06 | Use Skills You Already Have To Move To A Cloud Security Career | Alexandria Leary
From Financial Advisor to Cloud Security
Alexandria Leary moved from banking as a Financial Advisor then switched to becoming a Risk Manager, and finally landed in a role that she truly loves as a Cloud Security Consultant.
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This is your host Elyse Robinson with Nobody Wants to Work Though podcast. I hope these stories will inspire you to switch careers. I was an auditor in my past life and now I'm in Tech and let's get to it.
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Hey, all this is Elyse Robinson. Where nobody wants to work, though. And today we have alexandria. She was in banking and she switched to tech. Go ahead Alexandria, and give us an introduction to yourself and tell us about your story.
Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me today, Lisa. I appreciate it. I like you said, started off in banking and moved to Tech. I currently live in Denver, Colorado. Love what I do. Cloud security consultant. And I really enjoyed what I did before too, but I just kind of outgrew it. I started in finance right out of college. It was a great career, great way to start. Originally started kind of in a QA type role where I was reviewing money transfers and making sure that there was nothing crazy going on. Then moved into a financial advisor type role over the phone. It was rough, it took a lot of effort and everyone was not very welcoming to over the phone folks wanting to help them with money, which makes sense. Then I moved into a financial advisory role in person, which went a lot better. It was a lot more personable, a lot easier to build relationships and did that in California for a little bit, then ended up moving to Denver, Colorado and doing the same thing for about a year and a half. I really enjoyed it there. Lots of great relationships built and during that time I made sure to volunteer for as many things as I could.
We had a volunteer group there with bank of America and Merrill Lynch, so I was always trying to network, make sure that I got myself out there and learned as much as I could while I was there. Eventually I decided that I had done the job for long enough that I kind of felt like I knew everything that was going to happen and everything that people were going to say as I was asking questions, which then became very monotonous. In an effort to avoid that, I decided to move into management in a risk management type role, which really kind of goes back to where I started, risk management. I definitely enjoyed that part, but also monotonous in the finance field and management surprise. So I'd only did that for a little bit and ended up going and trying to I officially decided during that role that I was going to make a change. I decided that finance wasn't for me anymore. So I was talking to one of the folks that I worked with and mentioned that I was wanting to go into technology and I had started a coding boot camp and they recommended that I go and chat with some of the folks that were moving to Denver within bank of America, but for our information security team.
So they were moving, not necessarily moving, I guess, but they were adding a separate area for the information security team to be there in Denver. And because of the time that I spent networking while I was there as a financial advisor and the fact that I was kind of one of the first employees for bank of America in Denver as it was growing, I got to know everyone pretty well. So they asked me to come on board with them to help get situated. I guess they were moving into a new office. They were trying to get involved with the local folks, get involved with the local business areas. And I kind of got to be the, I guess, bridge builder and introduce everyone. Got everything started I helped with onboarding. I got to meet a lot of the managers and a lot of the folks that were coming in, which was really cool. I learned a lot about a bunch of different areas, different people, different things that I would not have been exposed to if I had just chosen one path and been like, this is what I'm going to do, which I really think helped me a lot in the long run.
After that, well, I guess in the middle of that, COVID struck and it made it kind of difficult, right? We're not really onboarding people. Everything was from home. And I ended up moving into an information security consultant role there within the bank. And that led me to a little bit more of consulting between the different teams that were there at bank of America. So I got to be kind of the mouthpiece for the security folks when going between the developers and the executives. So kind of trying to explain what the developers were doing and how they were doing it to the executives and making sure that what they were up to was a secure way of doing it and that the executives were on board. During that time, I finished my coding boot camp and I actually started my Masters in Cybersecurity and I had just graduated with that. During that time, I found Cloud and I really loved it. I thought it was so cool. I felt like it wrote really well with kind of what COVID was and the fact that I wanted to work remotely. It was a way to learn a broad skill set and put that into action, but also still stay remote.
I also felt like Cloud was really kind of democratizing technology, so it really put into perspective, I guess, my ability to kind of translate that technology speak to the executives. I feel like most business lines these days need to at least be familiar with cloud lingo and at least at a basic level. So I think that that was really what drew me towards the cloud portion of things. Really loved it and decided that I wanted to go do something more hands on so use that coding boot camp that I took and actually help companies build. So I struck out and joined a different company called Vertical Relevance. That was amazing. They took three months to help me learn how to do that, which is really awesome. There's not a whole lot of companies that will spend that much time and effort helping you get up to speed with kind of where you need to be going. So very grateful for that. And that was kind of DevOps focused. So a lot of building pipelines. I was on a security, mostly security projects. So making sure that the pipelines are secure, making sure that any of the rules that are written are codified somehow, a few different things like that that were really fun to me.
