By: Mike A. Bryan

Finding a career is a difficult thing to do, even for those of us that get lucky. And even those of us that get lucky often have to be flexible and try new things. I have taken a non-traditional path to get where I am today. Read on to hear my personal story of how I got to where I am today, and some lessons learned along the way. 

  1. You don’t have to know what you want to do when you grow up, and even if you start out in one industry, you can move into another by training/educating yourself. I was employed at a young age as a Camp Counselor and After-School Counselor, and only spent one semester unemployed during college. My first job at the age of 18 outside of the children’s care world was as a busser in an upscale restaurant. I also filled in as a dishwasher, and let me tell you something – those are some of the hardest working people in the world. It is not a fun job. That being said, this job exposed me to a whole new world and level of maturity I had not previously been shown, along with teaching me a ton of useful people skills. If you’re curious about what working in the service industry is like, just read Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” Brutally honest, it shows what working in the service industry at that time was like. 
  1. Try different jobs. Variety is the spice of life, and you never know what job or industry will capture your attention. So don’t be afraid to expand your horizons and try new things — so much positivity can come of it. Once I graduated from college, I moved to a new city where I had one contact who had promised there was work I could do, using my brand new degree. Upon arrival, I never heard from my contact again, and had to fall back on waiting tables and bartending. I did these types of jobs, off and on, with some 6 month breaks here and there where I tried something different, for over 20 years. That’s a long time to work in the service industry. The other jobs I did for short periods of time helped improve my office-workplace skills, which I had never developed in the service industry. 
  1. When you try something new, perseverance is key. Don’t give up on yourself or your work, no matter what. Hard work delivers results. It was about 6 years ago that I finally decided to get out of the service industry. I moved here, enrolled in cybersecurity classes, and spent my time either working in the restaurant or going to class and studying. I had to go to school part-time due to money and needing to work to support myself. It took me almost 4 years and a small loan to earn my cybersecurity certificate. Along the way, I took some computer programming classes and learned the basics of coding. While my classes were valuable, I could have learned a lot of the same information on my own, using the Google machine. So keep that in mind, readers — almost anyone can teach themselves what they need to know to earn certificates that will allow them entry into the cybersecurity industry, without college or classes. Remember, no matter what industry you decide to go into, you can teach yourself a lot by using Google and YouTube. In cybersecurity and computer science in particular, there are thousands of resources online, many of which are free or cheap.
  1. Networking is key. The old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” still rings true today. Networking can help you find that perfect job and you never know who it is that will connect you with it. So don’t be afraid to network — it will deliver results in spades. I’m sure by now you’re wondering how I got my current job? Networking. This vital skill/activity will lead you to your next job. During my studies, I was constantly looking for a mentor, someone to help guide me along the way to be successful in finding a cybersecurity job. After a number of people rejected my request for mentoring, a cybersecurity professional friend of my parents’ offered to have coffee with me and talk. During our conversation, he mentioned one of the programs that CyberUp manages, and offered to put me in touch with the Executive Director. This program turned out to be our apprenticeship program, to which I wanted to apply immediately. My conversation with the Executive Director, however, quickly changed my mind. On the call, we really hit it off, and he mentioned that CyberUp was looking for someone to help manage the relationships between CyberUp and local organizations. Since I had done sales and cold-calling before, I was quickly offered an opportunity to interview for the job. I had an amazing interview (in large part due to the great attitudes and personalities of my interviewers) and felt really good about my chances. They made me wait a week or 2 before they told me, but eventually they offered me the job, which I tried to do for about 5 months before we had to have a serious conversation. 
  1. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to pivot, whether that is within your organization or to another. If you’re given a good opportunity, take it and figure out how to make it work as you go. In my first position, I was just not performing well enough to sustain my position on the team. It was a stark reality to be confronted with, but there was a silver lining. My bosses offered me an entirely different job, that of Youth Engagement Manager, where I would be able to utilize my skills in working with youth, and actively use the skills and knowledge that I had picked up in my cybersecurity classes. And they hired someone else to do my job, who had a lot more experience and proven successes in his past. I was thrilled to not lose my job, start a job that was much better suited for me, and not experience a change in my salary, along with gaining a new co-worker who could help take the company to new heights. Overall, everything worked out really well for me. There are no guarantees in life, however, so it is always good to keep that resume and LinkedIn profile updated and looking good.

I hope my story has given you some essential nuggets of wisdom about work and life. Everyone has a different perspective and has to take a different journey. I wish you the best of luck on your journey.