Making a switch from film studies to the real-life drama of the information security field is a big change, to say the least. But Justin Brecese was able to pull it off with the help of the Certificate in Information Security & Risk Management
To make the transition, Justin paired his studies in the certificate program with the UW Master of Science in Information Management. The combination worked well.
“There were a couple different tracks to pick from in the information management master’s program,” he explained. “I wanted to focus on risk management and information security. The three courses in this certificate program were aligned with that emphasis.”
Today, Justin works as a digital media analyst for the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, part of the Department of Homeland Security. In this interview, he talks about how completing the certificate helped him develop a career in this increasingly vital industry.
Why did you change from film studies to information security?
I know that's kind of an unorthodox switch, but I was researching a lot of technology and new media when I was doing that film studies program. I've always been interested in computers, and I decided that academia was not really my passion anymore. I wanted to switch fields, and I ended up landing on cybersecurity as a main focus.
How did the Certificate in Information Security & Risk Management help you make this move?
The certificate program did a great job on several fronts. It laid a good foundation of information assurance and risk management background knowledge that anyone going into the field should know, regardless of their specialization. I expect to continue using that knowledge throughout my career. The program also brought in a lot of experienced professionals to help give you insight into different facets of the field.
How did the program help you break into the industry?
My first job experience was actually an internship with Homeland Security, which I did while I was still going to school. Then I did an internship with the City of Seattle in their information security office. What I learned in the certificate program was directly pertinent to the work I did in my internships. The governance and information security policy material was especially useful.
Barbara Endicott-Popovsky was my adviser for the master’s program, and she also heads the certificate program. It was through her professional connections that I got my internships. After interning for about a year, as I was finishing up my master’s, I got the permanent job offer at Homeland Security.
What do you do at the Department of Homeland Security?
My first position here was a policy-level job with the National Coordinating Center for Communications. I worked on disaster recovery and business continuity policy and planning, which was covered in depth in the certificate program curriculum.
Last year I transferred over to my current position as a digital media analyst. We're in charge of investigating incidents, like network intrusions or malware incidents, that affect any of the federal departments and agencies. We get deployed in response to a computer security incident or we receive hard drives from a particular department that has a security breach of some variety and requests investigative assistance.
You took this program online. What was that experience like?
I think the way this program is done online is about as good as can be. They use Adobe Connect, an interactive program where you can actually see the lecturer. You can see the slides in a separate window, and there’s a chat window. It was synchronized, so it was live. You could participate just as well as if you were actually sitting in the classroom.
How’s the job market for these skills? Is it a good time to enter the field?
Absolutely. It's a great field to be in because there’s no shortage of need for it. Even at a federal level, every single individual department and agency has their own security capabilities and their own responders. Just like every major corporation has their own internal crew that handles this stuff.
And the salaries are pretty high. These are probably among the highest-paid positions in the federal government.
What would your advice be to people trying to break into the field?
Networking is crucial, especially in Seattle, which has a great community of people who have been doing this work for a long time. But first, getting a solid foundation in information technology is important — learn about the ins and outs of computer hardware and software, as well as network functionality and protocols.
What were your biggest takeaways from the program?
It was the insight into the workings of real-world organizations and the challenges they face related to information security. And also how critical risk management is in any business decision.