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YNM Ep. #4 How one Reservist Opened the Door to a Career in CyberSecurity

Episode Guest: Dr. Sherelle Moore

In this episode of the Your Next Mission podcast, we talk with Dr. Sherelle Moore, an active US Navy Lieutenant, and cybersecurity expert. Dr. Moore shares her inspirational story, gives insight into the cybersecurity sector, and talks about how Veterans can get into the cybersecurity field. Enjoy!

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THE HOSTS

Kajal Shelat is CCS Learning Academy’s Business Development Manager. She holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and has 10+ years in the education and professional training sector. She specializes in developing sustainable partnerships and implementing technology training solutions for private and public entities. She uses her passion for education and business to keep our programs current, engaging, and relevant to today’s professionals. 

Maurice Wilson is on CCS Learning Academy’s Board of Advisors. A retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer with 25 years of service, Maurice is the President/Executive Director of the National Veterans Transition Services, Inc. (NVTSI), a non-profit organization he co-founded with retired Rear Admiral Ronne Froman after serving as an advisory member for the Call of Duty Endowment (CODE). 

TODAY’S GUEST

Dr. Sherelle Moore is an Information Professional (IP) Officer in the US Navy with a TS/SCI clearance. She’s been a contributing leader in the cyber field for over 10 years. Her experience includes managing Security Operations Centers (SOC), developing, and maintaining processes and policies, improving scalability to Incident response, threat hunting, and SIEM management. She holds a Master’s degree in Information Technology and is a doctoral candidate pursuing a DIT in Cyber Security and Information Assurance. She also holds several industry certifications. 

TRANSCRIPT

Kajal: I’m here with Maurice Wilson, a retired Navy master chief petty officer with 25 years of service. Maurice is the president and executive director of the National Veterans Transitioning Services, Inc, and Reboot, a nonprofit organization he founded.

I’m also here with our honorary guest, Dr. Sherelle Moore, who is a Navy Lieutenant and experienced cybersecurity professional. She has a long history of working in the management consulting industry. She has many different skills, like analytical skills, networking, FireEye, Splunk, and the list really goes on. She has a doctorate in information technology with a focus on information assurance. So welcome to our fifth podcast.

Sherelle: Thank you!

Maurice: Alright. Hey, glad to be here as well.

Kajal: So this podcast is all about helping veterans find their identity after service and really offer some guidance, tips, tricks, and how to really achieve that, especially if they’re going into the technology sector. And because we have a cybersecurity professional with us today, I’d love to get to know about her a little bit more.

So Sherelle, tell us a little bit about your history, your childhood, and give us a few details.

Sherelle: Well, without giving my book away, my childhood wasn’t easy. I grew up in foster care. I bounced from home to home from the age of five until the age of 16. It was not a really pleasant experience. And then as soon as I became old enough to not have to depend on anyone, I became a mother very early on in life at the age of 19.

So, it’s been a really rough childhood. I didn’t have a room in foster care. I didn’t have parents or siblings or aunts and uncles or anybody close to me that could teach me how to grow up other than just growing up in the system. I think growing up like that made me the person I am.

So I embrace the journey that I’ve been given and let that take me to where I’m going or let the journey take me down. And then I stay where I’m not supposed to be.

Kajal: And so what happened after high school? Did you go to college right away?

Sherelle: Yes, I did have to grow up very fast. I would say I finished high school at the age of 16. I did start college, believe it or not. I was a basketball player and went to college on a minor basketball scholarship. I gave it up because women weren’t getting paid for it then. I left college and started a family.

I left college, then a year later the WNBA was founded. So, boo me! You know, those are the decisions you make in life. So, I did go to college. I went to New York City Technical College for a little while but I couldn’t stay because I was with child during that time. That was the beginning of my journey of motherhood. And now I have six children and one grandchild.

Kajal: Oh, wow! So definitely keeping you busy. Did you get back into school or did you go straight to work?

Sherelle: I couldn’t go to work because I didn’t have a strong support system. It was just myself and my daughter. My father wasn’t much help because I was out of foster care by then and my siblings were younger than me.

I had my first child, I leaned on the system a lot for food assistance and cash and childcare assistance just to try make ends meet for her. And once I realized that they would offer you assistance to go to school that’s when I took advantage and then ended up going back. But I didn’t go back to college until after I had four children. So I was struggling and working in basically small administrative jobs here and there.. And I was living in New York, so it was really hard.

