Ep.23 LaToya Staten | Connected2Tech and Finding Your Role
In this episode of the Cybrary Podcast, we sit down with LaToya Staten from Connected2Tech. LaToya uses the Cybrary platform to help employers and job seekers in filling the roles that are available. LaToya also works with middle and high school age students to help them gain experience in the IT and Cyber field and showing them what roles are available and how they can attain them.
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In this podcast episode, viewers and listeners have the opportunity to learn about LaToya Staten from Connected2Tech and her initiative of helping companies and job-seekers in self-development training for a desired career pathway into cybersecurity and IT. She shares how she uses Cybrary’s platform helps her to assess an individual on their skills in order for her to guide them in their aim for a successful career change, career development, and upskilling into IT and cybersecurity for a company team or for the individual’s own initiative.
LaToya shares inspiring experiences of the people that she helped in the past to make a career change into cybersecurity, guide employers to realize that their existing team has the potential for upskilling in a cybersecurity role, customize an individual’s learning path with the help of Cybrary’s platform to determine their skills, and raising awareness to students and young individuals in middle school and high schools of the needed roles in IT and Cybersecurity industry. At the end of the day, these individuals are guided to becoming marketable great assets to a company.
You are never too late to start something you feel passionate about, and this was proven with one of the people that LaToya had helped in making a career change. Although being offered tons of job opportunities for a role that had great skill to perform, he had a different interest in mind to take on a managerial role in cybersecurity.
Many companies are also starting to see the benefit of retaining employees and training them to upskill to take up IT and cybersecurity roles because they already know the ins and outs of the company and their operations. LaToya not only helps people to fully understand the skill sets needed to be filled in a job role, but she also assesses their weaknesses and strengths to help them know their potential for a fitting role that they can perform well in and enjoy doing.
With the common use of technology in this day and age, young individuals can be led to a technical career path they can be passionate about or constantly using on a daily basis. It is fortunate for young individuals in middle school and high school to have the opportunity to join IT and security workshops and bootcamps to gain the right skills and interest, as well as to help prepare them early on for a potential career path in technology.
Thomas: Welcome back everybody to the Cybrary Podcast today, I'm sitting down with LaToya Staten from Connected2Tech, who works with people to help get them filled into IT and Cyber roles. Is that correct?
LaToya: Yes. Yes. Well, hello everybody.
Thomas: Yeah, why don't you go ahead and give me a little background on yourself and then we'll go into how you started working with Cybrary.
LaToya: Alright. LaToya Staten; should have probably been a software engineer. That's surely what my mother thought I should be. So I've been sort of messing around with computers and coding and all that stuff since the early eighties. Had the old DOS; I would write a program, give it to my best friend, pull it out, and she would write over it. And then I decided that that's not what I wanted to do because I was more into people and how they reacted. So, I am a sociologist who loves technology. Technology influences and impacts people, and so I'm here connecting people to tech.
Thomas: Okay. And how'd you get started with Cybrary? How'd you find out about us?
LaToya: So Cybrary; I used to be a Cyber Program Manager with the state of Maryland, and back then we had the Invest Maryland Challenge. And when Cybrary was in its infancy stage, they participated in the program; and someone working in the Cyber industry, I was very intrigued about what they were doing, because this was the first time that we've seen really an organized way for people to gain cyber skills. People were self-learning on YouTube and other sites, but not Cyber, right? You were learning how to bake and all this other stuff. And so, I really took interest into the company and just sort of been following what they've been doing for the past couple of years. I've had the opportunity recently to use the platform for a project that I'm managing. And so, I went from being sort of watching the company to an avid user and managing other people as they also use the platform.
Thomas: Okay. Now, was that back in like 2017, something like that.
LaToya: 2015-2016 is when I first became familiar with the company, and again, they were just getting started; and did some work with the group over the years through various programs and the tech councils that I was involved in as well.
Thomas: Okay. And Cybrary was kind of the first company that you saw that's trying to help bridge the gap a little bit, and kind of what you're saying is, getting the skills training out to people. And I mean, that's what we focus on.
LaToya: Specifically in the IT Cyber industry, because you know, you see a lot and you hear a lot of companies say that there's a skills gap and they need workers, but where do they go learn? And even as Cybary is developing the online platform, you saw all of these other companies just come up with training, but we have to meet people where they are. And that's what I love about the platform, you know, it's impacting what we learn, how we learn and when we learn, and the ability to do that from the privacy of your own home and to have access to so much information, and to be able to sort of map where you want your career to go based on that information. It's pretty cool.
