Business & Technology

The Importance of Cybersecurity Training: A conversation with Sylvia Schlaphof

By Rob Rashotte | August 20, 2021

Just as digital innovation continues to evolve in the world of cybersecurity, security professionals must invest in continued learning opportunities to remain ahead of threat actors, including a focus on certifications and cybersecurity training. To help close the skills gap challenging organizations, the Fortinet NSE Training Institute continues to make strides in advancing Fortinet’s Training Advancement Agenda (TAA) by offering various programs providing training and other resources to security professionals, women, veterans, students, and more. The NSE Certification Program, for example, is an eight-level certification program, and to become NSE 8 certified, candidates must have related industry experience and is the highest designation that shows mastery of Fortinet’s technology. 

Sylvia Schlaphof, Head of Engineering for BOLL Engineering in Zurich, Switzerland, is the first woman to achieve Level 8 Certification through Fortinet’s Network Security Expert (NSE) program. Sylvia is also a Fortinet Certified Trainer (FCT), helping other professionals achieve NSE certifications. We spoke with her recently about her passion for training and how it has helped her career growth as well as those she teaches.

Cybersecurity Training Through Fortinet's NSE Certification Advantage

What was your first impression of Fortinet’s Network Security Expert (NSE) program and its different levels?

I enjoyed the NSE 7 level most because it was very relevant to the work that I am doing at Boll Engineering with the support department. For example, I used the training materials later on when I was on the support phone and I needed some CLI commands for troubleshooting. I found them in the training materials, and that was really helpful for my job!

And of course, achieving the NSE level 8 certification was an exceptional challenge. I took part in the first official practical exam. Nobody knew what was going to happen there. I flew to Sunnyvale thinking, “What’s awaiting me for the next two days?” There were no previous exam-takers to call and ask what to expect. That was really tough, and I was a little nervous before the exam. But Fortinet has done a great job setting up the exam. It’s really a hands-on exam with real devices, not a simulation. That’s what I loved about it. When I passed, it felt like a big achievement. And, of course, people are impressed, especially because I was the first woman to accomplish it.

When I recently went through the first re-certification of NSE-8, it was great to see Fortinet has updated the exam with new questions on current security topics, so it was a great challenge again and not only a repetition of what I did a few years ago.

The first two NSE levels are more for people who may not have a technical background; it’s more for cybersecurity awareness. Do you feel people who aren’t in a technology-based career should take these certifications?

Definitely. These lower-level certifications help people to learn more about cybersecurity. All of our staff working with Fortinet products - whether it is sales, product management or support, work through this level as a foundation. Compared to other tech vendors, where there is only one level of certification, the NSE program demands a bigger commitment to proceed through the levels and through this commitment you truly became a Network Security Expert. The levels become more challenging as you go on, but they’re perfect for those who want to become more educated on cyber safety because of the foundation the first few levels build for beginners. 

Why did you decide to become a Fortinet Certified Trainer and how has your role evolved?

I was a trainer for another firewall vendor before I started training on Fortinet. I have always loved to train people; to share my passion and knowledge and when I was introduced to Fortinet in 2003, I felt it was a great product so I was keen to add it to my training portfolio.

As Fortinet developed its training and programs, BOLL adopted their products. I was one of the first FCTs from a partner organization to become certified. All the training and product support that I had completed made me well prepared and ready for certification in 2005. 

Over time, BOLL became bigger and very successful in Switzerland with Fortinet. The demand for training grew to a point that I couldn’t manage it myself. Luckily, I had some great System Engineers at my side and I asked them to start Fortinet training. I shared my experiences with them; what I was doing and how I was doing it. Soon, they joined the FCT program and we’re now a team of four FCTs at BOLL. 

Importance of Advanced Cybersecurity Training

What do you view as the most important part of training?

To make training interesting you have to tell a story so your learners understand why they are learning and why it’s important to learn. The goal is that they really learn the product. How is it working? How is it designed? What is the background? How was it made? They need all this general knowledge to truly understand the product. This requires real-life experiences that you can share and bring into the classroom. I do not want my time fully dedicated to training. If I did, I wouldn’t have the experiences to share with students. The combination of being a Support Engineer and a teacher provides a lot of synergy. 

I work to bring students to their desired certification levels but I feel the most important achievement is that students truly learn, understand and know the products that I’m teaching. At the end of the day, I need well-trained people – not just people who were really good at passing their certification levels. Certification is needed and is very important to validate knowledge. The goal is not to teach people how to answer questions but to configure things themselves, set up a FortiGate themselves, know where to find documentation, etc. 

What’s the greatest benefit of NSE Training for your students?

For an employer here in Europe, and in particular Switzerland, it’s very difficult to find highly skilled and trained cybersecurity personnel. If you’re well trained and you are certified, it’s easy to get a job with a good salary. 

If you are a reseller and you have a well-trained employee that is good at installing FortiGate, this builds success for the reseller and for Boll, the distributor. The ability to properly demonstrate the product and install it correctly is critical. If you’re not knowledgeable and the end-user sees that you’re not successful, then that will leave a bad impression of the product and the reseller. We don’t want that. It’s critical that our resellers are trained to manage the products they are selling.

Find out more about how Fortinet’s Training Advancement Agenda (TAA) and NSE Training Institute programs, including the Certification ProgramSecurity Academy Program and Veterans Program, are helping to solve the cyber skills gap and prepare the cybersecurity workforce of tomorrow.