Originally posted on 4/24/2020, but decided to add this here on my blog.
Today (10/27/2020) was supposed to be the day I would finally put the cap on, walk, and formally be awarded with the Master of Science degree in Cyber Security and Information Assurance from Southern Utah University unfortunately due to the COVID-19, the commencement program was cancelled. Earning this degree was a far-fetched dream that I even considered impossible to achieve. Let me tell you a little bit about my background. I was born and raised in the Philippines and graduated highschool when I was 16 years old (I’m not entirely sure how it is now in the Philippines, but during my time, we only had to go through 6 years of elementary and 4 years of secondary education). My family didn’t have the resources to afford college, and student loans were non-existent, unlike here in the US. I was forced to take on multiple jobs to help support my parents and siblings, worked extra hard, and eventually sent my younger sister to a local university until she earned her Bachelors Degree in Mass Communication. Growing up, my family didn’t own a computer, so it’s not surprising I didn’t create my first email account until I was 21 years old (and only on a rental computer in an internet café). That was the time that my fingertips were introduced to the keyboard. I was so naïve that I was even convinced, at one point in time, that the prince of Nigeria picked me to inherit part of his wealth. Fast forward to 6 years after creating my first email. I found myself in the islands of Hawaii and about to start the beginning of my information systems journey as a student at Brigham Young University – Hawaii, majoring in B.S. in Information Technology at 27 years old. I was blessed to have been awarded a scholarship to attend the university, making my opportunity to earn a higher education possible. Earning my Bachelors Degree in 2010, a wife and two kids later, and here I am at 40 years old – still studying. And yet, this is not the end for my education. My drive to learn does not stop. In between the years of earning my Bachelors and Masters, I mustered to be certified as CompTIA’s A+, Network+, Security+, CySA+, Cisco’s CCENT, and CCNA, EC-Council’s CEH, and CEH Practical, eLearnSecurity’s Junior Penetration Tester, and ISC2’s CISSP. I am currently studying (and hopefully soon take) the 7-day hands-on test of eLearnSecurity Certified Professional Penetration Tester. I would like to address the consistent, nagging, questions, and remarks I often hear, such as “Why do you even go to school? Education is not important as long as you have the experience. How much more certifications are you planning on taking? Don’t you feel you are just wasting your time and money? How do you even find time to study? You must not be helping with household chores or not have kids to take care for.” My answer: Why not? Why not go to school and learn more? Yes, I could just study and learn topics on my own time without taking the expensive certification exams, but I am the type of person who feels good to have something in my hands as a validation of my hard work. But, please don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that you should stop learning if it doesn’t lead to a certification or diploma. Continue to study and learn new things in a way that works for you and your goals. It is just my personal learning preference to earn something tangible from all the late nights staying up to study.
Listen – I do have a life outside of studying. As I mentioned earlier, I do have a wonderful wife and 2 beautiful kids. We all have the same 24 hours of time to spend everyday. After a day’s work, I still make sure to carry household responsibilities alongside my wife, and spend quality time playing with our kids. I think the big difference is found in what I do with the time after the kids are in bed. Both when I was in college and later studying for certifications, I have chosen to stay up until 2 AM and sometimes 3 AM, in order to have time to study.
Don’t stop learning. There are so many things to learn, and I am especially excited to witness and further study the ever changing and evolving subjects in the cyber security realm. It is one of the fields that when you stop learning, you will be left behind pretty quick. Finally, I would like to give thanks to God for the many blessings I have in my life, and to my lovely wife, Elisha Gonzalez – who always has my back and supports me in all my endeavors – I love you. Lastly, I must recognize and thank to Health Catalyst for providing its team members with the most generous education reimbursement/support I have ever heard of. My workplace’s education reimbursement was one of the major driving force behind earning my Masters Degree, and the majority of my certifications. Their recognition of and dedication to continuing education in their employees’ varying lines of work allowed me to keep raising the bar in my education goals and dreams.