When I did go back to school in 2005 I decided that this is something that I really need to do because I didn’t want to sit on the milk crates on the corner. I didn’t want to be a security officer, like someone sitting in front of the building and just watching somebody’s building. I just realized that I wanted to do more for myself because I knew that I was better than my situation.

I tried to join the Navy when I had my children and when I was married. My ex-husband was a strong, “No!” He didn’t want me to be around opposite anyone of the sex longer than I needed to be. That journey is when I realized that’s the path I wanted to take, but I couldn’t take it then.

So I finished my bachelor’s degree in public administration, then I went right on into work. Started my first position as a security analyst. Then I went off for my master’s in IT and it was on from there.

Kajal: Wow. What made you think about getting into the military? What was that drive for you to join the service?

Sherelle: My divorce! As soon as my divorce was final, I applied for the military and jumped through a lot of hoops to get there. I really didn’t think that I was going to make it. It didn’t have the support. Everybody said, “you too old girl to get into the Navy. They’re not going to take you in there. You got so many kids. They’re not going to take that risk.” And every single door that could have closed, tried to close. I’m a strong woman of faith and everything from the spelling of my name to the background check to everything, it was always an obstacle That journey took two years, from my date of application to the date I took my oath.

And that was it. I made it and I just felt like it was my destiny to knock on that door, and when I knocked on the door, it opened up wide. And here I am, three and a half years in I’m a lieutenant junior grade. My goal is to leave as either a lieutenant commander or commander if I can. And you know, have the credentials to back up my name, like Maurice here.

Kajal: You also play such a pivotal role in the cyber and IT space. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that. Anything that you can give as far as recommendations and ways that transitioning veterans or active service members or reservists could relate to, especially with your journey, some of the challenges and roadblocks can be felt the same way with other veterans and service members.

Maurice definitely chime in when you’re ready.

Maurice: This is going so well. I’ll wait for her to answer that question then I’ll chime in afterward.

Sherelle: The journey to where I am now, as far as my cybersecurity career, I was intrigued by this door that everybody had to use their fingerprint to get in. I said,” this is fantastic. I’ve never seen anything like this. I feel like I’m in a movie. This is definitely top secret. I want to work behind that door.” So I kept knocking and I kept knocking and I kept knocking and several people opened, but wouldn’t let me in until one person came in and said, “you know, she’s knocked on this door 10 times. She’s had 10 interviews with 10 different managers based on 10 different departments behind this door. Her perseverance is what we need on this team.” And I landed a position as a entry-level analyst.

On my first day on the job, I cried like a baby because I had no idea what I got myself into. I did not know what was in this gobbledeegook and what information I was looking at. I was like, “I am going to fail at this.” But failure was not an option; it’s never been in my book. So I kept pushing forward and learning. Once it clicked, it clicked.

For transitioning veterans who may find it hard to go from 20 years in the military and having a strict military structure to finding a job, especially in cybersecurity, it just takes perseverance. It may require a learning curve, but it depends on how much they are willing to learn or how much they’re willing to apply themselves. They can definitely make it in the cybersecurity field.

That same attitude that gave them the energy to stay in the military for 20 years they have to apply that because it’s definitely something that is needed. It just takes perseverance and the ability to keep going and keep going. Because we’re going to have a lot of doors closed on us before somebody actually opens it and realizes that you really want to get in.

Just because they’re coming in from serving our country, that should be enough for the door to be open. But some organizations look at it, “Well, you don’t have enough experience. You don’t have enough skill.” And that can sometimes discourage someone, especially a military veteran who’s never had to sell themselves in a world full of other people selling themselves.

The opportunities are there. They just have to want them and want them really badly and understand that they’re going to kiss a few frogs or a few turtles before they meet their prince or princess.

Maurice: That was really good. Sherelle, you touched on some very key points that I often encounter. In fact, today I was at two career fairs. I was talking with individuals who are transitioning out, individuals who are out. One of the things that I noticed was a fear or an apprehension of the unknown. Like, “I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, and I’m uncertain about what’s going to happen.” You need is to rely upon your military training. In the military, we train for crises, we train for eventualities. Rely on your military training, but have a vision.

Sherelle, as I listened to you, it sounds like you’re driven by your vision. You have patience, you persevere and you really seem like a woman of purpose. I was listening and searching for the word to use and the word that keeps coming to mind is, “Man, she’s got grit!” I mean, you endured and overcame various obstacles and you didn’t let anything get in your way from your dream or your vision. And it seems like you’re not done yet. You’re not about to stop.