Kind of mixed my risk management and my tech skills. So I was able to build out my actual coding practices. And about a year into that I got approached by somebody on LinkedIn and kind of had an offer presented to me to look at something else at Scale SEC, which is where I am now and that has been amazing as well. It's a very small company, which I love. Very different from bank of America. There's I think less than 30 folks there right now. But it's fantastic. It is completely security focused. So it's all on the risk management side, all helping companies to make sure that they are doing things in the cloud in a secure manner, which I think is awesome. And I think that there's going to continue to be a large focus on all that going forward. Yes, that's where I am now. Cloud security consultant. Absolutely love it. It was a long road to get here though.
I can imagine someone that's looking to take it was a long road myself too. Do you still code in your position?
Yes, I would say that on the pure security side, there's probably less coding than if I had stayed in DevOps. But there is definitely still coding and using those skills that I originally learned, which is perfect. That's what I want. I don't ever want to stop using that just because I feel like it's kind of like using a language, you kind of forget it a little bit if you don't put it into use frequently. But it really depends on the project for kind of how much coding there is every day. The project that I just left was purely coding. The project that I'm going to is kind of more of a strategy project, so probably significantly less coding.
Got you. I'm just curious to know.
Do you necessarily need to be a cloud security consultant and how in depth does it have to be? Because one thing that I run into in tech, and I know other people do too, is that you have to know all these things and they want you to know not even like a surface level, very deep. And so how do you work around that?
I have found that as well, and I find that it's really hard to keep up with everything right? There's so much information out there and there's new things coming out all the time. There's open source software, there's different people using different coding languages. So I think that the number one skill that you need to be in technology is the ability to learn. So if you are somebody who likes learning new things and can kind of ingest them quickly and make use of them in a pretty quick manner, then I think that you'll do well here. I think that it's impossible to know everything within the cloud, but I do think that a base level of, like, cloud computing in general, security in general, those should probably be deeper than anything else. And then the coding, I would say that as long I guess it depends on where you want to be in cloud security, because you could do more of the strategy type projects and strategy type roles. But I would say that knowing how to code at a reasonable level in a language is a necessity. I think that really helps. Once you know one, I feel like it's a lot easier to learn the others.
It's just that first one that is really super painful.
So which languages did you learn in your coding boot camp and which ones do you use, like, on a regular basis?
So coding bootcamp was actually in Ruby and Ruby on Rails. My favorite is Python. I really enjoy it. I think that it's simple, straightforward, and it's easy for scripting. And the one that I was using most recently in a project was actually Goling, which is not my favorite. It took me a little bit longer to learn that one, but it was something that was doable just by knowing the other two. If I were to recommend one to choose, I would say to start with Python. It's a pretty easy one to get started with and you can do a lot with it.
Definitely. I would recommend Python as well. I totally rearrange the questions because I wanted to know more. But here's a quick one. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I guess this should have been a clue because it depends on the day that you asked me. I actually found like a little journal of eight year old me or something like that. And I think in there it listed that I wanted to be an astronaut. Marine biologist was in there because I love dolphins. A veteran veterinarian because I love horses. Like, there was a smorgasbord of things that I wanted to do. I think that it really was everywhere too. When I was super young, it was literally everything. I wanted to be a lawyer for a really long time, and that still comes up every once in a while just as like a back thought that maybe I want to do that one day. But the one that I spent the most time on before I started in finance was actually probably a nurse.
Yeah, I wanted to be a vet for a very long time. As a child, I used to go to the library and check out little horse books and farm animal books and stuff and little dog breed books. I was a weirdo. But anyway, I love it. Let me see. What was the catalyst that made you change your career? I've done other interviews with other people and they were like, yeah, you can't get to the point where you say epic because that's usually where I am. I'm always at the epic phase when I want to move on.
Yes. I think that it actually happened while I was still in my financial advisor situation. I just hadn't really figured out where I wanted to go yet because I was like, well, let me try and stick this out. I've already been here for so long. Right. And I think that realizing that finance was so, I guess, kind of stuck in its ways, there wasn't really a whole lot of change. There wasn't really a whole lot of new information or anything that I could spend my time learning. And I really can't be in a situation where I'm not continuously learning things. Otherwise I feel like I'm stagnant and then become miserable. And so because I really felt like I wasn't learning anything new or doing anything different, I knew that I had to find a way out. I just didn't know what it was yet.
Got you. Yeah. One thing I say about audit is audit has pretty much been the same probably since the beginning of time. Like accounting, one plus one equals two. There's new laws that come about and things like that, but you're going to look at something in a book and see if it applies. That's pretty odd. It is. And tech is different because like you're saying, you're constantly learning, things are constantly changing. So I have a fight with myself. I call it my business brain versus my tech brain. And sometimes I don't feel like learning new things, and then sometimes I'm like, oh, well, this is shiny and pretty and cool. Let me dig into this. So I don't know. It's a huge thing, at least for me. Let me see. All these things come at a cost. You said you were in a coding boot camp. You said you were in a master's degree. Where did you find the time?
