The Cyber Hack That Changed the Course of a Life

By Katherine Drollinger, Cybersecurity Apprentice


The computer turned black and white in front of my stunned eyes.  I didn’t know it at the time, but someone had taken remote control of my computer and was running the command prompt.  I was 13 at the time.  What they wanted, I never found out.  I killed the power and sat back in wonder and fear.  The computer was eventually recycled, but the hack attack left a big impression on me.  I tried college as an engineering major after high school, but I never found my place.  The lack of relevance in college classrooms was startling to me.  The gap between theory and application seemed too large to conquer.  I tried various combinations of work and school, all with little success.  I looked at some gap year programs, but found they were all out of budget.  I was pondering my life a year ago when my mother called me downstairs.  She had heard about a cybersecurity apprenticeship program and thought I would be a perfect fit.  Midwest Cyber Center was a nonprofit company that paired qualified applicants with companies willing to train them.  After looking at the program online, I was hooked.  Six months later, I’m paired with Masterclock as their new cybersecurity apprentice.

The experience so far at Masterclock has been both amazing and humbling.  Learning about cybersecurity is like diving into the ocean without knowing how to swim.  At first, you’re trying to stay afloat, but once you’re able to swim around, the field emerges into a network of elements all working together.  It’s never just about the individual parts, you also have to consider how everything interacts together.  A network is a lot like an ecosystem.  What impacts one node will eventually ripple through the entire network.  It’s vast, challenging, mentally exhausting and I love every day I spend here.  No two days are the same just as no two networks are the same.  I couldn’t ask for a better place to work and learn.

Although I am presently limited in my knowledge, and I’m working hard to change that, Masterclock also benefits from me being here.  My newfound knowledge is used to solve their problems.  In between articles and interactive tutorials, I also help solve every day technical problems.  Unlike the traditional learning environment, there is no classroom gap.  I can tailor my education directly to the needs of Masterclock and solve problems in real time.  This also means that Masterclock can focus on serving the community at large and its customers.  Masterclock also receives a government grant that covers half of my salary.  Masterclock as a result can train me and bring in opportunities that I would not have otherwise.  The government receives that grant back in the form of tax dollars.  Masterclock receives a quality, skilled and certified employee while I receive skills and training without the crippling cost of a college degree. In a situation where everyone benefits, who can ask for more?

I’m coming up on my 90-day milestone here at Masterclock.  My days are filled with tech support requests, office jokes and browser cookies.  Despite my success and the success of my fellow apprentices, the program remains on a small scale.   With a national need for cybersecurity professionals, I sincerely hope more companies will consider bringing on an apprentice in the future.  Will you?