Thomas: Yeah, it is. I mean, you don't have to, you know, go to a class or a course somewhere, which seemed to be a pretty large, like barrier for a lot of people, you know, they don't have the time to be able to go to, you know, a 6-week course or a 12-week course or something like that. So just being able to do it, yeah, like from your home or something, especially if you already have another job or something where you know, you're just trying to better yourself. It does help out a lot. So how'd you start Connected2Tech?
LaToya: Well, I was working for government and had the opportunity to really get into some future technology, some autonomous vehicles things, that I did a little bit of work on. But I still had companies and different agencies wanting me to help with their cyber strategy, which for the companies meant connecting them to funding and people. I'm a sociologist. I moved towards the people side and so got the opportunity to do some consulting work and was trying to come up with a name, like, you know, what do I call myself? Oh, Connected2Tech. I'm trying to connect people to tech, and so that's where the name came from. So, I love doing what I do. I love impacting lives, even if it's one person at a time. I'll work with everything from youth to career changers, who, you know, one guy who was a dental hygienist, he does a lot of Cybrary studying and you know, he also is getting his degree formally, but he's doing a career change into Cyber and he's on the path to become a CISO. So it's great.
Thomas: Interesting. Yeah, I mean, with that it sounds like you're kind of dealing with a wide range of people and not just newcomers or kind of veterans to the fields; kind of a little bit, both?
LaToya: A little bit of both, and one tool that I really like to use is cyberseek.org. Cyberseek really allows me to show people; So what skills do you have? What do you know? What do you like to do? Oh, you like to manage projects? Well, project managers, here's the NIST; nice framework. Here's the knowledge, skills, and abilities. And by the way, here's the training on Cybrary that can help you become a better project manager. So it allows me to really have informative conversations with people as to what their potential role could be or what they're really doing that can translate into a Cyber career. So I use that quite a bit to help people and, young or old, if you say that you like being in a call center or you like helping people, here’s a help-desk role, and here's the training and here's how that plays into protecting our critical data and infrastructure. So, it's a great way to do things. What I love even more about Cybrary is I can have conversations with the team here and say, okay, here's the candidate that I'm working with. This person is very new to IT and Cyber, what curriculum do you have? And they show me the curriculum out and I look at it and I’ll say okay, well, this person also needs customer service skills. So I'm able to customize their experience in their training as I prepare them for a career, young or old, and so I'm able to meet everybody where they are.
Thomas: Yeah. That's fantastic, yeah, to be able to kind of have that, like face-to-face interaction with our team to be able to kind of help you curate, you know, what you're doing with the people. So, shout out to Kenny, cause I know Kenny has been helping you with that.
LaToya: Yes, love Kenny. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Thomas: So, the people that you're working with; How do you get in contact with them? How are they contacting you? Are you going to events and shows and stuff and meeting them there or?
LaToya: So it's a combination. So the companies that I work; and I do sometimes serve as an ad-hoc recruiter for companies, because I do hear that they're looking for people to operate in their SOC, or I got a new contract and, you know, it's 9 SOCs and 3 help-desks or 3 customer support people. I need to find them. So I work with workforce development agencies, which is where a lot of untapped talent sits, right? So, these are people who have some work experience, may have been laid off, or maybe life circumstances changed and they had to be out of the workforce for a while, and they're interested in upskilling themselves. Or maybe a certification or credential expired, or maybe they worked in IT years ago and need to, you know, to get back at it. Typically, you can find them networking, just figuring it out. Workforce development agencies tend to be a one-stop shop. I've been fortunate enough to work on a few projects that allow me to take, not just people who received Title 1 benefits or other benefits, but I see those who are considered underemployed. So let's say you were a cyber analyst and you're making $120,000 a year. You get laid off, but you still find a job. And now you're making $60,000 a year. You're considered underemployed based on what your earning potential was. So really to help those people regain the skills to get back to where they are. Maybe you were a stay-at-home mom and you know, you can do call center work, you can do help-desk work from home remotely. What does that look like for you and how you translate all the work that you've been doing as a stay-at-home mom into an IT career. So really helping them identify. So, workforce development has been a great group to find those individuals and I love to work with those individuals, but I really love to work with teen and out-of-school youth, and I'll go into that a little bit. But you got the workforce development, they can help pay for some of the training, but a lot of times, even those inside the agencies don't quite understand how to help someone into IT or Cyber. So I found a niche for myself. I'm really working with those agencies to help bridge the gap for those type of skills. Interestingly enough, there's now a push to really get youth more involved. So we're looking at middle school, high school, and how do we prepare them for a job in Cyber and IT, if college is not their choice. So, going into a career versus the college pathway. And as a mother of, I guess one teenager now; my oldest son just turned 20, so he's no longer a teenager. You know, I often say you're already using technology, get a job doing it, or this is how you apply it; make a career, you know, use technology to allow you to do other things that you're passionate about. But really meeting the kids where they are and helping them understand that you use, I'll just use the example of most kids get a Google account to do their homework, to do their emails, the school assigned to them. Well, why not batch them along the way so they become a Google-certified technician by the time you’re a junior in high school, the end of your junior year or the end of your senior year. So now you can have a much more meaningful internship and career opportunity. Why not look at, you know, the work that you do; you’re a graphic designer, graphic artist, well, why not be a UX developer? So how do you take that front-end, back-end, and how do I learn to code? You're already playing video games, why not make money playing video games? It's technology, here is the command and controls behind the buttons that you push. So it's, you know, I like to be able to do a lot of outreach to the high schools to do the career exploration as to here's how IT and now Cyber, applies to whether you want to go into medicine or fashion designer, engineering, whatever it is. Here's the IT on top of it, the technology on top of it.