Luckily, I have had friends and family that have been very supportive. I am somebody who always kind of has really appreciated my alone time, so I've kind of gotten that regardless. Obviously there was a lot more of it that I had to ask for when I was in that situation. At the time, I was actually going through a divorce as well. So it was kind of good because it gave me the time to take a step back on kind of everything, right. So I could have time to myself because it was just me again. I could reassess everything because there wasn't really anyone else that I had to take into consideration when I was making decisions. And so it really gave me a chance to reset and kind of, I guess, start over.
Got you. Yeah. I tell people all the time, people don't understand how having family as a support system is money. It's currency. And I tell people all the time, one reason why I'm able to do these crazy ideas, like start this podcast and things like that, is because I have the support of my family. Like, if everything just blew up, I can go sleep on my father's couch or my sister's couch. Not to say they wouldn't be mad and unhappy about it, but they're not going to kick me out.
But you can do it.
It's truly a blessing to have that support. Outside of that, you kind of touched on it about with the coding boot camp and your master's degree, what else do you think help you make the transition? And what was the process on figuring out that, hey, I needed to do the coding boot camp, I need to do the master's degree to help me?
So the number one thing that I think helped me get where I am is actually networking. So nothing to do with coding, even. I think that if it hadn't been for me talking to the people that I met while I was volunteering and kind of just throwing out there, hey, I don't really want to do this anymore. Any thoughts? Just chatting with people has really made a really big difference for me in knowing where to go next and knowing what might be a good step and finding different opportunities that I might not have found otherwise. So I think that networking is definitely number one as far as kind of choosing where I was going to go next and how I ended up in different places. It's kind of a crapshoot, to be honest. I didn't really know. I was like, all right, well, if I was going to hire me, what would I want me to have? And because I didn't really know where I was going, it gave me a lot of liberty and kind of choosing what I thought would be a good skill to have. So I kind of went general first, right?
I was like, okay, well, technology is usually dealing with coding I think coding boot camp would probably be good, so then I at least have a basic understanding of that. And there's a few other things along the way where I kind of just was what would be a good thing to have, kind of no matter where I end up. And I think the education, whether it be free or paid for, is really the way to do that. You can learn anything on the internet these days, which is awesome. I think that the biggest thing is to just take action. Learning a new thing is likely going to help you somewhere down the line. It's probably not going to hinder you. So as long as you're willing to continuously take steps towards where you think you're going to go, then it will eventually lead to kind of a crossroads, in my opinion, where you'll be able to choose. Okay, well, I have this big area of knowledge, and I know these things. And I can do either this with it or I can do this with it. And then you get to choose which route you want to go.
But the first and most important thing is probably just taking some action to go somewhere.
Definitely. I tell people all that like, time waits for no one. And even if you went down the wrong route, those skills that you learned along that route can be applied somewhere. I truly believe in no dumb questions, but that goes back to my business audit brain. And I believe that nothing that you learn can ever be taken from you and you can apply it somewhere, somewhere along the line. It may take 510 years, but you're going to use it one day. You're going to think, oh yeah, I learned that when I was like 15.
And then outside of that, you touched on something else that was really important. Was it's a crapshoot? A lot of times when you're looking for a position, I talked to a lady yesterday and she was like, yeah, so we have this position and stuff. And I'm like, well, you can't really choose where you work and all this other kind of unless you have some type of connections or something like that. People do have that, but most people it's just like, okay, well, you learned this and then it's whoever picks you up. Did my phone die on me?
Outside of that, what are some of the positives and negatives of your new career?
Okay, so positives are they definitely way outweigh the negatives positives are they. I do get to be in a situation where I am always learning. This has definitely been a career change. That has been for the better for me. It is something that fits my personality a lot better, especially being in a consulting role. Before this, I would switch jobs every year or so because I would get bored with what I was doing and want to do something different as a consultant, you are expected to move to different projects every couple of months, which is great. Obviously, in the long run, I might not want to do that, but it gives you so much opportunity to meet new people, learn new things, and then apply it elsewhere. I am working fully remotely now so I can travel. I get to see the world. My company is pretty awesome and encourages me to go and see things and come back and share it with them. I feel like working in a smaller company has really made me kind of develop different skill sets than if I had just decided that I wanted to be a software engineer for another corporation.
It really lets me kind of choose what I want to grow into. And again, this has to do with the company a lot because it just allows me to. Like right now, for example, I'm in between projects and so they're very good about saying, hey, what is it that you want to learn? What do you want to do during this time? So I wrote a blog on cloud transformation. I have a few other things that I'm working on, but very different than what I do on kind of a normal day to day basis. So it provides that variety that I was missing in my last role. As far as negatives go, this one is much harder for me, to be honest, because there's not really anything that I dislike about where I've ended up originally. I was going to say that I guess that it feels like I was starting over a little bit later in life, but I don't think that it was actually starting over. I may have taken a step back a little bit in the middle there for a brief time, but it's actually more than picked up for itself in the long run.
