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Cybersecurity boot camp graduates reflect on experiences

The cybersecurity boot camp run by the College of Continuing and Professional Studies helps students gain experience in cybersecurity and start careers in the field.
Image by Ava Weinreis
Cybersecurity classes begin this week.

The University of Minnesota boot camps, run by the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS), began classes this week to teach students skills in web development, cybersecurity, digital marketing and data analytics.

One of these boot camps is the cybersecurity boot camp, which focuses on software programs, risk management and networking. Classes take 12-24 weeks to complete, and people can register for classes through the CCAPS website.

Tuition for the classes costs up to $12,245 for full-time enrollment and $11,245 for part-time enrollment. CCAPS director Ryan Torma said the programs are designed for people in the workplace who already have a career or are looking to make a pivot in their career, and they are open to both University graduates and the general public.

According to Torma, CCAPS partnered with edX, an online education platform.

“We are really focused on helping people develop skills that are in demand in the marketplace,” Torma said. “We work with people to do market analysis and skill analysis on the skills that employers are looking for.”

Torma said people who take the boot camp have an advantage in the employment market due to the new skills they acquire in the classes.

“Folks are going to develop knowledge and skills in in-demand areas using in-demand technologies through the program,” Torma said. “They’re going to do that in a hands-on way, in a project-oriented way. All that’s oriented around what’s going on around the workforce today.”

Austin Westland is a graduate of the CCAPS cybersecurity boot camp and currently works as the senior cybersecurity analyst at General Mills. Westland has worked in IT for eight years and previously worked as a technical account service manager at Optum.

He said he ended up at his current position with General Mills through his mentor, whom he met through the cybersecurity boot camp.

“I wanted to explore options that were not too time-consuming, not too resource-consuming, where I could quickly jump in and gain the knowledge I needed to enhance my skill set and enhance my knowledge in the cybersecurity field,” Westland said.

He said he decided to take the cybersecurity boot camp because he is interested in cybersecurity and IT but could not find a job that allowed him to focus on both topics earlier in his career.

Despite having an associate’s degree in computer information management systems from Normandale Community College, Westland said the cybersecurity course helped develop his interests.

“I think it’s a great introductory course into cybersecurity,” Westland said. “What that boot camp did a really good job of was giving you a little bit of knowledge into each section and spending a little more time and do stuff such as identifying threats and cryptology.”

Abdisalan Firin, a cybersecurity instructor at the University, was a student at the cybersecurity boot camp in 2021. He was surprised to learn that cybersecurity was different from his impression of it from television shows and said the course was one of the hardest he had ever taken.

“The most important thing in the boot camp as a student is you gotta have time management,” Firin said. “You are taking classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and after you get off of work for the weekend, you gotta spend more time understanding more of what that class is.”

After seeing how hard his wife worked during her time taking the cybersecurity course, Firin said he decided to take the course to get a job that allowed him to work from home and be with his wife.

For Firin, the mentors he had during his time in the program helped advance his cybersecurity knowledge, and he said the bonds he formed with his mentors have helped him become closer with his students as an instructor.

“Your students are your partners,” Firin said. “You build friends and coworkers that can help you with understanding more of what you’re going through and that helps you out a lot.”

Westland said his relationships with the boot camp instructors made learning the content manageable.

“The instructors come with real-world experience. They’re people who are in the field, they do the job on a day-to-day basis and they can come to you and say, ‘Hey, this is what governance risk compliance is,’ or ‘This is what pen testing is,’ and ‘This is how it’s seen in the environment,’” Westland said.

Despite the challenges that come with learning the content and everyone’s different experiences, people who take the course can graduate by working hard at the course material, Firin said.

“The students who take the boot camp all come from various backgrounds, some of them don’t have any experience,” Firin said. “Those who had experience and those who didn’t have experience actually end up graduating and having the same level of understanding for cybersecurity.”

People interested in cybersecurity should take the boot camp despite the learning curve that comes with learning new software and skills, and the course allows people to gain entry-level experience in a few weeks, according to Westland.

“If it’s something you’re genuinely interested [in] and want to jump into that field, I don’t think it’s challenging enough to the point where people without any experience couldn’t get it,” Westland said.

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