Esther Lewis is a 15-year veteran of the United States Department of Agriculture. Currently, she is a biological scientist for the USDA’s Forest Service, a governmental agency committed to sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands. Esther is a member of the Pacific Northwest Research Station region team, charged with implementing high-quality field data collection.
Esther came to the Federal Cyber Reskilling Academy (FCRA) without any information technology experience. However, as a researcher, Esther’s ability to analyze complex problems, adapt to changing influences, follow multifaceted protocols and ensure accuracy made her an ideal candidate for the program.
Esther, a self-proclaimed troubleshooter, applied to the FCRA to invigorate her career and create a healthier work/life balance. According to Esther, her current position requires her to spend about two-thirds of her time on the road away from her family. She travels across California from Death Valley to San Diego. Further, Esther’s continued professional growth in her current field of work hinges on earning an advanced degree. She was ready to explore new opportunities within the USDA.
Here, Esther talks to us about her experience participating in the FCRA and her hopes for the future thanks to her newly-acquired cybersecurity skills and certification.
How did you get interested in computer technology and, more specifically, cybersecurity?
Honestly, like so many others, video games sparked my interest in computers when I was still in high school. My passion for cybersecurity was ignited many years later when I fell victim to a massive data breach at the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM). This cyber attack was among the largest exfiltrations of government data in the history of the United States. When cybersecurity became a very personal issue for me, I became driven to learn how to defend my identity and the identify of my young children from cyber criminals.
Why did you choose to apply to the FCRA?
I am so thankful that the CIO of the USDA’s Forest Service announced the FCRA to agency staff. I jumped on the opportunity to apply for a few reasons. First, I am always looking to improve myself. This program was a chance to satisfy my desire to learn and grow in an area of great interest to me. Second, I wanted to explore new government career opportunities that enable me to work close to home. I was highly motivated to develop a new skill set because I want a new career that promises opportunity for continued growth and work/life balance.
What did you find most valuable about the program?
The courses exceeded my expectations. The opportunity to get hands-on experience using professional tools was amazing. The instructors are well-respected experts in cybersecurity. Also, instructors are up to date on the latest threats and the newest tools because they are actively working in the field. What we learned was real world, not just theoretical academia.
What did you like most about the FCRA?
I really liked the Cyber Start Essentials course. It was a great kick start, especially for newbies like myself. This course provides the fundamental technical knowledge and skills that serve as the foundation for all cybersecurity professionals. Thanks to Cyber Start Essentials, I could get up to speed with others who had more technical experience; and I was well prepared to continue with the next level classes.
Also, because much of the class content was online, there was a tremendous amount of flexibility.
What did you find most surprising about the FCRA?
I really didn’t know what to expect of the FCRA. However, I was surprised by the intensity of the program. It was a bit of a shock to the system. The classes were like “drinking from a firehose.” That said, I can honestly say I had fun.
What advice would you offer someone considering applying to the FCRA?
Don’t be afraid to try – even if you don’t have any computer experience. Get out of your comfort zone. You never know where this program will take you.
What’s next for Esther Lewis?
I love working for the USDA. In my ideal world, I use what I’ve learned from the FCRA to transition within the agency to a cybersecurity position that offers increased opportunity for growth, while enabling me to continue to serve my country. I know the value of the data we collect and I know how important it is to safeguard that information.