Alumni Q & A: Joseph Harrison, Evolve Security AcademyBy: Ginger Summers, Academy Admissions Officer at Evolve Security
After graduating from Evolve Security Academy and launching his own venture, alum Joseph Harrison is enjoying his newfound success as a cyber security entrepreneur. Joseph's path has not been easy - he struggled with addiction and suffered severe injuries from motorcycle accident - but Evolve Security Academy helped him to get where he is today.
Joseph struggled with substance abuse in his youth, but turned his life around through discovery of the outdoors. In an effort to help other young men struggling with mental health and substance abuse, he began a two year program teaching Wilderness Guiding and Nature-Connected Coaching. He would have continued on this path except for a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk for 17 weeks. During this time, Joseph revisited his passion for technology. With no in-person bootcamps available in his area, Evolve's Remote Cohort was an excellent option for him to begin his education remotely.
We sat down with Joseph to learn more about his story and his new venture: a holistic security product that is custom-fit for behavioral health organizations!
1. How did you find yourself interested in cybersecurity with your background in wilderness training and mental health?
Technology was the first thing that ever gave me confidence. I was a very awkward, chubby kid growing up who never really fit in. Very early on, a family friend noticed my proficiency with computers and taught me how to build one when I was 10 years old. Getting pirated games to work on my family's Dell XPS R400 was just as fun as playing them. That machine served as an escape all throughout that period of my life.
When I was 12 years old, I started using drugs and alcohol. Drinking and using took over my life, and I dropped out of high school in my senior year. At 19 years old I got sober and have remained that way since. It shifted a lot for me personally, emotionally, and physically. I became interested in rock climbing, backpacking, and sought out beautiful spaces outside on a very regular basis.
At this point, I asked myself, "What do I want to do the rest of my life?" I decided I wanted to work with young men struggling with substance abuse, and I wanted to do it outside. So, I enrolled in a two-year program teaching Wilderness Guiding and Nature-Connected Coaching. It was an incredibly meaningful experience.
In September 2017, I broke my ankle in a motorcycle accident. While I recovered, I went back to tinkering with technology. . At this time, cybersecurity was a very hot issue, so I decided to challenge myself to hack my cell phone. It only took 35 minutes on YouTube to complete the task. I was absolutely terrified and instantly hooked on cybersecurity.
It took a while to get there, but there you have it!
2. How did you discover Evolve Security Academy and why did you choose their bootcamp?
During my recovery from the motorcycle accident a friend reached out to ask what I knew about the "Dark Web." A patient in a treatment center had apparently used the "Dark Web" to order fentanyl to the facility and then overdosed and died. My heart dropped when I heard that. I knew in that moment that the behavioral health community needed more education on cybersecurity. That death was avoidable, and I couldn't let it go.
I knew that in order to make a difference, I would need more education. Because I had some friends that were in coding bootcamps and were excited about it, I thought some might exist for cybersecurity, and sure enough they did.
At the time, there were no physical bootcamps where I lived, so Evolve's Remote Cohort was the only option that did not require me to move somewhere else. I told an admissions counselor my story and he spoke about the importance of diverse backgrounds in the field of cybersecurity. After that, I was sold on the program.
3. How did you bring your cybersecurity experience and behavioral health background together into your current profession?
I was able to launch my own venture using the knowledge from Evolve's training, the guidance from the instructors, the motivation from fellow classmates, and the inspiration from colleagues in the behavioral health field.
At this point, it's been 18 months in the making and I'm incredibly proud of every single person that has been involved. We created a holistic security product that is custom-fit for all behavioral health organizations. As we know, security requires careful attention, research, implementation, and testing. By teaching cybersecurity to operators of rehabilitation centers instead of just hospital owners, we can help organizations implement more robust systems.
4. What are the pros and cons of a career in cybersecurity?
I was surprised by how supportive and open the security community is at its core. I work with people who are progressive thinkers, constantly in a state of self-development. The people are absolutely my favorite part of a career in cybersecurity. Another pro would be that it is never boring. Things are always changing and every day there is a new landscape to discover.
The biggest con is the pressure. The toll on your body, psyche, and social life can get out of control if you let it. I had to completely re-evaluate everything after a year on the job because I was in really bad shape physically. I recommitted to a self-care routine, and got back on track after a couple months. I don't ever want to get into a position where I'm that far removed from myself again.
5. What advice do you have for a student looking to begin a career in cybersecurity? And would you consider it a lucrative career?
In today's climate, the decisions we make regarding use and development of technology will impact the world twenty years from now, in ways we cannot imagine. Privacy is a vital right and, loss of privacy threatens both emotional and physical safety.
There is a something called the Clean-Source Principle in cybersecurity: for an object to be secure, all of its dependents must be secure as well. The systems to which we offer our attention are dependent on us, so we as operators must be secure. The mental health of security operators often goes under-discussed. Your well-being is incredibly important to the assets you're hired to protect. So, take damn good care of yourself.
That being said, working in cybersecurity can be a very fulfilling and lucrative career, if you can keep maintain a positive attitude.