Gabrielle Oler had always loved working with children. While training to become a teacher, she volunteered at public schools as a preschool teacher. As graduation neared, Gabrielle began to question her chosen career path. The prospect of overseeing a classroom of twenty-plus kids seemed daunting, and a teacher’s 7 a.m.-3 p.m. schedule doesn’t include time spent grading assignments.
Her father suggested she consider a career in cybersecurity. Demand for cybersecurity professionals is growing twice as fast as the workforce, enabling professionals to command high salaries and flexible work arrangements (entry-level analysts start at $76,938 on average).
Gabrielle wasn’t interested in hacking or forensics, so her father suggested she look for roles in risk management and compliance.
“I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could do it, given that I had no technical background,” says Gabrielle. She enrolled in Springboard while still pursuing her bachelor’s degree, and passed her CompTIA Security+ exam the same week she graduated from college.
After graduating from Springboard's Cyber Security Bootcamp, Gabrielle landed a role as a systems administrator at Coherent Technical Services, an aviation and aerospace contractor for the U.S. government.
I loved the children and the teachers I worked with, but being alone in a classroom with 20-plus kids was daunting. I was also concerned about job security. I wanted financial independence. I worried I wouldn’t be able to move out and go live my life somewhere else on a public schoolteacher’s salary.
Honestly, there wasn’t anything in particular. I heard it was a popular, well-paying field. I’ve always done well in school and take great pride in that. After finishing my degree, I missed school, so I decided to try cybersecurity because I love learning even though I wasn’t a technical person.
Yes. Cybersecurity is not my passion, but it’s an interest I’ve been nurturing. There are two sides to me. There’s the side that likes philosophy, reading, and academia. Then there’s the other side of me interested in tech, computers, and cybersecurity.
Before, I used smartphones and computers all the time without thinking about how they function. Now, I have a new appreciation for it.
I tried to teach myself. I’m a good student, I’m smart. Give me some books, and I’ll learn anything. Oh my gosh, it was the most horrific experience, especially since I don’t have a technical background. It was hard to be a good student when I also had to be the teacher at the same time. I didn’t want to get another degree since I’d just completed one, so I started looking at bootcamps. That’s how I found Springboard.
What stood out to me was the bootcamp could be completed in six months or less if you dedicate more time to it. I only worked part-time, so I completed the Cyber Security Bootcamp within four months and took the CompTIA Security+ exam two weeks later. Since I was still working, I needed to go at my own pace.
I loved the way the course was structured. My college years coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, when higher education transitioned to an online format. It didn’t even compare to Springboard. Everything was well-designed. The curriculum flowed well. One feature I liked was the weekly goal. You could set how many hours you wanted to spend studying and earn points.
You have to hit 600 points a week to finish in four months. Some weeks, I made it to 800 points. I enjoyed that because I could plan what to do each day. For example, today, I’ll watch a lecture and complete a mini-project. Tomorrow, I can take it easy if I finish those two.
My mentor was Victor Ajayi [manager of IoT cybersecurity at Ernst & Young]. He was super helpful. Honestly, I didn’t need much technical support from him. Our calls were more like a catch-up session.
He helped me prepare for the CompTIA Security+ exam, which I was very anxious about. When I got stuck, I would try to troubleshoot myself, but whenever I needed support with anything, he would send me resources to help me figure it out.
When I hit a roadblock, I would come back to it later and move on to the next unit or chapter in the meantime. I didn’t want to slow down by staying on one project for a week. Instead, I would come back to it after a few days. Sometimes, the topic would make more sense when I revisited it after a couple of days. When I had questions about a project, I would ask other students for help on the Slack channel.
If you have questions, email your mentor instead of waiting until the next meeting–especially if you’re stuck on something. Make sure you’re on the same page about how to communicate. Be willing to ask questions. Initially, I was anxious about this and I didn’t want to appear dumb or not knowledgeable, even though I have no knowledge of this field. I would ask someone else or look it up online when I could have asked this incredible person who has 10-plus years of experience in his field.
I still talk to my mentor even now that I’ve graduated. I wished him a happy birthday and updated him when I started my new job.
I graduated in mid-May and received a job offer in the last week of the month. I started applying for jobs before I took the Security+ exam. Every entry-level job wanted three-plus years of experience. I was like, oh my goodness, I have no experience. In February, I had networked with some people at a graduation party, which led to a few informational interviews.
They asked me, “How’s your program going?” I told them I had just graduated and was job-searching. Someone I’d done an informational interview with told me his company had an opening. Bam, I got a job as a systems administrator.
I did a walkthrough of the building last week, and they showed me the server rack I’ll maintain. The last two weeks of the month are my busiest times, and the first two weeks are a bit slower, so the company has already encouraged me to consider getting additional certifications during my downtime.
I’m a good note-taker. I have to write everything down by hand. I made tiny note cards in little envelopes and studied them for a month to learn the building blocks of networking and computer security.
The Security+ exam covers so much stuff. There are 500 acronyms to memorize. One study method I learned was grouping things into schemas. You don’t need to know every terminology or acronym–you just need to know which ones go together.
That’s a tricky question because I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. Honestly, I don’t have any cons. Any roadblock I ran into was quickly remedied. If I struggled with a project, I asked my fellow students or mentor for help. Everything went smoothly, and I’m so thankful for that. Springboard hit the online learning nail on the head. It was easy to stay motivated and on track.
I also loved working with different mediums. One day I had to write a paper; the next, I would watch a video, and another day, I would complete a lab project. That cemented my learning.
I know many people are trying to enter the tech industry right now. I was one of them. I feel so lucky that I networked and landed a job quickly after graduating. I would advise people not to leave their jobs until they secure another one. People thought I would quit teaching while I studied at Springboard, but I had bills to pay. Secondly, I wasn’t 100% sure I could make it even though I was excited and ready to get into cybersecurity. There was no guaranteed job waiting for me at the end of the program. Know what you’re getting into.
Don’t be afraid to find additional resources outside of the course material. If I couldn’t find the answer to something within the curriculum, I would ask people on Reddit–that’s how I found entire communities of women in STEM and people preparing for the Security+ exam. Now I have a community to fall back on when I have questions or concerns.