Thomas: Yeah. Kind of connects to everything. I mean, it's an interesting thing that you say that, you know, now they're giving out Gmail accounts and things for kids in school. Didn't have that back when I was in school, probably didn't have that back when you were in school as well, I'm guessing. But yeah I mean, you could start learning, you know, like by the end of high school, you could learn everything to be a G Suite admin, which is something that almost every company now has and you know, you would already have those skills, you know. I'm wondering when is going to be the time that they start implementing those things in middle school and high schools, you know, more on the Cyber and IT side of things, you know, why is there not an IT class that you can take or something like that.
LaToya: So, there are the CTE classes, continuing technology or computer technology education class in high school. But they accept, what, 50 kids a year? So I have to be randomly selected to get into a CTE program, but I use technology every day. Don't quite make sense to me. So, why not offer, what I like to call, the pre-apprenticeships or high school fellowships? So a lot of high school seniors are done by 10-11 o'clock AM. You take your Math, your English, you either go to the community college, or you go to work. So, with the pre-apprenticeship work, but I don't like the word apprenticeship, so controversial or not, we'll call them fellowships here. But with that, so why not spend your first semester in school learning all your soft skills, how to show up on time for work, because we still need to sort of reinforce those things, and giving you that baseline technology education; if I'm going to start help desk 101. Help desk 101; everything that you need, I don't care if you choose CompTIA or ITIL, whatever it is, we'll teach you help desk 101. So that your second semester; now you're on the job, right? So you go to school for two hours, you're becoming a viable IT worker. You're helping nonprofits or seniors or whomever, handle and resolve their IT issues. Okay, so now we have a career pathway. From there you go on to, if you're going to be on the networking side or the software development side, you can sort of pick your career pathway from there, but we need to show them that everything they do every day, whether it's setting up their cell phones; okay, there is provisioning that needs to happen with mobile device management for large companies. That's somebody's job to set up a cell phone. Whether or not it's, you know, how do I hook up a printer? That's a help desk job. You're already doing it, you know, young person. It's a viable career option. Don't think it's not for you and so I’m really focused on that as well.
Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's things that nowadays with, I mean, children now are using computers, you know, when they're 2, 3, 4. I mean, things that they understand and know how to do by 6, 7, 8 years old is something that took someone else a long time to learn and get used to. It's just something they've kind of grown up with and they're like, Oh yeah, I understand how to do this, it's very easy. And you know, it kind of perplexes some people, you know, who don't understand how to do that. And it's like, yeah, you can make this a career, you can use these skills that you're learning and kind of form it into something that you're really passionate about.
