From feeding virtual pets to implementing cybersecurity best practices — it’s all part of the journey for this impressive cyber pro

March 18, 2020

Infosec 2020 Cybersecurity Scholarship recipient is building for a deeper career

Infosec Scholarship recipient Jessica Chiou points to the late-1990’s and her fascination with the virtual pet community Neopets as the very beginning of her interest in computing and cybersecurity.

As a seven-year-old, Jessica learned early she could make a better world for her pets by observing other user’s pages.

“I was only seven but figured out on my own I could look at the source code of other websites to see what they were doing,” said Jessica. “I was just in pursuit of building the best page for my Neopet. That was my motivation, so I looked at what other people were doing on the site and tried to emulate what they did. After I realized I could copy it word for word, or code for code, I’d say, ‘Oh wow. It’s very similar to how their site looks!’”

While having fun improving her Neopet’s world, it also awoke in Jessica her earliest cybersecurity thoughts.

“It kind of shocked me I was able to look at the code of a website and copy it and recreate it on my own site. I thought that was really neat. But at the same time, the fact that information was so easily accessible was a surprise to me, as well.”

Jessica grew up in the South Bay area of California, both of her parents are software engineers and software consultants. After high school, she attended Northeastern University studying business with an emphasis in marketing, because, at that time, there were not many strong female role models in cybersecurity.

Her first two jobs after college were with data privacy and security information and event management companies. She started meeting female software engineers who had pivoted from other backgrounds and careers after taking coding boot camps. It didn’t take Jessica long to jump into it with both feet.

“I quit my job and enrolled in a boot camp, studying 60-90 hours a week for 12 weeks and learning everything from algorithms and data structures to building a chat app to cross-site-scripting and SQL injection,” says Jessica. “I was especially interested in the real-life applications of securing applications from attack vectors, to counter and guard against highly motivated actors.”

Jessica is currently working as a backend software engineer for a telematics-based auto insuretech startup. She says her passion for cybersecurity is stronger than ever as she incorporates OWASP Secure Coding Practices, such as access controls, error handling and logging, data protection, and session management. It’s an agile environment and she’s been able to incorporate secure coding practices to ensure security throughout the product life cycles.

In her downtime, Jessica exercises, enjoys riding her bike and likes hanging with friends and playing board games. She recently joined the Bay Area’s thriving salsa dancing community which keeps her social dance card full.

Her career goals point toward a security engineering role. Jessica wants to learn more about network security and understand the importance of securing an enterprise’s applications and its data in order to protect its users. She also enjoys the creative element of predicting all the possible ways an application could be compromised.

“Eventually, I see myself in a higher-level security role where I can establish and program a vision and strategy to ensure information assets and technologies are adequately protected from the ever-growing, vast number of creative hackers and hacker organizations,” she says. “My ideal role would be as a cybersecurity executive who is implementing those best practices and procedures, while still allowing for innovation and not bogging down the company.”

Jessica looks for the Infosec Cybersecurity Scholarship award to help give her the knowledge and foundation to move forward into a purely cybersecurity professional role. She knows the courses and certifications will do a lot to jump-start her career. But she hasn’t lost sight of her college years when she almost passed on a cybersecurity career because the right role models weren’t around.

“I think it’s so important for women to see other women in these roles. I worked for a time with a female CTO, and that was really encouraging for me to see someone like her in such a position of power, having such an influential position,” Jessica says.

“I would like to be the female role model that younger women and younger girls see when they are trying to decide what they want to do in the future. Cybersecurity is such a male-dominated field. But that is changing and I’m proud to be a small part of a more diverse industry.”

“I’m just so grateful for the opportunity the scholarship brings,” Jessica says. “And I really appreciate how Infosec has this program focused on bringing more diversity into the cybersecurity field. It’s so important to have diverse perspectives addressing all the world’s cybersecurity issues.”

The Infosec Accelerate scholarship program is an ongoing initiative designed to address the ongoing cybersecurity workforce skills gap. Current estimates suggest there are more than 300,000 open positions in the U.S. Twelve recipients in four categories from underrepresented workforce groups — undergraduate, women, diversity, and military — are presented scholarships. In 2019, each package contained award-winning Security+ and Network+ boot camps, plus CompTIA vouchers and a cybersecurity course of each recipient’s choosing. 

Infosec invites you to be like Jessica Chiou.

Apply now for the 2020 Infosec Accelerate Cybersecurity Scholarship.

12 scholarship recipients will be awarded a lifetime subscription to Infosec Skills