dark multi-tonal background with the image of LHL Alum Tracy Copeland and the words CYBER SECURITY SPOTLIGHT

It's that time of the year again. It's cyber security month so obviously, remember to change your passwords, don't click on sketchy links saying you've won free airline tickets, and don't give money to strangers on the internet.

But do you know what's cooler than being safe on the internet? Helping others stay safe on the internet by becoming a cyber security professional.

If you haven't noticed, we're spending more of our lives online. Tasks we couldn't imagine doing digitally a few years ago, like hailing a cab or buying a bulky piece of furniture, are now only a few clicks away on our smartphones. However, this convenience and ease of use mean more of our details are being fed into databases and algorithms, and there will always be people willing to use this wealth of data to their own negative ends. To keep your data safe, companies are deploying more sophisticated defence mechanisms and hiring more skilled professionals to man these systems.

For cyber security month, we interviewed a Lighthouse Labs Alum, Tracy Copeland. We discussed her journey to becoming a cyber security professional and her advice and tips for those looking to enter the field.

TRACY COPELAND - From Customer Service To Cyber Security Professional

Tracy Copeland had a wide and varied work history and experience before settling on her last role as IS intern at NB Power. A record she categorizes as "50% IT and 50% others". She's worked in fast food, retail, customer service, education, as a help desk technician and even as a cleaner before finally settling for a career in cyber security. Why did she decide on a career in IT?

“I have strengths in creative problem solving, analyzing technology, and figuring out software systems, which makes technology a good fit for me.”

The Journey To Cyber Security

After getting a Diploma at NBCC as a Programmer Analyst, Tracy got a fantastic opportunity with a tuition scholarship from a local agency with the added bonus of a job upon successfully completing the Bootcamp. The learning experience at Lighthouse Labs was "fast and deep" she says.

“Even with my background in IT already, I was learning new things. What I already knew helped me, and I formed a study group with a few other students. We each had different skills already and used those skills to help each other learn the material."

On why she decided to specialize in cyber security, she says:

“New Brunswick is building itself as a hub for Cyber Security. My skills can be used in several areas, with Cyber Security being just one. And within my job, we're using them in other areas as well, such as system administration, programming, networking, and data analysis, just with a focus on protecting against, identifying, and addressing threats by cyber attackers."

Wondering where to start?, And what types of entry-level jobs you can get as a new Cyber Security Professional? We go into details in this article.

Women In Cyber

The tech industry has been historically male-dominated, with Randstad reporting that women make up less than 25% of people employed in STEM careers. We asked Tracy about her experience as a woman working in cyber security.

“Cyber Security is an extension of the IT field, and IT has traditionally been a very male-dominated field. This is changing, and a balance of genders, ages, and ethnicities will benefit everyone. Since, as Cyber Guardians, we can best protect people if we have a balance of voices representing the people we're protecting."

We asked her about the systems and processes to attract and keep women in the field. She remarked that all she needs to thrive is primarily internal - a drive to learn, the ability to invent new solutions to problems, and assertiveness. These things, she says, allow her to access the external resources she needs, such as knowledge, data, and connections.

And on the industries efforts to get more women into the field, she says:

"There is still an imbalance of people coming into IT that's weighted towards men, but it's changing more all the time. The biggest challenge is helping young women believe this is an area they can be successful in and helping them achieve early success. Because passing a tough math class in middle school, or understanding a difficult concept in science builds the foundations for those young girls to achieve incredible outcomes.The first computer may have been built by a man Charles Babbage, but the technology that allowed it to work, called an algorithm, was created by a woman, Ada Lovelace. True equality will be achieved when we can see people for their skills and talents, not gender, ethnicity, or age."

She sees improvements happening already. The field is growing, she says, and more women are stepping up to fill more of these roles. And their perspectives, she believes, will help build new ways to counter the hackers.

The Life of A Cyber Security Professional

Some benefits of working in tech are the exciting work, excellent salaries, and flexible work arrangements. We asked Tracy what she enjoyed most about working in cyber security. The hybrid work arrangement is awesome, she says; working with new technology, solving problems, and always learning. Great salaries are just a few of the perks.

After the perks, though, comes the actual work. We asked how the skills picked up at Lighthouse Labs have helped her in her role, what a typical day in the life of a cyber security professional looked like, and the secret behind the hoodies Hollywood has told us every white hat hacker has to own:

"I gotta say, I like my hoodie. It's very warm and comfortable."

"One of the tools I learned about in the Bootcamp, the URL decoder, is part of my standard daily toolkit. And other skills are used regularly, like Kali Linux, networking, and how networks become compromised."

"I usually start my day by checking alerts for signs of problems. That may mean I'm dissecting an email for signs of phishing or checking if an alert about a server is a sign of a problem or normal activity or where a file came from. Most times, these are easy and not a problem, but the ones that take more to puzzle out are fun. I check the systems again around lunchtime and just before the end of the day. The rest of my day is spent on projects like maintaining an alert system I'm responsible for -- refining rules, analyzing trends and improving processing. I am also asked to generate reports sometimes or catalogue a system's current configuration. I have a few regular meetings a week, and, of course, when I find something indicating a problem, I let some of our more senior team members know. Then, I get to sit back and watch how the problem is handled, which is a great learning opportunity. And sometimes, I even get to do things to help counter the problem."

The world is advancing rapidly, and each day brings new technological improvements. As a tech professional, you must embrace a life of continuous learning to make sure your skills are up-to-date with the latest technologies and trends. We asked Tracy how she kept up with technology, especially in cyber security, where you always have to be one step ahead of the bad guys:

"By continuously learning. Seriously. If you choose to go the route of certifications, they change regularly. So you're studying to upgrade them. New features are added to applications, requiring learning how to use them effectively. Computer languages change and evolve even faster than spoken languages, so that requires constant learning. When you write a computer program, you're often doing something you haven't done before, and that frequently means using something in the language you haven't used before. I was working on an assignment the other day involving the R programming language and wanted to group the data based on the day of the week the events happened. My data set included the date but not the day, but there is a command that can figure that out for you. With a Google search, I found information on how to get that information and solved that part of the problem. Then, a bit later on, I needed the month. Rather than going back to Google for another search, I reasoned that if weekdays(date) gave me the day, months(date) could give me the month. If it didn't, I'd just get an error and could look it up, but it wouldn't hurt anything to try it. Turns out, months(date) worked perfectly. In Cyber Security, this is even more important because our opponents need to innovate to keep ahead of us, requiring us to innovate even faster to stay ahead of them. It's a race I plan to win."

Click here to read our feature on 5 Reasons To Pursue a Career in Cyber Security.

Final Thoughts And Advice To Tech Hopefuls

Taking into account her broad employment history and her success in switching to a career in tech, specifically a field she has such passion for, we asked her advice to women looking to make the same transition:

"Your previous experience could be as important as the technical skills you learn. Understanding the systems you protect from a user's perspective can help keep them safer and be vital in ousting an intruder. Culture has taught for years that women are less capable of handling technical tasks like automotive work, mathematics, and the hard sciences. However, the fields deemed "feminine," such as child care, teaching, and nursing, are just as complex, varied, and challenging. Many of the same problems exist in both fields, and multiple perspectives are needed in these areas. That means having people of all backgrounds on hand.There is an old adage about going into a career you love, so you never have to work a day in your life. Even after six months, I enjoy working each day because I love the problem-solving I do."

Ready to join one of the fastest growing sectors in the tech industry? Download the Cyber Security Bootcamp curriculum here, or click the button below to begin your journey to an exciting new career in cyber security!