LaToya: Well, I also think that we need to bring additional awareness about cyber and cyber hygiene. I am one that has two networks at home because, early on my sons had a PlayStation that was hacked and it just cost chaos in my household. So now I have sort of two separate networks that we're on. But I went to a Capture the flag event in Michigan and I saw a 8 or 9 year old girl lockpicking. What? Yeah, this is how we're teaching them Cyber because we're teaching lockpicking and how to get into a network. So, it's fundamentally I'll give you a lock, let you fiddle with it, I’ll show you how to do it, play around with it, it’s something you can touch and hold and do. Now, let's translate that into computers. So I think just different hands-on exercises like that is very important to get kids more exposed and aware of what proper cyber hygiene is, you know, I'm also one who never remembers her passwords and my son talks about me, but I'm like, Hey, I'm cyber secure because I reset my passwords all the time. And then when they were maybe 12,13, I was able to take a cybersecurity for leaders course and learn how to hack their passwords, right. And it was just something that I took because I had become interested in the field at that time. And so I went home and I got on the computer and had typed in things and I followed the instructions on my book and I said, Now, I know your password. I can break into your password. And they became intrigued as to how I was able to do that, but that doesn't mean that they changed the passwords on their video games and all of those things the way in which they should, but at least created awareness, right? And so we have to continue to make our kids and our parents and our grandparents aware of the importance of just simple things like changing your passwords and not writing them down and, you know, just basic stuff.
Thomas: Yeah, I mean, that's a really interesting parental skill to have is to be able to hack your children's password and make them understand, like, you know, if I can do it, somebody else can. I'm being most likely pretty nice about this, but somebody else isn't going to be, and as you get older and you have more and more accounts, and more and more important things that, you know, that need to be protected; and something that you need to keep in mind.
LaToya: Yeah, I even remember getting my kids, I think, a prepaid PayPal card so that when they paid for video games and things online, they were only to use that card because I knew they weren't changing passwords. And so if it was breached, you're not getting access to anything else but the prepaid card. And so there's a lot of tools that teenagers and parents could use to even protect themselves and protect their finances as our kids start working. So, take care of their finances as well.
Thomas: Very interesting. So with the more teenagers and high school kids that you were saying that you work with and stuff; when you're helping them kind of look for roles or what they might be interested in, do you kind of gear towards like help desk type roles or just kind of depending it's student-to-student or person-to-person, you know, what they might be interested or what, you know, their skills might entail?
LaToya: It's basically what they're interested in first. You have to be passionate about whatever it is. I think help desk makes employers comfortable. So, it's not necessarily about the kid, sometimes it's about where the business comfort; where their comfort level lies. And if I can tell a nonprofit, you know, Hey, this 17 year old is going to come and connect all your printers and make sure that the computers are up-to-date in the software up-to-date, it's like, you know, me being a 13 year old and connecting of the VCR, right? So to kids, it's a little different. It's a comfort level I think, on the part of the businesses a lot more. And it's not just with kids though, if you look at some of the job descriptions that come out for employers and you have to have 5-7 years experience to work in an entry-level SOC and I'm going to pay you entry-level wages, then you need somebody who has entry-level skills. You know what I mean?
Thomas: Yeah. How am I supposed to get this role? I was in school this whole time, and now I need 5 years. So, now you're kind of pushing me back on, you know, when I can start in a starting level role. Never really made any sense to me.
LaToya: Right. And I know that that's a discussion that's sort of out there and it's being worked on. But it's the same thing with trying to get more kids and we know we have a pipeline problem. We can develop the pipeline earlier, but that means you also have to adjust sort of your; it's not even tolerance, it's acceptance of someone who's been touching technology all their life and their ability to solve problems, create solutions, to be even an offensive or defensive cyber-warrior, because they've been around and they've been working at it. So the kids are good. It's the adults and the people with the jobs who need to just relax a little bit and take a chance. You know, I saw the movie, I believe it was with Robert De Niro; about the intern, and how that reversed intern; and he had been a successful businessman and, you know, here's this young entrepreneur and you know, that reverse internship and they learn from each other. I think we need more of that and we'll really make progress in solving the pipeline problem.
Thomas: Yeah. And I think what's kind of nice is probably Cyber and Tech in general is more open to younger talent than I would say a lot of other fields are. I've definitely met people that are in their teens that are way more advanced than I could ever hope to be. And it's like, yeah, why can't you do this kind of high-level position? You, you know how to do all of these things, you know, so it's nice to kind of be in an industry that is starting to kind of accept those a little bit more.
LaToya: So that takes me back to why I like Cybrary. See, I'm coming on back.
Thomas: Bring it back.
