Whiz kid: Going straight from high school to IT security
This feature first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Certification Magazine.
Among the skills sought for work in penetration testing — the branch of cybersecurity in which gifted “ethical hackers” attempt to strengthen network or website security by finding and exploiting weaknesses — are excellence in programming, deep familiarity with operating systems, knowledge of computer forensics, and solid understanding of networking and network protocols. Considerably lower on the list than any of those: ability to optimize communication using image, type and spacing.
Graphic design has its place, but one thing it probably won’t get you is the River Phoenix-in-Sneakers Memorial Tech Whiz slot on a penetration testing team. So it’s a little unusual for Seth Elo to have ended up where he has, with a IT security career firmly in his sights. In the beginning, before enrolling at Summit Technology Academy in Lee’s Summit, Mo., the only thing Elo wanted to attack was the branch of computer wizardry that gets practitioners hired to create a bold new look for a website, brochure, book jacket, ad campaign, etc.
“I got into IT certification by mistake,” Elo said. “I wanted to be a graphic designer.”
After hearing about a “computer” class at Summit Technology Academy, Elo assumed he could pick up some advanced graphic design skills there and signed up. “The first day of class, I realized my mistake,” Elo said, “but my schedule was set so I decided to stick with it.” After being in class for only a matter of weeks, Elo realized that he had a strong knack for IT and enjoyed learning about computers.
By the end of his first year in the Summit Technology program, Elo had earned CompTIA’s A+ credential (which is presently the only arrow in his certification quiver). The following year, as a senior, he worked as an intern for Lee’s Summit School District and got into CyberPatriot, a nationwide cybersecurity skills competition for students. Along with a couple of his teammates, Elo made a strong impression on his CyberPatriot mentor, John Maddock, and Maddock invited all three to work as interns at Risk Analytics, a security firm based in Overland Park, Kan.
Elo switched his senior-year internship to Risk Analytics and, upon graduation from Summit Technology Academy (he was homeschooled in all other subjects), was offered a full-time job with a starting salary of $40,000 per year. “I started working there two months after my graduation in August of 2013,” he said.
The youngest of three children, Elo still lives at home and is saving his money. In the future, he plans to expand his repertoire of certifications before eventually working full-time in, yes, penetration testing. He’s wandered from the graphic design vision that spurred him to enroll at Summit Technology Academy, but he’s happy with where he’s ended up. He’s also humble about his achievements, and grateful to everyone who’s supported him.
“I give the credit for my successes to God, my parents and my (STA) instructors, Lisa (Oyler) and Jeff (Banhart),” Elo said. In light of his unassuming attitude, future success seems assured.