After earning an MBA and becoming a chief marketing officer at an online stationery company, Karen Peterson decided to stay home to raise her kids. She learned about holistic health—an approach to wellness that combines the physical, mental, social and emotional aspects of health—and taught herself to trade options on the stock market. Ten years later, when her kids were grown, Karen sought to reenter the workforce.
After enrolling in Springboard’s Cyber Security Career Track, Karen quickly decided that she wanted to specialize in a specific cybersecurity field so she could become a subject matter expert, rather than pursuing a general security analyst role.
While studying, she developed an interest in Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC), an approach to security compliance shared by different departments including legal, finance, and HR, rather than being siloed in IT. She even took a masterclass in GRC while applying to jobs, and soon after landed a role at Coalfire, a cybersecurity advisory firm, where she uses those exact skills. “One of the things that helped me in the job search was to hone in on that area of expertise,” she said.
After graduating from Springboard, Karen become a peer mentor to support other students going through Cyber Security Career Track. "I wanted to give back, because I had such a great experience at Springboard," she explained. "I wanted to continue to be a part of the community. It’s challenging managing being a mentor and working full-time, but I enjoy it."
I’ve always had a penchant for technology. My last corporate role was in ecommerce, so I was involved in different facets of technology from selecting hosting companies to correcting issues with the website. Security wasn’t taken seriously back then, so I thought learning cyber security would be a great way to supplement my knowledge.
I’d had a few rejections and bad interviews—everyone has them—but when I applied for this role at Coalfire, everything moved so fast. The role was exactly what I was looking for. Every interview went really well because I was very prepared. I had to prepare a presentation for my interview and I enjoyed doing that, but it was stressful because I only had 24 hours. Everything I did up to that point helped me land this role—completing the Springboard bootcamp, focusing on GRC as a specialization, and doing the additional learnings on my own.
I love my job. I work remotely and most of my team is based in Atlanta. The majority of my work is client work. So we prepare documents for our clients, we have meetings with them, and then we document and notate the information we gathered during those meetings. So that’s about 80% of the role, and then the other 10-20% is advancing my learning by taking different courses as part of my onboarding.
I'm getting ready to take the Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) certification. After that, I’m going to prepare for my auditor certification, then I’ll go for a lead audit certification through another organization. The learning just keeps going.
Some employers value certifications while others say work experience is more important. I look for certifications that are pertinent to my areas of interest, and those that align with my current role. Cloud security is really important in my role because we help clients prepare for external audits, so it’s important to understand their environment.
For me, it was always about continuously learning. Show the value of what you’re learning and investing your time in—whether that’s studying, taking on a different role, or even community service and volunteering.
I found the 1:1 mentorship really beneficial because I did not have a technical background and I thought it was a great way to connect with an industry professional. I’d taken several online courses before, but the mentorship and career coaching services Springboard offered made it stand out from other programs.
My mentor was Jason Ward [security solutions engineer at Booz Allen Hamilton]. I liked that he worked for a consulting company because I wanted to go into consulting after Springboard—and, lo and behold, I have. He was very knowledgeable about the industry. He focuses on identity management, so I had the chance to learn about that, too.
It’s great because I was already taking on extra learning opportunities while I was going through Springboard. Now I work for a company that supports that and allocates a budget towards helping me build my knowledge.
When I was studying at Springboard for the CompTIA Security+ certification, I learned a little bit of everything—penetration testing, identity management, GRC, and zero trust—but now my training is much more focused on my area of interest and the field I’m working in.
Try different things. You don’t have to take a big leap to get started. After learning about holistic health and how to trade options in the stock market, I knew I didn’t want to do those things as a career. As you learn new things, pay attention to what stimulates you. I like to be mentally stimulated and to help people. In my current role, I’m constantly learning about different clients and their environments and checking to see if they have the proper security controls in place. It’s a lot of intellectual work and I get to help people. Once you learn about yourself and hone in on what motivates, you can define the direction you want to take.