LaToya: So one of the things that I use most, even when working with the workforce development candidates is skills assessments. So whether it's the interview skills assessments, which allow me sort of to get a baseline as to where you are. And then say you may consider this type of role or that type of role; been assigned sort of a learning pathway for them. And then I assess them in the middle; How are you doing? Is this harder than what we thought? Are you making progress? Do you enjoy it? And I can be agile enough to divert from that learning plan, if it's something that they're not into. So I really love the assessments. I do a lot of pre, mid, and post assessing of the candidates who are on the platform and as I'm preparing them for jobs. So I really like that piece because I'm not assessing theory. I'm assessing hands-on skills. And I learned that the hard way. When I had a group of candidates go through and they had done sort of a hacker boot camp but they weren't really progressing in the program. So then they got a credential, one of the certifications, they went through a boot camp and I decided to put them on CYBRScore, which is on the Cybrary platform, it’s one of the labs. They failed miserably. This group of candidates could not operate in a Linux environment or a virtual environment. So you're applying for Cyber jobs. Yes, you have the credential that's on the job rec. So yes, you check that box. But when it comes time for the technical part of the interview or the hands-on activities, you fail miserably because you were focused on passing the test and not developing the skill. So I love to be able to assess the skills and more and more employers are making technical interviews, part of the interviewing process.
Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's nothing worse than being in a technical interview and you kind of ask a question and the person on paper looks, you know, Oh, they have all of these certifications, they have all these things, and then you ask them a technical question and you can just see that there's not the comprehension there, or they try to kind of fumble their way through it and you understand pretty quickly like, Oh, you don't really get the full grasp of what you're trying to explain.
LaToya: Right. And so with some of the labs, what they show when I look at the reports that come out of it is that they tell me where the person is weaker; where they’re weak and where they’re strong. So, if you're really good at networking, but you're very weak at scripting, I know that as I'm assigning you training modules, we're going to focus on scripting because that's where you need the most improvement. In fact, if I'm able to present that type of report to the employers as they're doing the hiring, that also gets my person a more; I don't want to say open, but the interview process, it's more of here is the whole person, you know, they do the in-person and they assess for, you know, can they? are they articulate? Do they understand what we're talking about? Do they understand who the company is? Okay. They have the credentials, they check the box. Oh, but look, their hands-on skills reports say that they should or they do perform well in a virtual environment. Oh, but look, they still need additional support and malware analysis. Now I know with our team or the internal mentor I set them up with it should focus on is sort of that malware analysis. So it's a good tool to use and I work with, I'm calling out Kenny again, I start to tell Kenny; Kenny, I need to see more reports. Here's what I want my reports to say. And he's very responsive in helping me put those together to make sure that I'm giving the candidates what they need, making sure I'm responsive to employers, and to make sure that the grant funders, because some of the programs are funded by various grants. So if the grant funders are aware of how their money is being spent; so it allows for transparency on all sides.
Thomas: Okay. Well, yeah, kind of talking about how you use Cybrary and how you use it for, kind of the different people that you're working with. We'd spoken before about, kind of two main people that you work with is job seekers and job lookers.
LaToya: Seekers and.
Thomas: And people, I guess, looking for a candidate, maybe.
Thomas: So, I mean, for job seekers, I mean, I know you have the Cybrary, one of our enterprise accounts so that you have multiple roles that you're able to give out to people so that they can kind of use our application and go through, I mean, can you just kind of tell me a little bit about that? So like, if you're helping a job seeker that wants to get into the industry, kind of, how are you walking them through the platform and what are you kind of highlighting for them?
LaToya: So typically when I assess a candidate, we do look at the core of their resume to see if they have any IT interest; it can be interest. And I typically get them from various workforce development partners across the state. So, that's their first, sort of, coming in. Then I have a conversation with them just to see how much they know, what type of job they're really looking for, are they going into Cyber because they heard it on the radio and saw it on TV and say, Oh, I can make a whole lot of money, but is this something that they're really interested in. And do they realize that if you're inside of a SOC, you may be looking at a screen or alerts for 8 hours a day and are you that type of person? So I just sort of garner their interest. And then from there I immediately have them watch a 4 hour Intro to IT and Cyber module in Cybrary because I know there's parts of Cybrary, that's free, there's other parts that are paid. So if I'm going to share with you a paid seat, I have certain expectations when it comes to learning. And so I had them sort of watch that module, which again, gives them ideas as to what role they may want to consider. And then if they say, Well, I've done networking or I've worked in a SOC. This is who I am. I immediately assess them on what they've told me that they've done. And I just, you know, I've assessed them and you have a week to get it done, I look at the reports and say, Okay, Mr. Networker, you score 40%. Let's talk about this.
Thomas: Let's get on the same page here about where your skills are.
