Episode 18: A Military Veteran Finds Her Career in Cybersecurity through Apprenticeship
November 17th is Women in Apprenticeship Day—a part of National Apprenticeship Week (NAW). In honor of NAW, military veteran, Kristin Strand, shares how her experience in the Apprenti Tech Apprenticeship program helped advance her career in cybersecurity.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:00.15] One question I wanted to make sure to ask is for veterans. As you mentioned, you were the first veteran to go through the Apprenti program in Delaware. What would you like employers to know about the importance of creating inclusive apprenticeships, specifically for veterans?
Intro: [00:00:18.12] Welcome to the Workology podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:43.53] This episode of the Workology podcast is powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship or PIA. PIA is funded by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, or ODEP. In November of 2020, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high growth and high demand jobs. The Workology podcast is sponsored by Upskill HR and ACE the HR Exam. These are two training and development programs that Workology offers. And, before I introduce our guest today, I want to hear from you. Please text the word “podcast” to 5125483005 to ask questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you. Today we are joined by Kristin Strand. She’s an associate consultant at Barr Advisory and participant in Apprenti’s Tech Apprenticeship program. Kristin is an Army veteran and was referred to Apprenti by the Department of Labor. She completed her one-year apprenticeship in cybersecurity in May of 2022. Kristin, welcome to the Workology podcast.
Kristin Strand: [00:02:10.23] Thank you.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:11.46] Let’s jump in and talk about your background and what led you to seek an apprenticeship, specifically in IT.
Kristin Strand: [00:02:19.29] Sure. So, I was originally a math teacher. I got my bachelor’s degree in math from Virginia State University, and I was a math teacher for six, seven years. And I wanted to pursue a career in IT specifically, because I felt that it would still be a rewarding career like teaching is. And also a stable, stable field like teaching is as well. And, of course, I also wanted to make more money than I was as a teacher, and I decided to go the apprenticeship route because I didn’t want to have to go back to college or to spend a lot of time really studying on my own before I could actually get into a job or a career. So, the apprenticeship helped me be able to learn and then put me right into a job right after.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:13.05] I love that and I hate that we had to have you leave the teaching profession. But I absolutely understand more income opportunities, probably more flexible schedule for you. I remember if we talked, when we talked in the prep call, you’re remote. So that also allows you to be able to be home and be present, too. Let’s talk a little bit about your background as an IT specialist in the military and what experience you gained there.
Kristin Strand: Yeah.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Let’s talk a little bit about your background as an IT specialist in the military and what experience you gained there.
Kristin Strand: [00:03:41.37] Yes. So, in the military, my IT experience was more in line with an Internet service provider. So as if I was Xfinity or Fios, we mostly set up satellites and provided Internet service to whoever was in our operating area, wherever we were assigned at the time. So, we worked with probably four or five different types of satellites. And my specific role, as IT specialist, was to sometimes set up the satellites physically, but mostly programming the router with our, whatever IP addresses we were going to communicate on. And that was my main role there. I did get cybersecurity training as far as being able to keep our data secure and who not to share things with. And, mostly if you think about just a generic cybersecurity training that you might have to take annually every year, that was like the extent of my training as far as cybersecurity goes. But I did get kind of a good foundation of what IT was all about. And I think that really also sparked my interest is like, this is something that I’m good at, that kind of relates to what I’m used to, math, and has a lot of opportunities.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:00.54] Let’s talk about how you found Apprenti and how did you work with them to find your apprenticeship and maybe talking about the process to be able to do that?
