My name is Thomas George, I am currently working on my bachelor's and master's in Computer Science from the University of Texas in El Paso (UTEP). My focus is cyber security.
To let you know who I am, let me just start with who I once was. When I originally attended college, I was not focused on my future, I simply wanted to make it thru each day. After struggling for a year of horrifying grades, I parted from UTEP and began my journey in the world. Somewhere along the way I found myself at El Paso Community College, also still not there to learn, and once again I dug a GPA hole instead of being a success. I had told myself I hated math, that school wasn’t for me. I fell into the trap so many stay in. It wasn’t until much later in life, while at an unsatisfying job, and barely making life work month to month, that I realized how much I had missed out on. I had become comfortable. I had stopped moving forward, stopped hoping for a better future. I had accepted that life was average. By not focusing on my education I had limited myself to a future of barely above minimum wage jobs, and letting my dreams die. I had failed myself. That’s the point I got myself together and began my journey back to El Paso Community College.
While at community college I faced a new challenge in life. Starting with a failing GPA, and trying to prove, if even just to yourself, that those grades didn’t represent the new me was hard. Through each semester, I steadily increased my GPA back to good, in my final semester graduating with a GPA of roughly 3.2. While there I found that when you study hard and prove yourself to your teachers, they become such an amazing asset. I focused on my math classes and programming skills, and found myself actually loving both. With the help of El Paso Community College Staff and their support, I obtained an internship from the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). I never had imagined how good it would feel to earn the respect of a teacher, or how much it could change my life.
The Internship at EPIC refined my focus and helped me pick the future I truly want. They let me sample several elements of computer science, but in the end helped me focus on cyber security. I was guided thru the elements that will appear on the CISSP associates test, and given guidance on Networking and related security concerns. Within weeks I got my first Cisco ASA for home use and to practice my new skills on. An excitement for cyber security began to grow in me, and they continue to nourish it, helping me to prepare for this future. Despite it being an unpaid internship, the knowledge I gain is impossible to put a price on.
When my first semester at UTEP began, I was still working between 20 and 30 hours per week as a security guard, a minimum of 10 hours per week at the internship, and had signed up for 14 credit hours of classes. It was a VERY full plate for being the semester that I needed to establish my GPA, and with junior level classes. I did my best to keep my head above water as the semester continued, but there were just not enough hours in the week. Everything came to a head when I got a midterm back in Matrix Algebra and had completely bombed it. I am usually good at math, I got A’s in calculus 1 and 2, so the idea of failing matrix so badly was the moment I realized I had to make a change. I couldn’t keep both the unpaid internship and the paid but unsatisfying job. The internship helps keep me on the path to cyber security, so I chose to live in debt if needed and quit the normal job. After quitting I was able to salvage the semester. I even got the Matrix Algebra class back to passing! I take pride in the 3.5 I earned as my GPA for UTEP.
Before I went back to school, I had studied on my own for, and obtained the A+ certification from Comptia. I loved the idea of a life dealing with computers. I spent a long time fixing personal computers for friends and friends of friends, but the certification was never enough to impress a real job provider. I needed, and still need, to complete a proper academic path. Over those years, I began to notice that everyone I dealt with, no matter the user level or reason for owning the computer, had a need for security help. Every user I assisted I would give advice on how to not catch the same type of viruses again. I would show them how to clear caches, and avoid known dangerous sites. I would show them how to use CCleaner to do a D.O.D.-standards compliant disk wipe. I have come a long way since those days, but I think that is when my interest in cyber security began.
Since then I have focused more on the network security side of life. The idea that someone driving past your house could potentially access your network is not acceptable. In a world where bad people never do bad things from home, I definitively don’t want to own the network they do them from. While training for the CISSP I learned quite a bit about adaptive security appliances, and have installed a few for friends. They don’t make everything perfect but they do enhance the challenge for anyone just casually looking for a victim, so you are less likely to get hit. The more I learned about portioning networks to make a demilitarized zone, the more fascinated I became.
As a programmer, learning the ins and outs of security has taken my focus. Even on simple projects I aim for stability and limiting user interactions to expected results. Learning how to send and receive encrypted communication and use tokens or keys is just cool. I want to spend an entire lifetime learning more about this field.
Thank you for reading this, and have a great day!
Sincerely, Thomas George