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Career-changing journey — from dietitian to cybersecurity practitioner

From a young age, Ranier Castillo knew he found fulfillment in helping others. When it came to choosing a career, the obvious choice was healthcare.

Castillo pursued a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and graduated in 2017 from California State University, East Bay. He gained a solid foundation for a career focused on wellness and nutrition but didn’t stop there. Determined to expand his expertise, he decided to earn a certification as a dietitian. This led him to the University of Southern California, where he enrolled in a master’s program.

In 2020, Castillo graduated during the height of the pandemic. The companies he had been hoping to apply to were now forced to freeze hiring, so he began searching for jobs outside his home state. Castillo moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was offered the position of Director of Nutrition at a local hospital. He has loved living in New Mexico, but after three years in the field, Castillo began considering a career change.

While he was driven to make a difference, Castillo did not know what career to pursue. He explored many options, taking online courses to discover new interests. He kept coming back to cybersecurity. He came across Boise State University’s Cyber Operations and Resilience program through his research. The program’s flexibility and affordability solidified his decision.

Skills and Knowledge Gained through the Cybersecurity Program

Castillo was eager to learn as much as possible when he entered the program.

“I came into the program wanting to be a sponge, wanting to absorb it all,” he said.

He worked with his advisor to enroll in diverse classes that would expose him to the many different sides of cybersecurity. This curriculum provided him with a comprehensive understanding of cybersecurity’s technical and administrative aspects. One class in particular that helped do this was Cyber Risk Assessment. Like many others, Castillo had pictured a career in cybersecurity as an exciting job of stopping hackers all day. This class broadened his understanding of cybersecurity. He learned cybersecurity professionals also play a crucial role in boardroom meetings, driving policy discussions and managing cybersecurity budgeting. The class helped him discover that he is a natural fit for policy creation in cybersecurity.

Even now, while Castillo is still in the program, he can already apply this knowledge to real-world situations in the healthcare industry. His role at the hospital involves facilitating user awareness training sessions for new hires. Thanks to the CORe program, he had the skills to develop his materials.

“The classes I have taken have prepared me to develop my own user awareness training.”

He also found a method to track the success of his training through pre and post-lecture quizzes. The results show significant improvements in the participants’ scores after they have taken the training.

Overcoming Barriers and Finding Support

As he works toward earning his second master’s degree, Castillo faces the challenge of juggling family, home, and multiple jobs. These challenges are complex enough, but he also experiences mental barriers. As a career changer, imposter syndrome sets in occasionally, making him temporarily doubt his abilities. Thankfully, he can lean on his instructors for the support he needs. Castillo also thinks back to when he had initially applied for the program. He met an advisor with a similar career-changing background from the healthcare field who has been very successful in her transition to cybersecurity. Remembering the advisor’s story gives him the motivation he needs to succeed.

Peers are also a great source of support for Castillo. He uses Discord channels to collaborate with fellow students on assignments and projects, bringing him a sense of community as they work toward a common goal. He has also gotten involved with the cyberlab at Boise State, allowing him to connect with even more peers. In his experience, Castillo has found that the people within the program are eager to help when someone in need reaches out.

He recommends attending webinars and online conferences, reading about cybersecurity trends, and practicing with hacking tools offered by Kali Linux and Parrot OS. Everyone starts somewhere — Castillo wants to encourage those new to cybersecurity.

“For folks like me who don’t have a technical background, my advice would be to immerse yourself in this cybersecurity world,” Castillo said. “Just dive in and know that it is okay if you don’t know anything in the beginning,” he said.

Looking to the future: What is next for Castillo?

Graduation is soon approaching for Castillo; he is expecting to graduate in 2024. In addition to a master’s in Cyber Operations and Resilience, he is also preparing to earn the CompTIA Security+ certification. He is hopeful and excited to begin his new career in cybersecurity. He is staying open to the opportunities that come his way.

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By Abigail Wisdom