LaToya: Yes, and so I'm able to individualize their experience in Cybrary, and also really, sort of taper their expectations as to what an entry-level job is, what the salary ranges are, and again, I'll go back to using Cyberseek as a tool that talks about some of the salaries too, and sort of what their path; the career pathway. So, you work as a SOC 1 for 6 months and if you're good, Okay, you move to SOC 2, you move to SOC 3, you do CEH, you're on a Red Team. So I counsel them on what that career path looks like for them. So I've really loved the fact that Cybrary gives me the ability to do individual assignments, individual assessments, and individual career pathway, but it's all part of a larger goal and that is getting people to jobs, but I want to get them to the right job where they're passionate and can see the path forward.
Thomas: Yeah. It's always nice to hear that, you know, you're taking the time to make sure that you're helping people and build their skills to what they might want to do instead of just like, Oh, well you should just be a pen tester, that's that's a well good high-paying job. That's what you should want to do. That's you know, here's the career path, just take these courses, you're good to go.
LaToya: So I'll go back to the gentleman who was a dental hygienist, and he likes pen testing and had several offers to work in a SOC and realize, I don't want to work in a SOC.
Thomas: Yeah. I like the sun.
LaToya: You know, I've been a dental hygiene for the past 15-20 years. I do project management, I communicate, I read reports, I analyze, I want to be on a CISO path. But he had interviewed and it was offered several positions to be a SOC analyst. Because they, you know, the recruiter said, Oh, he's good, we know. But he said, that is not who I am, I don't want to sit in a SOC for 10 hour days. So that was a great sort of example, where we individualized his experience and sort of helped him do a complete career change and a path forward. Shout out to him though, I won't say his name, but shout out to him for having the wherewithal to say, I do want to be a career changer and I know that it is going to be a process and identifying what he's good at.
Thomas: Yeah. That's a hard thing to understand is that, you know, when you're being offered something, you know, a role or something like that and having kind of the knowledge to be like, well, I know that this would be a good move, but it's not my move. It's not what I want to do. Yeah, so that is something that just kind of takes a little like maturity or just understanding on somebody's part to just be like, ah, I could do this and I probably would do very well, but that's not what I want to do, that's not what I want to spend my time doing.
LaToya: And he and I had a long conversation about it. I mean, he had interviewed and was thinking about taking the positions and he hesitated. And we said to him like, well, you know, managerial, that's what you've been doing, you have all of this managerial experience, you know, well, why not shoot for a higher role? And you have this master's degree, why not shoot for a mid-level? Why are you going entry-level? And you know, so that, that was exciting. The other piece that I really like to work with and what I think that I'm intrigued by is that you have industries such as the financial sector that have ebbs and flows in business, and they may lay off people in back-operations and then say by the way, I need to hire 20 cyber analysts. Well, wait a minute, you just laid 20 people off who knows your industry. They know how banking happens, why not upscale them to work in your SOC? Because they know what to expect on the other end. And so I'm working with companies who are starting to have those aha moments and say, you know what, you're right, I didn't think about that. And that's also very exciting and I think we'll see a lot more of that.
Thomas: Yeah. Why not repurpose some of your, like, employees you already have to another position, another role that, you know, might better suit the overall company needs or something.
LaToya: And then you're retaining them, right? You're not letting all of that knowledge leave.
Thomas: Yeah. And letting somebody go and then having to retrain and bring onboard somebody, which has a whole lengthy process. So I mean, going with, and helping somebody get to a career or kind of a whole career path that you talked about. So, I mean, we provide career paths that we already create on Cybrary, whether that's, you know, a SOC 1 or a pen tester, something like that. But it sounds like you're starting to create kind of your own career paths, depending per person that you're going through and adding what courses you think they might need or assessments, kind of based on their skills.
LaToya: So when I first got the Cybrary Enterprise account; what I asked Kenny to do is dump all 52 work roles in there, let me see them. Let me see what you have. And so I went and I started with the employers first because this grant is employer-driven. And so I looked at, sort of, the positions they were hiring for, the skills that they say they need; not all of them care about the credential as opposed to the skill. So I don't care if you have a certification, but can you do X? So I would take the job description, and the tasks, and the activities and say, okay, you need someone who's had hands-on experience in those things even though you're calling them a NOC technician, you also want X,Y, Z; you want Linux, you want a little Python because you do do some secure code development, you know? Okay, so I would sort of take the curriculum and then take out everything that you guys put in that I don't want and then add in the customization. And I'm able to assign bits and pieces, so if the person who's going through the workforce development program is diverting from the training that they're assigned, I just take my seat away because employers want you to be able to follow directions; I just take the seat away. So we're going to cut the paid side of it off, and when you're ready, and you're ready to refocus, we’ll cut that paid side back on, and let’s prepare you for what the employer says that he or she is looking for, not for what you think they need. Again, I have to get you to a job. That's my goal, it’s to help you find a job, and these are the employers that are hiring and here are the skills that they say they need, not the ones that you think you need, but here's what the hiring partners say that they need.
