In Her Own Words
Whitney Koslik answers a few quick questions regarding her career journey in cybersecurity.
I had been working in the hotel industry for about 12 years, until just before COVID started. I started as a front desk agent and worked my way up the corporate ladder, eventually working on loyalty programs and strategy for a large hotel chain across the US and Canada.
When COVID hit, the hotel industry took a massive hit. Like so many people, I was furloughed for 90 days. I am not someone who sits around and waits for things to happen, so I started looking into companies that were offering classes to people whose jobs were impacted by COVID. I ended up taking self-paced classes through Codecademy.
I started learning software development and I absolutely fell in love with it. I fell in love with the problem solving behind it, with creating things and seeing them form before you. I knew this is what I wanted to do. Then the most glorious thing happened: I was told that I was being laid off permanently.
It was a very sad thing for me to leave my old company permanently. But at the same time, I was really looking forward to exploring new opportunities. I continued on a journey of teaching myself how to code using online resources, such as Codecademy and Free Code Camp. I decided I needed to step it up and enrolled in General Assembly’s 12-week immersive software engineering program, which was very intense and just what I was looking for.
After I finished the software engineering program, I went to an Edu-tech company as a developer and enjoyed my time there but wanted to do a little bit more. And this is how I pivoted into cybersecurity: I wanted to make more of a difference in people's lives. I ended up talking to a friend who works at Trinity Cyber who encouraged me to join the company.
My immediate thought was, it's cybersecurity. I have such a different background, I am not the person you want to do cybersecurity. I had this preconceived notion about cybersecurity, that you had to have a very specific background in computer science or work for the NSA or something like that. But after challenging my own assumptions of the credentials needed to be in the cybersecurity industry, I could see myself as part of this team and making a difference here.
I work on the web development team on both our internal and client-facing portal. The way I describe it is, I’m helping our brilliant analysts who are directly involved in cybersecurity to communicate with our clients and with our partners. I'm giving them the tools they need to do their job better. That could be anything from working on a new feature to undertaking a user interface overhaul.
Something that I love about how our team at Trinity Cyber views cybersecurity is that it’s not a place for egos, it’s about defeating adversaries. Everyone on the team that I've collaborated with has been very helpful. I have never felt like an outsider, I have not felt like anyone was gatekeeping information or anything along those lines despite my different background.
I look back at my time in the hotel industry with such fondness. Skills I developed there helped me to be a better team member and a better developer. It’s tempting to tell myself, “Hey, when people start suggesting you learn to code, don’t wait! Jump into it!”. But at the same time, my journey has not been a straight line, and those experiences have made me a stronger team member that I can't say I would skip any of them. If I were speaking to myself in January 2020, I’d say you're going to be in for a wild year. Trust the process. You're going to find out some new things about yourself, so just enjoy the journey as you're moving forward.
There are misconceptions about every industry, and cybersecurity is no different. When you add that cybersecurity seems to be all about engineering and it is very specialized, that makes it even more elusive – like it all exists within a little secret box. What I would tell people is, you don't have to fit into that box to be successful or enjoy what you do. I certainly don’t fit, but I bring skills with me from my previous career that has allowed me to be a better team member. Also, there are so many areas within cybersecurity. There's what my team does, which is to help support our threat analysts communicate what they do. And there's also customer success, operations, marketing. You don't have to fit into a little box that people believe to be all of cybersecurity. Just because your experience does not include what you believe to be the exact qualification, or the exact education, that doesn't mean you can't bring value and you can't make a difference here.