Interview: From HR to Cyber – Cheryl Abram’s Career Transformation
December 20, 2023, 7 min read
The GCS Network team recently had the opportunity to talk with Cheryl Abram, Senior Cyber Program Analyst at Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA), to lear more about her remarkable career transition from HR to the dynamic world of cybersecurity.
Who is Cheryl Abram?
Cheryl Abram is a dynamic force in the world of cybersecurity. She’s an author, speaker, strategist, consultant, instructor, policy writer, and expert in risk management. What sets Cheryl apart is her knack for coming up with solutions that work for everyone. Her diverse background, which includes social work, learning design, hypnotherapy, and teaching, gives her a unique edge. She’s great at creating security strategies that focus on people and make sure technology meets business needs.
What Cheryl Abram Stands For?
Cheryl believes in being honest and real about the challenges we all face. She stands for independence, being true to yourself, and making sure human rights are a big part of cybersecurity. She’s all about freedom, whether it’s in learning or in the workplace. Cheryl shares her powerful ideas all over the world. Her way of asking questions and learning has not only shaped her own career but also made a real difference in the many areas she’s worked in.
From HR to Cyber: Cheryl Abram’s Career Transformation
Cheryl Abram’s journey from Human Resources to the world of Cybersecurity is a captivating story of transformation. Discover how she navigated this significant career shift, overcoming obstacles and embracing new challenges. Follow along as we uncover Cheryl’s inspiring path, sharing her experiences, victories, and insights gained along the way.
1- Motivation: What inspired your shift from a career in HR to the ever-evolving landscape of IT and cybersecurity?
My shift from HR to IT and cybersecurity was driven by my need for more “space” to use my creative skill. I was not fulfilled in my previous role and although it was a great job and my team was fantastic, the environment was not nourishing or conducive to my continued growth. As a writer and a thinker who thrives on asking questions, exploring new ideas, and creating content I was drawn to cybersecurity for its newness, complexity, and its critical role in evolving our humanity.
2- Moments: Could you share a specific moment or experience that solidified your decision to make this career shift?
There were, and continue to be, defining moments in this field. One that stands out occurred during my relentless quest to understand what in the world a “bit” is. I was tired of hearing “It’s 1’s and 0s” or it’s the “language of computers” or “Google the definition”. The day I discovered that the same way “water” is a noun that points to a reality, “bit” is a noun that points to a range of voltages (e.g., anything above 2.5V might be considered a ‘1’ and anything below 2.5V a ‘0’). That was a pivotal moment that demonstrated my ability to ask my own questions, question established “answers”, and discover things beyond what others may consider my “need to know”.
3- Challenges: What were some significant hurdles during this transition, and how did you successfully navigate or overcome them?
Transitioning to a new field is never without its hurdles. For me, the most significant challenges were bridging the “perceived” knowledge gap and gaining technical proficiency. I overcame these by discovering what I already know, immersing myself in continuous learning and seeking mentorship from seasoned professionals in the cybersecurity domain.
4- Strategies and Resources: Could you highlight the key strategies or resources that played a pivotal role in facilitating your entry into the tech industry?
The key to my successful transition was appreciation and use of the skills I already possessed as a social worker, HR professional, mother, veteran, policy writer, etc. Leveraging my existing skills, both technical and non-technical, was crucial in deepening my education and accelerating my entry into my first cybersecurity position. Additionally, my network was invaluable in helping me secure this position.
5- Key Learning Moments: What valuable lessons did you learn during your transition that have significantly impacted your journey in cybersecurity?
Throughout my transition, I learned the importance of remaining curious and sharing my questions and ideas, no matter how strange or irreverent they might seem. Key learning moments often require “unlearning” or questioning established protocols, thereby making space for new meanings to inform my work.
6- Influencers: Were there particular mentors, resources, or experiences that significantly influenced your successful entry into the tech industry?
My entry into the tech industry was significantly influenced by several mentors and resources, most of whom are everyday people like me. I built my tier of influencers by following cybersecurity professionals on YouTube, attending industry webinars, participating in conferences, engaging in LinkedIn conversations, and reaching out to thought leaders for advice. These relationships greatly enriched my understanding and skills.
Use your current skills as a springboard toward deeper cybersecurity knowledge.
7- Advice: What advice would you offer to individuals, particularly women, who aspire to transition into the tech field, drawing from your experience and journey?
