"Yes! This is Exactly What I have Been Waiting For"

Janet Marks Systems Engineer, US Department of Defense

"Yes! This is exactly what I have been waiting for.” According to Janet Marks, this was her immediate reaction to an article announcing the Federal Cyber Reskilling Academy (FCRA) in the SANS Institute’s newsletter –SANS NewsBites.

Janet is a systems engineer in the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). NAVAIR’s mission is to provide full life-cycle support of naval aviation aircraft, weapons and systems operated by our nation’s Sailors and Marines.

Janet believes that with nearly three decades of experience in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance avionics, she is well prepared for the similar challenge of trying to anticipate, locate, counteract, and technologically outpace cybersecurity threats against the United States Navy.

Here, Janet talks to us about her experience participating in the FCRA. She gives us her thoughts on how her expanded skill set and cybersecurity certifications can positively impact her federal government career path.

How did you get interested in computer technology and, more specifically, cybersecurity?

I am an engineer. I have always been drawn to all things technical. I’ve been interested in cybersecurity for years. As a systems engineer here at NAVAIR, I am responsible for ensuring all disciplines, including cybersecurity, are incorporated into the system requirements and design. I strive to understand the cybersecurity requirements and processes so that I can bake them into the design from the beginning. Frequently, I assist cybersecurity professionals in understanding technical or operational nuances in the system designs they are evaluating. I truly enjoy these consultations.

Why did you choose to apply to the FCRA?

I’ve been looking for a program like this for what seemed like forever. I jumped at the opportunity to apply to FCRA. I believe that adding cyber knowledge and credentials to my existing electrical engineering skill set will increase my workplace value and reinvigorate a 29-year career.

Tell us about the application process?

The application process was straightforward. You are required to take an aptitude test – a 30-question assessment that focuses on comprehension, problem solving skills, and knowledge application. I found this part fun. If you do well on the aptitude test, you are asked to submit a personal statement outlining why you want to participate in the program and what you are hoping to do with your training. And finally, you are interviewed by individuals from the FCRA and the office of the Federal Chief Information Officer.

What did you find most valuable about the program?

The technical training exceeded my expectations. It was clear to me that the curriculum, the training materials and the instructors were of the highest quality. I especially liked the Cyber Start Essentials course. Whether you have a technical background or no technical experience, this class is terrific. The training continues to build from there; but the fundamentals learned in Cyber Start continue to be put into practice throughout the course of the Academy.

Additionally, the hands-on labs were great. We were given simulated real-world situations. These cyber games gave us an opportunity to put into action what we were learning. They were challenging and sometimes frustrating, but always valuable.

What did you like most about the FCRA?

Anyone could throw their hat in the ring. The application process was open to all. If you could pass the cybersecurity aptitude test and show passion and commitment to the program you could participate. There was no need to be pre-screened by command or agency. Everyone had an equal chance based on personal motivation.

I also liked the level of support provided by SANS Institute, the Federal CIO’s office and the Department of Education. Each was highly invested in our success. This supportive environment, coupled with a great group of cohorts who were united in a singular quest, really made me feel like I could do anything. With so many people believing in me, I knew I would succeed.

What did you find most surprising about the FCRA?

I did it! It is a very intense program. I am proud of this accomplishment.

What advice would you offer someone considering applying to the FCRA?

If you have an interest in cybersecurity, go for it! You don’t have to be an engineer, programmer, or IT professional. Don’t limit yourself. Members of my class came from many disciplines. We had a lawyer and a biologist. Many of those with little-to-no technical experience were very successful.

One other thing, you will be virtually out-of-pocket for three months, studying and attending classes, so make sure your supervisors and your family understand the program parameters and the level of commitment needed to graduate.

What’s next for Janet Marks?

I really want to marry my new cybersecurity skills and my 29 years of experience in avionics engineering. Specifically, I am interested in intrusion detection plus digital forensics or cyber resilient system design. I want to broaden my federal career opportunities and branch off into a new, yet related field of work. I see the designing, building, and testing of secure systems or system-of-systems as a fascinating engineering trade between impenetrability and usability. I believe that there is a need for my new skills in NAVAIR; and I hope to put them to good use.

I am now qualified to move into a cybersecurity or system security engineering job. I am excited for what the future holds.