Industry Trends

A Conversation on Cybersecurity Training and Careers for Women in Cyber

By Sandra Wheatley | September 02, 2021

Fortinet is committed to closing the cybersecurity skills gap challenge by providing training, certifications and resources through its Training Advancement Agenda (TAA) initiatives and NSE Training Institute programs. We are proud of the number of participants these programs have impacted, helping individuals either kickstart their career in cyber or grow in their profession. We recently had a discussion with Sarah Ryba who has accomplished NSE level 7 certification and recently won the gold medal at one of Fortinet’s regional Ultimate Fabric Challenges (UFC) that took place during the XPERTS Summit in Las Vegas. 

Sarah recently discussed her background leading to a role in cybersecurity, how Fortinet NSE training and certifications have helped her in her career and what advice she has for other women looking to start a career in cyber.

Careers for Women in Cyber

Tell us a little about your background and what led you to a career in cybersecurity.

I started off as a NOC intern at Liquid Networx, a Fortinet partner, unsure what I wanted to do as a career. When I graduated high school, I started working at Liquid Networx full time at the NOC, and it was through that experience that I realized I really enjoyed helping people solve problems.

The satisfaction of that whole process of identifying a problem, resolving it, and then hearing or seeing our customers’ gratitude was very fulfilling to me. That fulfillment gave me the desire to grow my knowledge base and continually take on additional tasks and goals.

I found that technology was an ideal field, because, like myself, technology is constantly evolving and advancing. There’s always more to learn and excel in, and I really liked that aspect about the field.

I started my associate’s degree in cybersecurity about two years ago, and through my studies found that same fulfillment and satisfaction through my time at the NOC. Then also completed my level 7 NSE certification, and it was during that time that I advanced to the engineering team at Liquid Networx.

I’m currently working on a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity provides that unlimited growth, variety, problem solving, and, more importantly, it is something impactful that I can contribute to. 

How have NSE certifications and training benefited your career?

At Liquid Networx, we work with a lot of the Fortinet products, so aside from providing a sense of accomplishment, the NSE courses have drastically expanded my knowledge base. NSE training and certifications is a great partner enablement tool that Fortinet provides its partners for free and that I’ve really taken advantage of. 

I do truly believe that anyone working with the Fortinet products would benefit from the NSE certifications, especially the advanced technical levels, because there’s so much information packed into the training. 

How has your NSE 7 certification helped you in your current role as network engineer at Liquid Networx?

The knowledge I learned from NSE level 7 is something that I use every day. In my job, I’m constantly evaluating existing networks, configuring new ones, and maintaining previous deployments, so this advanced level of knowledge assists me every step of the way. I can recall numerous instances where I was able to work through a problem with the information that I learned specifically on the NSE 7 that I would have previously needed help on. The NSE 7 really gets into detail and breaks down individual aspects of the firewall, and it just provided a lot of troubleshooting techniques and knowledge that I really could have used before I took the course, so it’s central to almost everything I do.

Tell us more about the Ultimate Fabric Challenge you won the gold medal for during the XPERTS Summit and what you attribute your win to.

The Fortinet Ultimate Fabric Challenge (UFC) is a skills-based competition that consists of small teams competing against the clock to complete several technical challenges in a capture-the-flag-style competition. The UFC challenge was really fun, because I love competitions. And the way that it’s laid out makes it a great way to practice and test your skills. I honestly think that they should do a lot more of those; it’s a great way to get engineers and people who work on the Fortinet products really involved and actually get some hands-on work with them.

A big factor that contributed to my win is the real-life experience that I have in configuring and managing the Security Fabric and all the devices. Along with this, I’m grateful to be employed at a company where they promote a culture of learning and support, so daily I get to work alongside exceptionally talented engineers. I get to learn with them and from them and that really helped contribute to all the work that I was able to accomplish during the challenge.

I did also have a really great partner who was able to assist. Another big factor is my competitiveness. The combination of all these factors allowed me to quickly and correctly work through the Ultimate Fabric Challenge and then take the gold.

Advice for Women Looking for a Career in Cyber 

What advice would you give others looking to start a career in cybersecurity, especially women?

Be brave enough to challenge yourself. And to realize that if it was easy, everyone would do it. I think it’s important to be dauntless in this career.

It’s a difficult field, but it’s perfect for those with the desire to learn and advance, and those who can really persist through challenges. Focus on deep learning, learn the basics, and continually allow yourself to absorb the complexities of a topic.

Lastly, and most importantly, never let anything deter you from your goals. So if cybersecurity is the path that you want to go down, then focus and perseverance would be essential in that.

What advice do you have for someone interested in starting in cybersecurity?  

Get your foot in the door with an internship to get experience or through training with Fortinet’s NSE courses. Also to get acclimated and learn more about cybersecurity, you can always do research online. There are many different types of roles you can have in this profession. Learning about the fundamentals of cybersecurity is a good start.

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.