A secure future in a cyber landscape
Armed with a degree in cybersecurity, Michael Wallace ’22 sees a career filled with possibilities
In December 2021, Michael Wallace ’22 was a few months away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity. Looking for work experience, he applied for an internship with On Line Support, a firm providing information technology support for small to medium sized companies in and around Vancouver, Wash. and Portland, Ore.
The company saw his résumé and hired him as a full-time employee instead. The firm didn’t have a dedicated cybersecurity department, so Wallace worked in tech support. At the end of March, after Wallace graduated, he began building the company’s security department.
Wallace was part of the first cohort to graduate from Clark’s new cybersecurity program, which offers an accelerated bachelor’s degree to students who already have an associate degree. Those graduates are now out in the world, helping to prevent hackers and other cyberattacks.
A lot of Wallace’s job is talking with clients to understand what their own cybersecurity challenges are and how they can best protect themselves.
“If you don’t have systems in place and something happens, it can put you out of business,” Wallace said.
News articles about ransomware attacks or data breaches are increasingly common. That means business owners know what’s at stake.
“Another way of looking at it is that our goal is to protect a business’ reputation,” Wallace said.
Wallace first attended Clark in 2009. A member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Wallace worked in IT and decided to study computer science. He completed a year of the program and decided it wasn’t the right fit. He switched to a general associate transfer degree and worked in hospitality after his military service ended.
In 2020, he was feeling burned out and wanted a fresh challenge. He took another look at IT and learned about Clark’s new cybersecurity program.
“I was pretty set on going back to school and earning my computer science degree,” Wallace said. He was also in his 30s. Most bachelor’s degree programs would have taken Wallace at least three years.
“I was willing to do it but it would have been a major sacrifice to step away from the workforce for three years,” he said. “One of the things I loved about Clark’s program is that I had the option of finishing it in one-and-a-half years. That was a more realistic timeframe for me.”
Learning never stops
Wallace is now studying at University of Washington to earn a master’s in cybersecurity and leadership—a program that combines technical know-how with business leadership skills.
“My past experiences really feed into what I’m doing now,” Wallace said. “I think I’m able to communicate concepts really well with our clients.”
That’s one of the things Wallace loves most about cybersecurity—there’s a niche for everyone, from programmers to technical writers to salespeople. Wallace described himself as “someone who gets bored easily,” so the field’s vast potential appeals to him.
When he enrolled in the cybersecurity program, Wallace figured it would be the end of his schooling, at least for the time being. But the quickly learned that the fast-paced tech industry requires constantly learning new things.
“You really have to love continuing education because that’s going to be an ongoing thing,” he said.
Eager to gain more experience, Wallace not only completed his course work, he met with his Clark instructors and asked for additional projects.
“Clark professors in general are incredible about working with students who want to do something extra or on their own,” Wallace said. “I never had a professor tell me, ‘I’m too busy to do that.’”
Mentor makes a difference
Cybersecurity is a field where experience is what opens opportunities and bumps up salaries. So ambitious students have to be willing to seek out ways to gain real world experience. The longer Wallace works in the field, the more he appreciates his Clark education. At the start of the cybersecurity program, Wallace said his instructors taught project management skills alongside technological skills. At the time, some of Wallace’s fellow students complained. Today, Wallace said he uses those project management skills on a daily basis.
Clark network technology professor Andrew Bruce kept urging Wallace to pursue a master’s degree after graduating from Clark. Wallace said he was ready for a break. But Bruce kept urging.
“He told me, ‘you’re already in the mindset,’” Wallace said.
Wallace heeded the advice. On weekends, he and a fellow Clark cybersecurity graduate carpool to Tacoma, Wash., for their graduate courses. So far, Wallace said he has no regrets.
“I’m really thankful that (Bruce) took a personal interest in me. I really believe in the opportunities that have come up and will come up in the future, so I think it’s very much worth the sacrifice.”
Story by Lily Raff McCaulou