Thomas: Yeah. Now, are you seeing any change at all in employers noticing that maybe you don't have the certification, but you have the skills to do a position?
LaToya: Yeah, so again, that goes back to employers. If they do more commercial work, not the DOD stuff, but if they're doing more commercial work, they're hired younger and without degrees. I still value a higher education, but also value lifelong education and lifelong learning. But they're hiring people who may be out of high school or maybe out of the community college, and they have tasks and work that needs to be done. So they need to get skilled people to do the work, and then they're offering tuition reimbursement for you to finish degree. But, the most important piece is finding someone who is able to perform the task and get the job done. And then we will help and do what we need to do to retain them. I mean, even if you look at what Walmart is doing now, right? So they had this, free online college; I think my son worked there for a month. He just didn't want to be a Walmart greeter anymore. But Day 1 it's, hey, you know, we realize you're in high school and as you're progressing and finishing high school, we have this online free college and it's for IT professionals because that's what we need. And here's the global online university that you're going to go and here's the pathway. But that's what we need, we want to retain you and we want to keep you as part of our team by paying for these free degrees. And so you'll see more and more employers starting to do that, especially as technology really impacts how we buy, how we shop in the store; you see more self-checkout clerks who are really help desk people, right?.
Thomas: Yep. Pretty much. Yeah.
LaToya: They’re technical support specialists. You see a lot more of those. You're even seeing robots do inventory and when the robots shoot out data, it's, you know, it's data analytics and, you know, the robot goes off base, you have to do some Linux programming and maybe a little bit of scripting to get it back online. So the needs and the type of worker that even a grocery store or retailer needs is changing and it's all around technology. And so we have to really look at how we prepare everyone for careers and, you know, how to individualize their experience as they're going down that career path and being agile enough to pivot. And so I do like the robustness of sort of the platform as well, that it can pivot. And, you know, I play around still; I still want to learn how to do a little bit of coding. So, you know, I want to be this thread of person who can sort of do it all, right? Just enough, because I work with the companies, and I need to be able to understand what their needs are when I’m talking to them. So I still go online and I may take a few coding classes or, you know, I may say that, Oh, I'm a scrum master, but I should really be say, agile, you know? So I try to upskill myself all the time and so I try to show the people that I work with, the importance of individualized learning.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, with that, like individualized learning, I mean, no one of your students is probably going through the same kind of pathway or anything. I mean, what kind of feedback are you getting about, I mean, the courses that they're taking, the assessment, stuff like that. I mean, are they enjoying it or are they finding it helpful, hopefully?
LaToya: So even with using the platform, I have a mentoring night. So I may do a video chat call, once a week or once every other week, and if they're on the platform and they're having sort of a trouble getting past one topic; the ability to ask someone working in the industry about that particular module. That's another conversation that I had with Kenny today is I want to see more of that from Cybrary team or from the instructors. So if I do have someone as part of my Enterprise, so this is where I'm asking you guys to sort of up the Enterprise. If I am working with people around their learning and every other week for an hour, it's ‘ask the instructor’, where we go live on a video chat and we sort of help them go through it. That has been very helpful in the past. And so I do a little bit of that and we'll definitely be doing more of that.
Thomas: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I know we have kind of our Slack Community where we have members in. Do your students utilize that at all? I mean, do they find that helpful kind of meeting with like a mentor directly within Cybrary?
LaToya: So, they have not done as much as the slack group. Cause I've belonged to several slack groups. The Information can be overwhelming. But, if I say that we're going to get on a Zoom call and it is from 6 to 7 and be there, and I'm taking attendance, and ask away, that's where I bring the structure back. Because again, I have to get them to a job. The learning is individualized, but when it comes to the soft skills, the resume writing, and making sure that they reach out to the mentor, I add structure back into that. There's also something in the value of networking, and so I try to encourage them to participate in as many meetup groups as possible, as many Capture the flags, meet up groups that have the same interests as them, and, you know, to really be involved because you're going to get more learning that way. It's not just about what you get on the class from the platform, but sort of the groups of people who are just like you and they're learning and they're participating. You have to be an active participant in the industry in order to continue to grow.
