted to do, but it gave me experience. After a few short months, I received a job offer from a company who built medicine dispensing robots. That sounded fun. It was a great job, but again, I felt I could do more and needed more experience.
I thought about all of the things we did in class. What I did at home and brainstormed a list of stuff I could do with a computer. I could plug in a computer, turn in on, and check to see if the computer had an internet connection. I had networking skills. I needed security on my resume. My computer had anti-virus software installed, and I installed anti-virus on other people’s computers. I must be good at hardening devices, meaning I make computers safe. I hear people tell me all the time; “this is not how you do a resume,” “you should be happy with where you are,” “why are you exerting all that energy.” I am sure many of you have had gone through similar ordeals, and yet you are sitting in the audience about to graduate?
You did not let other people’s negative energy slow you down, and in fact, many of you used to excel. Like you I pondering ideas on how to succeed, I had heard about Cisco Systems and what a great company they were. I thought it would be fun to work at such a prestigious place. What would it take to work for this giant company? Cisco Systems is such a large company of influence they have exams focused solely on their products. These exams are reputable and will add credibility to my resume. Many fields are now offering some sort of continues education or mandatory certificates. Some of these fields are criminal justice, medicine, business, and technology. I started studying for the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certificate, and other students told me things such as “the test was too hard” and “I did not have enough experience to take” this test. I followed the guidance of my instructors and passed the test.
I want everyone to pause for a moment, think about who is your dream company or what company in your field has impressed you. Then think about how others started working there. Now think about what would it take for you to work there. When you go home tonight, I want you to brainstorm the requirements to work at the job you were just thinking about and make smart goals or goals consisting of one line items; such as research the company, meet people who work for the company, find a mentor or anything else you can think of that would give you an edge over other applicants. Then place them in the order of importance and accomplish these goals.
Following these steps, I was able to achieve my goal to work for Cisco. This goal was not achieved immediately; it took several months before received a phone call to start the interview process with Cisco Systems. When I finished the round of interviews I was in shock, I heard only the brightest and the best work for Cisco; similar to Facebook or Google, and they wanted me. I started working at Cisco and had to take a break from school. While at Cisco they taught me a more in-depth look at networks and drawing architectural designs other companies networks.
Through these experiences I have found when starting new adventures; there is always someone who has completed the path you are on before you. Many of these people love to teach. Take the initiative and follow in someone’s footsteps, learn the basics, then study on your own. At Cisco, I found out about Data Centers and Security. There was an idea lingering in my brain that I could still do more. A friend told me about a new Cyber Threat Operation Center that was standing up at BB&T. The position sounded exciting. Cisco was such a good company; I did not know if I should leave. Another friend told me always to keep my options open. I went to the interview at BB&T and did not plan to accept any offer. The interview made the position sound so exciting and challenging at the same time. I accepted thinking I would help build the secure data center, turns out the job was actually analyzing data as a cyber threat analyst who is basically an internet detective. This position allowed me to return to college. I sat in those very seats you are sitting in last year.
Graduating is just the beginning. You have accomplished a milestone in life and are about to embark on a new journey. You have an entire career ahead of you. I can tell you from experience; my career path keeps changing as I learn more, and find out what I like and adjust my goals accordingly. I enjoy this line of work, I also enjoyed medicine, and am aware that sometime in the future I will have to make a leap to something harder more challenging or even just different. My career as a security analyst started an idea, and at some point, this idea become a dream, this dream become a goal, and this goal became a reality.
Your reality is just starting, you have worked for it, the late-night cramming, group projects, hands-on experience and so much more has prepared you for this day. Your learning does not stop here; It is what will set you apart from the crowd and propel you forward. You will face many challenges on your path to greatness. You will become the expert that inspires others to take action. Continue to have ideas and make those dreams your next reality. If I can leave you with any words of advice, be proud of yourself, think of all, you have accomplished. Many have started on this path and failed. You are the elite, and most of all enjoy what you do and congratulations.
Note from the Speaker: Thank You, ECPI for giving me the opportunity to speak and to those who have influenced me in some way allowing me to make the choices to succeed.