Sherelle: You’re right. I’m not done yet. Once I’m fully finished and ready to go into the world, as far as using my academia. I already have a list of white papers and things I would like to put out there to help the cyber community as a whole. Every level, from entry to executive level, needs to read this stuff.

Maurice: I would also add that you’re a living example that your past does not determine your future. You determine your future through your actions, by your energy, by your belief in yourself.

Coming from a foster home and then going through a marriage…Going through all the things that you went through but still you’re coming out on top. And I heard what you said as far as your vision for the Navy, where you may make lieutenant commander or commander. My prediction is that you may make captain or admiral!

Because again, it’s perseverance. It’s that belief in self. As we speak to transitioning service members, some of the challenges they’re going to face include creating a new identity, finding their purpose and their passion, and redefining their new career in their brand. if you don’t have a starting point, and if you don’t know where you are, that can be a frightening thing.

The advice I give people is, as soon as you can, try to solve those equations. Everything is like a mathematical equation. Whatever you do early on, especially as you lay foundations, really come back and benefit you in the long run.

So, Sherelle, could you talk about how some of the things that you did early in your life and came back later as a strength that you consciously made that connection of, “Wow! When I was younger, I was preparing for this moment” and “Wow! Here it is and I’m ready.”

Sherelle: It’s funny you asked me that question. I have always been drawn to computers and technology. But bouncing from home to home as a child, I didn’t understand. One of my aunts who fostered me for a little while posted a picture on social media and tagged me in it. It was a certificate of excellence and achievement in IT. I completely forgot about it because I forgot about a lot of stuff in my childhood because it was so traumatic and so fast. I didn’t realize that I was preparing myself then just by having an interest in computers to be where I am now, in the computer and cybersecurity field. I prepared myself for that unknowingly for the path to my success.

Maurice: Everything you do lays that foundation for tomorrow. You’re constantly in learning mode. The challenge is, as you’re learning, not to be bitter about it, but to just bring it in. Because whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. It’s all about growth.

Can you tell us a little bit about your reserve duties? What does that look like? How’s that working?

Sherelle: How do I juggle all of it? I am a single mother, so it was really hard for me to juggle. Sometimes it is overwhelming and sometimes my knees give out and my strength is faulty. But I look at how far I’ve come and how my children are looking up to me as somebody who is their sole provider. Somebody who is still fighting for the country. I still do one weekend a month, two weeks a year, unless I get a deployment.

My children, two of them are grown. They live out of state. I have my four youngest living with me here. The two older children at home are the strength and the support I need to make sure I can fulfill my military duties. If I did not have those two children who were willing to sacrifice their teenage years to help their mom go to military duty when she has to. That one weekend a month, if my son says, “Mommy, there’s a party next weekend” and I’m like, “That’s my drill weekend”. And he’s humble. He says, “It’s okay. I’ll stay with the kids.” That’s something I find extremely special. I couldn’t do it without them. That’s how I juggle everything.

Maurice: It’s interesting that you’re leaning on your kids. One of the things I shared today with some transitioning service members is that you’re going to have to lean on somebody because again, you become sort of like the victim of your own thoughts.

One young lady told me that she consistently second-guesses herself. I said, “Wait a minute. Everything that you wanted, you’re getting, but now that it’s coming to you, you’re second-guessing.” And I said, “It could be that you don’t see yourself as successful, even though we know you can be.”

What advice would you give to our listeners out there who are struggling with their identity, who are indecisive about what to do next? About 80% of transitioning service members say they don’t know what they want to do next.

Sherelle: I would tell them that if you don’t have faith in yourself, then anything in front of you is going to crumble. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We tell ourselves “I can’t. I’m bad. I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to be successful.” We have to stop with the “I can’t.” It’s an energy drainer. What you put out in the universe is what you get back. If you expect bad, bad is going to come. If you expect positive, positive will come in.

There are going to be people who are going to put stumbling blocks in front of you while you walk that path. Step over them. Your past is going to try to tug on you in the face of fear. “Well, this is where I came from. I don’t think I can make it there.” Well, ask yourself, “Why can’t I be among the successful? Why can’t I make it there?”

What we do is we just keep going and we keep walking on and we don’t look back. We look forward. We have positive aspects and outlooks for our future. That way, when our future is our present, we have successfully made it to where we want to be. Then we can climb the mountain. We are meant to achieve greatness in our lives.

Maurice: I tell people you were born to succeed. Period. End of story. There’s really no such thing as designed for failure. If you fail. It’s because you’re telling yourself to do it. There’s a phrase for that. They call that the universal law of attraction which says whatever you think about the most, you’re going to get because you just thought about it and you just attracted it to you.