And as you pointed out earlier, everything that I learned in my prior role is something that I still use now, just in a different way. I know this sounds cliche, but I can't really think of anything that is like a negative to what I did. There are things that if I had to do it over, I might do differently or something like that, but I wouldn't necessarily give back what I have for any reason.
Got you. You just made me think of another question to answer my questions is the whole starting over thing. Because I felt that before. Like I said, I was an auditor. I call it my past life and things happened in my life. I moved to another country and I'm like, oh my gosh, am I going to be able to come back and have a career and do all these other things? And during that time, I wasn't making nowhere near what I was making as an auditor, but I was free, I was happy, so it didn't really matter. And then when I decided I want to get into, or at least try to get back into tech again, because I wasn't my first rodeo. The money was there, but I guess more so touching on the belief that you're starting over. And we don't even have to get into maybe an income cut or anything like that, because tech is different than financial advising. But the feeling of I'm too late or I'm starting over and I don't want anyone to believe that because we have so many roads and maps and ways that we can go in our life and you should never, ever feel like that.
I mean, the average age is 78 years old. So we, we have a long time to do things in our, in our life and, you know, long gone are the days where you stay at one company, you stay in one career. All this technology and things did not exist because my father thought I was insane when I quit my good federal job, my good government job, and I'm like, well daddy, things happen to where I needed to. So yeah, just a side note for people that are thinking about dropping everything and the fillings that go along with that, outside of that, what tips and tricks can you give to someone that wants to get into being a cloud security consultant? Are there any specific languages they should learn? Any topics? The fight between Azure, AWS and GCP, what do you think?
Yeah, I would start with kind of there's actually a few people that I've kind of taken on as mentors that are trying to get into the field. So I found it really interesting because it's not necessarily the same for everyone. They come from different backgrounds and each of them has their own skill set that you can take advantage of in being a cloud consultant. So for me, it was the business background actually that was really helpful. You still need that business mindset that is there because you still are translating technology to folks and explaining it and showing them how to make things better. So if somebody has that, then you can go a long way with that. As far as kind of the more tech skills go, I would say that learning python or something similar would be a very wise move. I would say that if you're interested in cloud learning, I would say pick one of them originally and it doesn't really matter which one because they're similar enough that once you understand how it works, it's usually just a difference in names. And yeah, there's intricacies that some have this and some have that and some work this way and some work that way.
But overall, as long as you understand the basics and what the building blocks are, you can switch pretty easily between them. So pick one and I would learn it as well as you can build things. Start with one of the basic certifications I know for AWS it's. The certified cloud practitioner, the solutions architect associate is also another one that is a good one to really dive deep and kind of be able to understand those building blocks and how you build things in the cloud and actually build projects. The cloud resume challenge is, I think, one of the best ways that you can really take the time for yourself to have a project, to show an employer if they ask and if you're interviewing for things, if that's something you want to move into. Showing them that you built that on your own, of your own volition, like in your own time, without any other reason for it, I think really goes a long way. And for me, it helped me with just understanding how things connect. It's really hard to fully understand things until you actually are in there building things and it just makes things connect differently.
Aside from that, I would say those are probably the most important. I think that having a basic understanding of kind of what infrastructure is code is important, and knowing kind of the basics of that. So whether it be TerraForm or AWS, CDK, knowing essentially how to build something with that, which depending on how you do the Cloud resume challenge, you could kind of work that in there as well. And then I guess those are pretty much the basics. The other one that I would recommend knowing fairly well is git and GitHub. Hopefully that goes along with your python learning. But still, we'll throw that in there just in case.
Great. Thank you. Alexandria, any last words for people that want to just career switch in general or career switch to cloud security?
Yeah, do it. Kind of back to our other conversation, don't ever feel like you're behind. As you pointed out, you might not have been making as much money, but you were free and happy and that's not all that matters. But like, who you are and how you feel about things is the only thing that matters. It doesn't matter if somebody else thinks that you have taken a step back or if you aren't doing things the way they would. That's not up to them. It's up to you. So make sure that you go towards what you think is going to make you happy. And even in the long run, if it doesn't, you'll learn something along the way and you can always pivot and reroute. So just take those initial steps to move towards something and then you can figure it all out later.
Definitely that's a whole other topic in itself, is caring what other people think and as I say, keeping up with the Joneses. Thank you, Alexandria, for coming on to the show. Nobody wants to work though. My name is Elyse Robinson. Please subscribe and leave a comment and see you next time.