The Cybersecurity Talent Initiative is recruiting our nation’s next cadre of cybersecurity leaders to protect the digital infrastructure from global threats. The program offers recent graduates in cybersecurity-related fields a unique opportunity to jump-start their professional lives and potentially receive student loan assistance. Students spend two years gaining valuable public sector experience in a federal agency. As their service comes to an end, participants will be invited to apply for select positions with some of the most innovative private sector companies in the world. Candidates are U.S. citizens who are currently enrolled at an accredited educational institution in an undergraduate or graduate cybersecurity-related degree program.
We talked to Manpreet Duggal, a current Cybersecurity Talent Initiative Fellow, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.
1. What inspired you to apply for the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative Fellowship?
I was wrapping up my junior year of undergrad at SUNY Albany in 2019. I worked towards obtaining two Bachelor’s of Science degrees; one in Digital Forensics, and the other in Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity (EHC) with a focus in Cybersecurity. While at Albany I received an internship opportunity with a former professor of mine who had previously worked in the Federal government and had a fulfilling career making an impact in the Cybersecurity field. This inspired me to seek out opportunities in the Public sector upon graduation.
During my career search, I came across the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative Fellowship. The program was looking to accept applicants from those who had a target graduation in the Spring of 2020 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cybersecurity, Computer Science, or similar disciplines. I felt as if this fellowship was tailored for me and it was such perfect timing, since May 2020 was my estimated graduation. The Fellowship was accepting applicants for its first cohort and offered everything I could have possibly wanted following graduation.
CTI offered the opportunity for an entry-level position in the Federal Government with a chance to work on projects that made progress towards protecting our nation’s technology & information, receiving Security Clearance, Student Loan Forgiveness, Technical Training, Mentors, Leadership Development, and a shot at innovative cutting edge private companies like Microsoft, Mastercard, and Workday.
While applying for this Fellowship, I wanted to put my educational skills and internship experiences to the test and expand on them. The United States Federal Government is a huge target for cyber-criminals and foreign governments; knowing this made me want to join the government to strengthen our country’s cyber posture. Because the US is a big target for foreign adversaries, I knew the fellowship would be a very challenging but great opportunity to learn and that it would be very rewarding to serve our country.
2. What have been some of the most eye-opening moments during your fellowship?
I realized that I am not the same person I was before I started this fellowship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a positive type of way. I’ve built a combination of hard and soft skills through interacting and observing my colleagues who are a small but mighty team. You’d be surprised how much growth you can have when you are surrounded by a very intelligent group of people. You learn so much just through interacting with them.
When I got to NOAA, I was given the opportunity to support implementations of cybersecurity-related programs to eventually soak up habits that made my colleagues so effective and successful at what they did. It’s much easier to learn something when you are surrounded by several unique styles and flavors of mindsets. Being immersed in my work pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Looking around me is very motivating and pushes me to continue with the learning process. I remember having such limited proficiency in project management, public speaking skills, or writing policy, but now I’m much more versed in these areas and helping with building cyber security programs from the ground up.
3. What tips would you give others applying to the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative Fellowship?
If you are thinking about applying to the Cyber Talent Initiative Fellowship, I would recommend pursuing a few internships or research of choice prior to graduation, so you have that experience under your belt. This will help you get your hands wet by deploying learned skills. I would also recommend fostering genuine relationships during those experiences with people who can assist you down the line when looking for references who can vouch for your abilities during the application process.
I would think about the niche or specialties that interest you in the broad field of cybersecurity. Consider the skillsets you need to fulfill the responsibilities of a role you may be interested in. On the CTI webpage, you can actually find potential positions at each of the participating Federal and Private partners and even use those as targets. Research into the ones of interest to you and start building the right skills for the roles.
I would also consider finding a mentor in cybersecurity, someone that is in a subject matter expert position, in leadership, or in a role that you hope to be in one day. You’ll find yourself not only learning about cybersecurity but also picking up a lot of wisdom from their life experiences and developing in other ways.
When getting to the interview stage of CTI, I would recommend researching (e.g. LinkedIn, google searches, etc.) those who will be interviewing you beforehand to gain an understanding of their educational background and work experiences (e.g. current role), as it can help you get insight into their mindset and possibly determine what type of questions you can receive during your interview. For example, speaking from my own experience I noticed I was getting interviewed by individuals that are C-Suite level who are more likely to focus on business, economic, or reputational impacts of cybersecurity rather than technical aspects. This helped me shift my preparation for the interviews.
I would also recommend to truly be yourself. This will help the interviewers get a deeper perception of you. Also, always show up to the interview a bit early whether it’s on a zoom call or onsite and try to talk to your interviewers and make conversation before the interview starts. This can help calm your nerves and build some rapport with your interviewer.
When I applied to the CTI program I had a strong academic record, lots of unique extracurricular activities, fostered many relationships with great professionals in the field, and had some prior experience in the field of cybersecurity. I think that’s what truly set me apart.
Manpreet Duggal is a recent alumnus of the University at Albany, where he earned his Bachelor of Science(s) in Digital Forensics and (Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cyber Security) EHC. Following his graduation he joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an Information Security Specialist through the newly developed Cyber Talent Initiative Fellowship program by the Partnership for Public Service. While thriving at his current role at NOAA, Manpreet is also a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology pursuing a Master’s of Science in Cybersecurity Policy.
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