Most people, when they join the military, they use the military as a stepping stone to either discover themselves or a career pathway or just an opportunity to grow up. Since you joined the military at an older age and you’ve already done a whole lot of growing up,  what can the military do for you going forward? What do you expect to get and learn from being in the military?

Sherelle: I expect to gain a family of supporters I didn’t have growing up. I am looking to gain knowledge of the world because I don’t have that right now. I’m looking to gain stronger leadership skills and abilities as I move up in ranks and my responsibilities grow.

I’m also looking for acceptance. Growing up and not being accepted anywhere and being bounced home to home, I think that outside of my children, the military has given me that sense of camaraderie, the sense of I belong here, a sense of togetherness.

The word I’m looking for is congregation. I was thinking about stepping down because of some issues in my personal life. My entire unit came to me and said, “Hey, Lieutenant JG Moore, you fought really hard to get into this uniform. We have a team of people who are going to help you and make sure that you stay in. We have resources for you. We’re going to figure this out for you.” And that was probably the most loving thing that I felt from somebody outside of my family in my entire life. I am still in because of it.

Maurice: I can relate to what you just said as far as the value of being in the military. You don’t hear a lot of people talk about it that much, but the things you cited: to develop your leadership skills, to get worldwide cosmopolitan experience, the sense of family. In fact, that’s one of the issues that people have leaving the military. It’s like you’re breaking an umbilical cord.

We call it the military ecosystem. This ecosystem is another world that takes care of you. A lot of people go through withdrawal when they leave the ecosystem. It’s one of the challenges that everyone faces.

I think the way you overcome that are some of the things that you added before: faith, perseverance, belief in yourself, having a vision of what you want to do next. It’s important to have a vision for the future as you join civilian life.

Kajal: This is great information. Sherelle, I loved hearing your story, your journey, your perspective on your life, and how this can relate to others as well.

I want to change gears to hone in on tech sector/cybersecurity. What would you say is a typical day in the cybersecurity field? What’s a typical day as a security professional?

Sherelle: That’s a really broad question. I currently manage in my civilian life cybersecurity operations for multiple organizations. A typical day in my life of cybersecurity is making sure the send technologies or the cybersecurity technologies are up and running, making sure that my analysts are good in their positions, making sure they have access to the technologies and the tools they need to do their job, making sure they have the mental capacity, making sure they are not going to burn out because the internet never sleeps.

That is the basis of cybersecurity. We’ll see a lot of traffic in one day and their job is to discern what’s good and what’s bad. My job is to mentor them and show them what to look for and how to find threats in the environment. I manage the incident response life cycle from detection to remediations and next steps. So a typical day for me, can either be in the weeds with my analysts because our technologies are blowing up and we’re seeing a lot of activity and they need help clearing out the noise, or I could be documenting metrics for executive leadership to present the fantastic job my SOC analysts are doing and look at the number of threats we caught this week or this month or in this quarter. Or I can be driving a process or a policy procedure that the team needs to follow to make sure that there’s a repeatable, scalable process.

Kajal: Why would a transitioning veteran who may not have any IT experience and really want to get into cybersecurity?

Sherelle: I would tell them to definitely get the training they need. Entry-level training is fine. Mid-level, even executive-level training. You don’t have to start as an analyst to get into the cybersecurity field. A lot of our veterans may have degrees they obtained in the military. They have that leadership capability. They understand how to deliver to executives.

So it depends on what they’re leaving the military with. I say that if they want to just learn a new skill, take an entry-level cybersecurity class and understand the basis of cybersecurity. Get one or two industry certifications, if possible. Then look for those entry-level or internship programs that pay.

People coming out of the military and transitioning who want to come into this field, I definitely say just get some entry-level basic information. Taking the initiative to do some research, stay on top of any potential threats. Then practice interview skills. There are places where they can do mock interviews or get help learning to sell themselves because they haven’t had to sell themselves. That’s the big thing. Selling themselves in the cybersecurity market to get them the job.

Kajal: Good tips and recommendations. at CCS Learning Academy, we work not only with transitioning veterans but all different people from all walks of life. We help get them into cybersecurity and have opportunities to place them in jobs at the end of our bootcamps and other training.

Cybercrime is up about 600% since the start of COVID. For a lot of small businesses, about 43% are targeted. What do you think are the top three things people can do to protect themselves online?

Sherelle: It’s funny you asked that question. I’m interviewing for a senior manager position and that is one of the questions right there.

So what are the top three things that I can say?

