Many Paths, One Goal: Forging a Career in Cybersecurity

This is Part 3 in our four-part blog series for Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4.

A career in cybersecurity is increasingly coveted, with more people seeking to enter an industry that’s desperate for talent. Yet job descriptions are so varied it can be confusing to know how or where to begin. We asked four of CrowdStrike’s finest — from our Threat Hunting, Threat Intelligence, Incident Response and Data Sciences teams — to share their experiences in cybersecurity and their thoughts on the industry’s evolution.

Meet our team members:

  • Karl Scheuerman: Frontline Analyst Team Manager, 10 years’ industry experience
  • Katie Blankenship: Director, Global Threat Analysis Team, 13 years’ industry experience
  • Sven Krasser: Senior VP, Data Science, 17 years’ industry experience
  • Heather Smith: Incident Response, 8 years’ industry experience.

Their responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Your roles and experience are varied — as is how you began your careers in security. How did you start?

Karl: I began my career in the military, but not in a cybersecurity role. Following active-duty service, I entered a network security squadron of the Air National Guard, where months of cybersecurity training led to a civilian career path aligned with my growing skills and interest in the field. I worked as a cyber threat analyst and team lead at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory before joining CrowdStrike.

Katie: My first cybersecurity position was with the Surface Transportation and Water Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISAC). I have a BS in International Business and am an Army combat veteran with Civil Affairs experience, which caused my interest in helping private and public organizations that support critical infrastructure. 

Sven: My career began in the mid-2000s while working on my Ph.D. at Georgia Tech. Aside from my research in networking, I became involved in a handful of cybersecurity projects. After a few years I switched from academia to industry, initially at a late-stage email security startup. I have been in the security industry since.

Heather: I was a tech screener for a recruiting agency — with a background in systems administration and QA testing — when a friend introduced me to the Dallas Hackers Association. They treated me like a hidden well of weird IT knowledge and fostered in me a love of puzzles and problem solving. My boss at the recruiting firm laughed when I said I was going to get my master’s degree in digital forensics, so I did just that. The rest is history.

How has your role evolved and how do you see it continuing to evolve?

Karl: My role at CrowdStrike as a threat hunter evolved to take on more strategic initiatives, like working with our intelligence team to track the adversary activity our hunting uncovered, and reporting those findings to our customers and the greater security community. I’m now transitioning to a management role on the Falcon Complete™ team.

Katie: In the past three years, my role’s biggest change has been to move from an analytic track to a management track. Though I managed cybersecurity teams prior to CrowdStrike, I was hired as a Senior Intelligence Analyst to lead targeted intrusion missions. I believe that being an analyst is imperative to becoming a successful cybersecurity team manager. One of the greatest challenges our industry faces and will continue to face is managing the ever-increasing volume and diversity of cyber threats that we track.

Sven: The Data Science team has grown significantly over the past three years. We are applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to an ever-increasing number of problems, and we have built tooling and processes for continuously delivering new detection models and other data-driven security technology. As a result, many new leaders have stepped up to take on these new challenges. Further, the complexity of our mission will continue to increase, and the explosive growth of our security data (now at 1 trillion events per day) will persist. I anticipate my role will shift toward establishing new leadership and scaling up our technical infrastructure so we can tackle these growing challenges. There’s no longer a single crucial role in cybersecurity — it is now a multidisciplinary team sport, with many contributors from different domains making a difference.

Heather: I’ve been with CrowdStrike for over two years; before I was leading Incident Response for a Global 5 organization. While threat actors evolve and tactics change, the real change has been joining CrowdStrike. I’m happy because I found a group of like-minded, tenacious individuals to hunt evil with. Otherwise, I still dig through artifacts and stare at logs to deliver good news and bad. Incident Response will always evolve with emergent technology; I expect even more incidents dealing with cloud architecture, more attackers targeting ESXi environments, and attacks shifting from being Windows dominant to OS agnostic.

What is your advice to people trying to break into the cybersecurity industry?

Karl: I encourage people to first familiarize themselves with the field. Whether through a school program, internship or other experience, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the big picture. Then, I suggest diving deep into a niche area they are particularly interested in, such as malware analysis, incident response or network traffic analysis. Developing deep expertise can help distinguish them from other job hunters. 

Katie: Network and ask questions! Almost everyone in cybersecurity entered the field because of someone they knew. If you don’t know anyone in the field, find a cybersecurity group, conference or even a local chapter. It’s amazing how many doors open once you start meeting people and asking questions. Never be afraid to start at the entry level, to ask questions, and to challenge what you think you can and can’t do.

Sven: It’s most important to start somewhere and from there acquire the skills to get where you want to be. Our field moves fast, so what’s relevant now and what techniques we will use in five years will be very different. Once you get your foot in the door, it will be critical that you stay on top of industry trends so you can evolve your skills.

Heather: There is no wrong path or background for this job, it simply requires tenacity for the truth and endless curiosity. I earned a degree in literature, and held jobs varying from but not limited to, teaching ballroom dancing, vet tech, data analyst, recruitment screener, lifeguard and autopsy tech — all before I arrived at cybersecurity. I had hoped I could make someone’s worst day better on a large scale, and have found a home doing just that. 

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