For those aspiring to enter the tech field, I recommend using your current skills as a springboard toward deeper cybersecurity knowledge. Seek a virtual or in-person mentor, actively network, and create content (e.g., blog posts, social media posts, videos) to share your journey. Resilience and adaptability are crucial in overcoming the challenges of transitioning into cybersecurity.
8- Learning: How do you stay updated and adapt to the rapidly evolving landscape of cybersecurity while leveraging your previous expertise from HR?
Learning is synonymous with “doing” so (among other things) I volunteer to teach cyber at a local nonprofit, I write cybersecurity content for a small business, I maintain a cybersecurity YouTube channel and blog, I create cybersecurity merch that elevates the work of defenders and I subscribe to cybersecurity alerts to stay updated in the rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscape.
9- Career Reflection: Looking back, what is the most rewarding aspect of your transition into the tech industry?
Looking back, moving from a planned and stable HR career to the uncertain world of cybersecurity was the most frightening yet profitable decision I’ve made. It has provided the nourishment I craved, and now each day brings new opportunities for growth.
Cybersecurity Book Recommendation “Hacking the Cybersecurity Learning Curve: Teachers Learn, Learners Teach
10 -Future Goals: What are your future goals within the cybersecurity domain, and how do you envision contributing to the field moving forward?
I am currently working with a publisher on my first cybersecurity book, “Hacking the Cybersecurity Learning Curve: Teachers Learn, Learners Teach.” It aims to help teachers and learners understand each other better and work together more effectively toward a secure digital future. This fresh approach not only enhances education but also changes how we engage with cybersecurity, transforming it from a daunting task into a journey of self-growth. This book is a step towards my goal of breaking new ground, sharing knowledge through national and international speaking engagements, and contributing to the development of innovative cybersecurity strategies and policies that ensure every digital citizen’s right to security in cyberspace.
Bonus: Could You Please Share The Top 4 Featured Videos from Your Person-Centered Cyber YouTube Channel?
1- From HR to Cybersecurity: A Transformative Career Journey
Come with me on an exhilarating and insightful journey through my major career shift from 15 years in HR to the dynamic world of Cybersecurity – all in my early 40s! This video is not just a story; it’s a roadmap filled with practical tips and motivational insights for anyone thinking of making a big career change. I’ll be sharing the nitty-gritty details of this daunting yet incredibly rewarding transition, which I accomplished in just a few months after deciding on my new path.
2- A Day in the Life of a Cybersecurity Policy Analyst
Cybersecurity policy analysts are at the forefront of digital security and innovation, commanding impressive salaries of up to $150,000 a year, and sometimes even more! In this dynamic role, I don’t just craft and oversee cutting-edge cyber policies; I also work very closely with cyber leadership, in identifying and assessing risk areas. Join me on a day in my life as a cybersecurity policy analyst!
3- DOMESTIC ABUSE via the Internet of Things (IoT): How to Create a Cybersecurity Threat Model
With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), the landscape of domestic abuse has evolved, bringing new challenges to the forefront. In this eye-opening video, we delve deep into the critical intersection of technology and personal safety. I’m not just talking theory here; I’m sharing practical, empowering strategies to build and apply a robust cybersecurity threat model. This model is designed to minimize the chances of IoT devices being manipulated into tools of abuse. Whether you’re in the tech industry or someone navigating the complexities of personal safety in a connected world, this video is your key to making a real difference. Tune in and be part of the solution!
4- Introducing a NEW Cyber Security Defender to Protect Your Freedom to Be Secure!
Today, it is more important than ever to have someone in your corner fighting for you and your rights in cyberspace. Because representation matters, watch this video to quickly learn about the cyber professionals who are always “on” and ready to advocate for your protection and your freedom to be secure.
Many thanks to Cheryl Abram for sharing her journey from HR to cybersecurity; it is truly inspiring. Her openness about her challenges and the victories she achieved serves as a guiding light for those looking to forge new career paths. Cheryl’s dedication to continual growth, embracing her diverse skill set, and championing inclusivity within cybersecurity is nothing short of inspiring. Her story not only reshapes perceptions but also illuminates endless possibilities for those seeking to chart their unique career journeys.
We’re deeply grateful to Cheryl for generously sharing her time and wisdom, and we’re confident that her story will motivate others to pursue their dreams.