SWSIS Scholarships: Where are They Now? Featured Scholar: Kebra Thompson

SWSIS (Scholarships for Women Studying Information Security) provides scholarships of up to $10,000 for women studying for their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fields relating to information security.  SWSIS is a partnership of Applied Computer Security Associates (ACSA) and CRA-W, with sponsorship from ACSA, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Symantec. Kebra Thomspon received an SWSIS scholarship from 2015 to 2016 while she earned a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Washington – Tacoma.  She is currently an Information Specialist at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport, Washington.

By Kebra Thompson

Several years ago, as I was working on my eighteenth year of teaching high school math, I began to ponder the idea of a new career. While I had loved teaching, I did not think I wanted to continue in the field for another twenty-five years and I wondered what else I might enjoy. I decided to go back to school and earn another bachelor’s degree in computer engineering; I chose this field because it would require and utilize a lot of math. While completing that, I became interested in cryptography and decided to continue on to a master’s degree in computer science with a cybersecurity focus.

I applied for the SWSIS scholarship as a senior and was selected to receive the award for my master’s year. Discussions with people in industry and government as well as attendance at conferences, both provided as part of the award, allowed me to learn a bit about cyber areas other than cryptography and I found it all very interesting. There are so many areas to this topic and I found (and continue to find) that both exciting and a little intimidating.

After finishing school, I began work with the U.S. Department of the Navy. I am a civilian employee of the Navy at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Keyport. I have now been in the job for about a year and a half. I work on a security team that researches ideas, performs security assessments, and contributes to policy and best practice efforts. The branch has about twelve members but we often have the opportunity to work with people from other branches at Keyport and with people in other locations throughout the Department of Defense.

One of the aspects of this job that I really appreciate is the variety. I am usually involved in several different projects at once and the projects are often short-term. I believe this is helping me to learn about many different areas and topics. I also am thankful for the offered learning opportunities. Occasionally, I am sent somewhere for training or trainers are brought in to teach us; I also receive tons of on-the-job training from more experienced co-workers. As I have mentioned, the size of the needed knowledge within the cybersecurity field can be overwhelming. While I am loving learning more and more about it, I am grateful that I am not expected to know it all already.

Another part of my job that I enjoy is the travel. I get to travel for classes, conferences, and meetings. This allows me to see new places and to meet new people. I also appreciate the work/life balance provided by the government. I am expected to work hard while at work but generally speaking, I do not need to worry about work outside of that time. I am sure there are people above me solving emergencies at all hours of the day and night but the balance for me has been easy to find. Finally, I love that my job and my personal contributions are important and that what I do has value for other people.

I would encourage everyone to consider a career in cybersecurity. The field is so vast and there are many jobs available. It seems most people would be able to find a job they enjoy within the sphere. If you do not love what you start out with, try something else – there is so much variety and there are so many interesting problems. I encourage aspiring professionals not to let the intimidating nature of the field prevent them from trying it out. I have found that no one can know everything about cybersecurity, no one expects beginners to know too much, and that people who do know a lot are willing to share their expertise. I would have been a lot less fearful when starting out if I had believed it when others told me these truths. My advice is to work hard and be excited to learn; this will allow you to become a contributor in the field of cybersecurity.