Thomas: Yeah, you do. I mean, I think Cyber and IT is definitely a main place where like, networking definitely does different things, it's not just like, Oh, well now I know this person who works here, maybe down the road, they can help me. It’s, they're introducing you to like a meetup group or a con or something that you hadn't been to, like if you hadn't gone to Black Hat or like DEF CON or something like that before, or like smaller, more localized ones, I mean, there's a ton around here in the Maryland area.
LaToya: That’s where recruiters hangout. I think that people forget about that. A lot of times the recruiters like to be in jeans and t-shirts too. They like to go where the people with the skills are and I can assess your hands-on skills during the Capture the flag event. I know how engaged you are in your participation on the team. Even hackathons, you know, the universities do a lot of hackathons. Sometimes we need to solve a problem right away. All right, let's get in there, let me go at a hackathon, let me see what problems or what products they're developing in 24 hours? Who was on the team? Who did what? All right. I want to interview you, let's talk. A lot of that happens informally, now.
Thomas: Yeah, informally in the room a lot of the times.
LaToya: You never know who's going to be in the room. So, you know, just get out there and be involved as, I think a comedian says, job is not going to knock on your door, you got to go get it.
Thomas: Wow, that's a great quote.
LaToya: I don't remember the comedian, but it's like, you know, who's knocking? job? No. Okay, you have to go out there and get it, and make sure that you're in the right place. And I have been, you know, able to really get some great opportunities by being in the room with great people. You know, I've spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley just watching technology; I’ve read all of the formal reports, I attend a lot of events, and that's how I learn more about Cyber. That's how I was able to take the class to just learn and get a little bit of hands-on to learn about password hacking and protection and all of the cyber hygiene stuff by going places and just being in the room. Sometimes not saying anything, you know, and I have a rule about networking; sort of my titbit that I give people, is do Z, right? When you go in a room, start at one corner of the room, go to the other side, then cut down the middle at a diagonal and then go to the other end, and you're in and out. You would have met more people doing that Z than staying somewhere all day and trying to meet everybody. You'd be surprised how many people are just like you and they're learning and, you know, I'm an introverted extrovert. So probably after this podcast, I will go to a corner and hide for a couple hours, but you know, I'm enjoying it. I love meeting the people. I love being here in the studio and just constantly learning. And that's what I have to tell people, you have to constantly learn, improve yourself, you know, self-studying is okay. Some of the greatest musicians and technologists and, you know, they're all self-taught okay. Tinker a little bit; break it, fix it.
Thomas: Yeah, get some VMs, break them. Try everything that you can. And I mean, going to those events, I mean, you're going to meet a bunch of people. You're gonna meet people just like you, you might meet people that know way more than you, or you might know somebody who just started and could use your help.
LaToya: That’s right.
Thomas: And I mean helping other people is a great way to learn yourself cause, you know, you might think that, you know it, front and back, you know, very easily. But then as you're trying to explain it to somebody you're realizing like, Oh, I kind of gloss over these steps that I don't really think you'd need, but you know, you actually do need them. Kind of that thing.
LaToya: Right. Yeah. So there's value in networking and being a part of Capture the flag events and hackathons and, you know, whether there's affinity groups, you know, there's many of the spaces (hackerspaces), you know, the ones that I hear my folks talk about is Unallocated Space, which is by the airport BWI. Some of the cyber ranges allow you to come in and participate. All of the community colleges of Maryland have cyber ranges, that was part of a grant way back. You know, just get in there and play with it; going to as many cons and BSides, and all of that great stuff. That's what's going to get you the hands-on to supplement anything you can learn in theory. You got to do it.
Thomas: Yeah. I mean it is a very hands-on industry. I mean, you have to know how to do things. You can't just think you know how to do it. You have to be able to actually perform and finish a lot of tasks. Well yeah, I mean, thank you very much for coming in and sitting down with me. It's very interesting, it's great to hear that, you know, Cybrary is helping you out and helping kind of better some people and kind of getting them into the role and the space that they want to be in. Yeah, any final thoughts or anything that you have?
LaToya: Remember, I am a sociologist who loves technology. You know, as people we are connected to tech and everything that we do. Why not learn how to break it and fix it and make money doing it, and become passionate about it. I mean, we can't live without our phones most of the time, when you should be able to know what's happening inside that phone, if it's something that you can't live without. So, get out there and do it, learn it, keep going.
Thomas: Yeah. Technology’s not going anywhere. So might as well jump in when you can.
LaToya: And have fun doing it at your own time, at your own pace. There's a role for everyone.
Thomas: Well, great. Thank you very much. I appreciate it very much, LaToya.
LaToya: All right. Thank you.
Thomas: That's it.