According to a study from the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, by the year 2022 there will be a shortage of 1.8 million information security workers. With such a massive impending need, there’s opportunity for anyone seeking a role in this field. Malik Mo (BAS, ‘15) saw the writing on the wall and is now poised to be a leader in cybersecurity in the Twin Cities.
“With technology things change a lot, and I think with security there’s an even higher degree of change,” Mo says. “I have a drive to keep learning. That’s part of what keeps me fascinated by cybersecurity.”
A Degree to Prepare Him
Malik didn’t always know that cybersecurity was his niche. In fact, he didn’t always know technology was for him, either. In high school his favorite class was wood shop, and when it came time for college, he chose to explore general coursework at a local community college before transferring to the U of M and committing to a major. While in community college he was exposed to a course called PC Hardware and Software, where students took apart computers, studied the components, and learned to put them together again.
“After that class I was hooked,” Mo says. He knew that he wanted his studies to include technology but was also interested in business. With his general credits out of the way, he began searching for a degree program at the U that would allow him to study his two interests. When he discovered the Information Technology Infrastructure (ITI) program, all the pieces fell into place.
“If you want a mix of business and technology, the ITI program is what you’re looking for,” Mo says. “The program prepares you to be both technical and business-savvy, so that you’re able to easily communicate your ideas. And now that I’m working, I can say that you need both sides of the coin—tech and business—to be successful.”
Another key to Mo’s success was his appetite for experiential learning. ITI courses are taught by adjunct faculty who work full-time in related jobs, so that was one aspect of Mo’s exposure to real-world learning. The other significant part was internships. During Mo’s time completing his undergraduate degree, he took on three internships, as well as a remote IT support role.
“I was learning so much in school, and I just wanted to learn more,” Mo says. “I was ambitious as heck.”
His first internship was with Thomson Reuters, which set him up with six months working with its network team and six months with its security team. After that, Mo got a summer internship with IBM in Chicago, working on enhancements in the company’s data center. And finally, he interned with Medica for a six-month position focusing on information security and incident response.
The internships accelerated Mo’s understanding of how to apply what he was learning in school to actual careers. These experiences also bolstered his confidence and gave him stronger legs to stand on when it came time for him to apply for a full-time job, post-graduation in 2015.
Finding a Job that Fit
If you can liken job searching to speed-dating, Mo was on the fast track to landing “the one”—the job that warranted his experience and kept him motivated. After starting and leaving a couple of jobs that didn’t feel like the right fit, Mo finally found the job of his dreams.
“I was hired by IBM in 2016 to be a security consultant,” Mo says. “I’ve learned so much here, it’s crazy.”
Security was always a subject that transfixed Mo, held his attention, kept him curious. His job at IBM allows him to spend his entire day wrapping his mind around the myriad questions that arise for big businesses and their suppliers when it comes to information security. Mo’s role specifically centers on security risk and strategy. He travels to the locations of suppliers to analyze their security systems and make recommendations for how to mitigate risks to that security. Mo emphasizes how crucial it is for him to have solid communication skills and an understanding of business because he interacts with lots of executives, giving advice and formal presentations on his security findings.
“It’s been an amazing journey so far,” Mo says. “The ITI program helped me understand how technology is used in a corporate environment. That, combined with my experience at IBM, gives me legitimate experience.”
That legitimate experience prepared Mo to start his own business in the fall of 2017. Through his consultant work at IBM, he’d made an important observation: small and medium-sized companies were getting left behind when it came to cybersecurity. He figured he’d do something about it.
Mo launched SecureCrest, a cybersecurity service for those small and medium-sized companies in need of affordable security solutions. His website warns that 60 percent of small companies that suffer a cyber attack go out of business in six months. A sobering reality, but that’s why Mo is there, prepared to offer security overall risk assessments for companies, followed by penetration testing, security awareness training for employees, and managed security services once risk has been mitigated.
“A common problem I see out there is that companies don’t have proper access control or encryption,” Mo says. “Essentially SecureCrest offers four services for clients, beginning with risk assessment, looking at the 10,000−foot view of the business from a security standpoint. That’s followed by any of our other services, all designed to work chronologically and to maximize data security.”
In reflecting on all the work that has gone into creating his startup while working full-time at IBM, he says, “It’s never a straight line, building a company. I don’t think I would’ve done this if it wasn’t for the ITI program and IBM. It’s too hard to script this kind of thing. You need education and experience to do it.”
And so, little by little, Mo is working to make Twin Cities businesses more secure. Based on the growing need for cybersecurity professionals, Mo will be busy for a long time to come.