Kristin Strand: [00:05:10.66] Sure. So, I love talking about Apprenti because I tell everyone that it literally changed my life. But I want to say, probably around 2018, I really started wanting to get into IT in the civilian side for those same reasons that I talked about at the beginning. Wanted to really change my life, make more money, have more flexibility, and kind of broaden my options as far as work went. And so, I was looking into different things, trying to do some training through the military, and I got connected to the Department of Labor. My Mom actually had some contacts there and she was telling me about programs that they had. And you know, especially if you are either underemployed or you’re looking to change your career and are veterans, they really work with you and they have so many programs. So, I went to the Department of Labor and I got referred out to Tech Impact, and this was through Delaware. And then, from Tech Impact, they connected me with Apprenti and Apprenti actually brings you on already having your job offer in place, so you don’t have to worry about any of that. Like, that the stress of finding a place to do your apprenticeship is off of you and you just focus on learning and getting your certifications.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:33.67] I love that. And I didn’t realize that Apprenti was organized in such a way. What a great piece of mind. You walk into a program already knowing that you have a job at the end. So, like you were saying, you can just focus on the certifications and learning in the best way so that you can show up to that job and be able to really hit the ground running. Was there any other kind of support that you were offered maybe that you haven’t talked about so far during the apprenticeship program and process?
Kristin Strand: [00:07:04.81] So, specifically with Apprenti, you could definitely reach out to your onboarding…I guess, I’m not sure what they called it there, but whoever onboarded you, you could definitely reach out if you had questions about like training or if you needed certain equipment. I know there was a point where we reached out, the cohort that I was with, we reached out to Apprenti to tell them that we would like to get some funds for an extra training and they kind of processed it, talked about it, and they did, they were able to approve that for us, to let us pay for training through Udemy with, I think, his name was Jason Dion. So those types of things, they really were all about training you and making sure that you just weren’t this person that just walked off the street. We’re going to throw you in a job you know, you actually knew, knew at least at a baseline, you know, kind of what was going on. And some good training there. As far as throughout my entire apprenticeship, I could definitely reach out to the Apprenti team. I did get transferred over to the Kansas City team just because I started working for Barr, which is based out of Kansas City, but still the same thing. I had to reach out to them to get my veteran’s benefits activated once I started on the job training and I think I was their first veteran, so that process wasn’t as smooth, but they still put just as much care and effort into making sure that it got taken care of. And that was appreciated. And now, for the next veteran, they already know what to do. So that’s good as well.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:41.52] Let’s think about maybe you talking to another student or somebody who’s interested in Apprenti and the apprenticeship program. What can you share, maybe that you wish you would have known before you began this process?
Kristin Strand: [00:08:54.60] I think I would have did a little bit more research just because now I’m trying to get into software development, software engineering. And so, I wish I would have known that Apprenti was going to be offering the software engineering apprenticeship because I definitely would have chosen that one over cybersecurity, just because, just because, like the same reasons, I don’t want to have to go back to school. And so now I’m looking for another boot camp to do, to do coding. But yeah, I just wish I would have known about all the offerings that Apprenti had at the beginning.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:33.39] Sound advice. I think that’s good for everybody. Just taking time to evaluate and consider options and do lots and lots of research because you never know where, like you, might be interested in another area, but you’re resourceful. I know you’ll be able to find the right boot camp or program for you in that area too.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrill and you are listening to the Workology podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and ACE the HR exam. Today we are talking with Kristin Strand. She’s an associate consultant at Barr Advisory, and this podcast is part of a series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. Just a quick note. I want to hear from you. Shoot me a text. Text “podcast”25125483005. That’s 5125483005 to ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. Let’s get back to the interview.
Break: [00:10:29.59] This episode of the Workology podcast is part of a new podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:06.59] Can you tell us about your current role at Barr and about the work that you do now?
Kristin Strand: [00:11:12.14] Sure. So, I’m currently an associate cyber security consultant. And what I do is mostly auditing information systems, but also some consulting about best practices in the cybersecurity world and in the cybersecurity field. So, in that auditing process, we are having meetings with clients, looking at their systems, basically testing them against whatever standard they have requested. So, at Barr, we’re right now testing against SOC 1, 2 and 3, FedRAMP, ISO 27001, and we gather, basically proof of the things that the client is telling us are true about their processes and controls that they have in place. And we put that evidence together and, say, put the report together according to whichever standard. And we say these are the things that we looked at. This is how their processes, their systems meet these standards and whether or not on a whole level they meet the general standard of whichever, whichever they’re testing against, and that’s mostly what I do on a day-to-day basis.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:33.04] I think it’s so fascinating. Just, if you think about how much of our work is online and the growth of e-commerce, because of the pandemic or otherwise, and then so many of us working from home and relying on the Internet and online communities, things to be able to drive engagement, productivity, business, whatever it is. The global cybersecurity market is just booming and it has an annual growth rate of 12%. This is from this year all the way to 2030. So, I think you’re in the right place and hopefully got some good training and skill development to really be able to, if you want, really grow in that career. One question I wanted to make sure to ask is for veterans. As you mentioned, you were the first veteran to go through the Apprenti program in Delaware. What would you like employers to know about the importance of creating inclusive apprenticeships specifically for veterans?