If we’re talking about individuals, definitely be aware of information that you’re reading, responding to, and receiving. Be aware of what you click on in the environment. Be aware of your internet surroundings. Understand what’s good and what’s bad. That’s one.

Two, if you’re talking to an organization, stay on top of your patch management. It’s really important for organizations to make sure that their vulnerabilities are patched because those are easily exploitable if you don’t maintain that.

And three is definitely education. Outside of awareness is just making sure that you and your team or your analysts have the skills they need to perform the job.

Kajal: Perfect. Thanks. I think I asked that on a personal level as well. How do I protect myself?

Sherelle: There was one that I really forgot that’s new out there. People are just popping stuff on your Outlook calendar. As busy executives, we don’t pay attention. We see something on the calendar. Okay. My calendar is booked. You click on the meeting invite, they’re in . All it takes is that one click. That’s a new trick they’re doing.

Kajal: And for the audience, Dr. Moore did a presentation for one of our clients on cybersecurity awareness training that is super informative. I think everybody should be able to get the insight and the knowledge and those types of tips and tricks whether it’s on a business level or an individual and personal level.

What do you think the future of cyber security will look like?

Sherelle: With everything going to the cloud, I’d say I definitely see the future of cyber security going in a positive direction. What we’re seeing now, we shouldn’t be seeing for another seven to 10 years.

Technology is advancing faster than we are. I see it in the forefront of cybersecurity, where we are able to stay ahead of malicious activity and not behind because cybersecurity is a very reactive field or spend. They spend money after the crime has taken place after the ransom is requested after there was a data breach. I see cyber security being more proactive in the future.

It’s very important for organizations to not always react to a cybersecurity event and to be more protected from it, from happening in the first place. That’s where I generally see it going, especially with moving to the cloud and all of the technologies and platforms we have available to us. That is something that I think will give us a better stronghold. It’ll have the bad guys thinking of new ways to attack a stronger cyber security infrastructure.

Kajal: So there’s going to be lots of jobs opportunities, especially for transitioning vets getting into this sector. Businesses need to protect themselves. They need people behind the scenes, like Dr. Moore, to protect infrastructure. So lots of growth in the cyber world.

Sherelle: Yes. Lots of growth. I tell everyone that cyber security has grown to be one of these recession-proof, businesses and job opportunities. We know with the hospitals and mortuaries, cyber security is now it’s going to keep employment that will never go away.

Kajal: Dr. Moore, in every episode we ask three hot topic questions to our guests. Today I want to put you in the hot seat and put you on the spot a little bit.

As it pertains to your cyber military career or in general, what’s one of your greatest fears.

Sherelle: My greatest fear is that I did not put the right protections in place and my organization was hit with ransomware. I hate putting that out in the universe, but that is the thing I do not want to see happen.

Kajal: That’s very scary for an organization, but you’re super smart. I’m sure that would not ever happen.

Sherelle: I pray not. That’s why I’m so passionate about cybersecurity because I do not want to be part of a ransomware attack response. But then ransomware happens. I shouldn’t be fearful of it because f we have everything backed up the way we need to, then we can just ignore the ransom note and build a new server and pop our backups in there. Because if you pay the ransom, once you pay it twice.

Kajal: Second question: what is your biggest challenge right now?

Sherelle: People management. The biggest challenge is making sure we don’t say anything that’s going to put me in a position where I can be. in a bad spot in my career. So people management is really challenging. I’m learning it, but it’s very challenging.

Kajal: I think everybody can relate to that, especially our audience; when you’ve been in a structured environment in the service, how do you connect with individuals in a corporate setting.

Finally, because this is the Your Next Mission podcast, what’s your next mission?

Sherelle: My next mission is to successfully launch my own cyber security organization, which I’ve already founded two years ago. I’m reaching out for possible contracts. My organization is basically a one-stop-shop. We do anything from soft build-outs to process improvement to audit readiness to whatever an organization needs for cybersecurity awareness.

My next step is to be a Fortune 500 minority-owned cyber security business, one of the top 10 organizations to work for. So that’s my next step.

Kajal: So entrepreneur. Perfect.

This concludes our fourth episode of Your Next Mission. I want to thank Marice and Dr. Morris for their time and insight today. I want to thank all of you for listening and giving us your time.

If you want more information about CCS Global Tech or CCS Learning Academy, go to ccsla/vets. You can take a quiz to see what tech career fits you the best. Maybe it is cybersecurity. You could follow Dr. Moore.

Thanks, everybody for listening.

Maurice: Thank you.

Sherelle: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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