Kristin Strand: [00:13:36.19] Well, I think first and foremost, I would like employers to know that veterans are so, like, such a versatile group. We have so much training. We’re kind of used to just going with the flow. So, I feel like sometimes we can kind of fall to the wayside, be forgotten about because we’re, especially as a soldier, looked at as like this strong person, you know, you’re defending the country in whatever role you have. But I think it’s also important to know that we also are needing support. We transitioned from the military, which they basically, you know, they make sure you have everything that you need in the military. They train you, they tell you where to go, they tell you how to do it. So, sometimes when you’re transitioning to the civilian side, it’s kind of, you have to learn all over again how, how does this stuff work? Because it’s not as much so strict when you’re on the civilian side. So, I definitely want employers to know that veterans might need a little more time, but we’re literally trained to learn fast, to adapt quickly. And, just from a teaching standpoint, most people learn best by just getting in on the job and learning it as they go anyways. So, I think that’s the, that’s the value in apprenticeships. You, you really can take a person and kind of mold them to your company. You know, a lot of the time the apprentice hasn’t really had experience in what you’re doing or, even if they have, not necessarily at your company. And I know, for me, I was a blank slate for Barr. And the only way I know auditing is how they do it. And I think that that sets me apart from other people at the company who kind of maybe were set in their ways from before, you know, and they’re like, well, I’m used to doing it this way, and it’s kind of hard for them to change over to the way of Barr. But I don’t have that problem. I don’t have those biases. I’m just, I’m there to get the job done, to learn and I think that kind of sets us apart.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:47.13] I love that. And I think it’s important for us to continue to have this conversation. And one of the reasons I was excited to talk with you is, is because of the fact that you are a military veteran and you have a very, in my opinion, highly educated background as a math teacher. And then, to go into the world of cybersecurity through an apprenticeship, it’s definitely non-traditional. But I think and I’m speaking from my opinion as an entrepreneur who’s had all sorts of non-traditional training, it makes you incredibly versatile and flexible to be able to handle a number of challenges and to do it, or at least offer a solution that might be different than everyone else.
Kristin Strand: [00:16:33.90] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:16:35.31] Well, Kristin, I thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I know I’m going to link to your LinkedIn if folks want to connect with you or they have questions about apprenticeships or cybersecurity, or military veterans or math, maybe they need help in those areas that you’re the person with all the answers. So, I really appreciate you talking to us today.
Kristin Strand: [00:17:00.21] Thank you so much.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:01.44] This is such an interesting area of focus for HR professionals, especially those who have helped support mentorship and apprenticeship programs in our own careers. That has been such an important part of my career, and it continues to be. I think it’s important to be able to hear directly from someone who is participating in a program like Apprenti’s apprenticeship program. It is so valuable and I thank Kristin for taking time out of her schedule to talk with us about her experience today. I don’t think that often enough we sit down with members of our workforce and I mean people outside of our businesses to talk to them, get to know them. It’s something we should do more of. It’s important to connect and learn with people and from people outside of our organization. This helps us to be introduced to new ideas, new people and new programs like apprenticeships. These are such great ways to work with new talent pools, drive qualified candidates and engage new employees, bringing them into our workplace. Before we go, I want to thank PIA for being our podcast sponsor and Upskill HR and Ace the HR exam, two programs that Workology offers for HR professional development. I also want to hear from you. Shoot me a text. Text the word “podcast” to 5125483005. You can ask me questions, leave comments and make suggestions for future guests. This is my community text number and I want to hear from you.
Closing: This podcast is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller- Merrell. And, until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our Workology podcast episodes.