Mare’a Armstrong Felt Like an Imposter in the Coding World. The Cybersecurity Boot Camp Changed His Mind — and His Career.

After five years of working in IT, Mare’a Armstrong felt stuck in the daily grind. Eager to escape his comfort zone, he enrolled in The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UCR Extension to gain modern, market-driven skills. 

As the first day of class approached, Mare’a fought conflicting emotions; on one hand, he was thrilled to finally be making a change, but at the same time, he struggled with deep imposter syndrome. “Other people were born and raised with computers,” he said. “I carried a black cloud, thinking I didn’t stand out.”

Today, that black cloud has finally vanished. Read on to learn how the boot camp brought Mare’a confidence, community, clarity, and the career advancement he had been craving.

What drew you to the boot camp in the first place?

I was too comfortable in my old IT job. I was leading a team and had been promoted a few different times. I thought that eventually, the management at my company would just give me the knowledge I was seeking and the tasks I wanted. But that never happened. 

Why cybersecurity? What sparked your interest in the field?

One day, I got on the internet and started looking at different careers in technology. I love IT, but knew I needed to narrow things down. I told myself: Stop being so broad. What is it, specifically, that you want to do for a living? 

I realized that almost everything I touch — my fridge, my iPad, my watch, my phone, even my doorknob — is on the internet nowadays. Cybersecurity is a booming field that’s only continuing to grow. Everything from the business world down to people’s individual homes relies on security and data privacy. That career was a shining light for me, saying, “Hey man, this is where IT needs help right now.” 

How was your academic experience in the boot camp?

It blew my expectations away. A great environment gets created when you take a group of like-minded people with the same goals and bring them together to learn the same stuff. That’s instantly what happened. There are a million ways to do things in IT. Working with a diverse mix of classmates, I got to bounce ideas around on the fly — right then and there.

My instructor, Chris, was amazing too. He was always available and willing to stay after class if I didn’t understand a topic. He reminded me that I wasn’t the only student with a black cloud — not the only one who had questions. I felt that black cloud quickly go away as I built up my confidence and realized: I’ve got this.

What’s one impactful lesson you learned in class?

I picked up something really cool from my instructor. It’s called the rubber duck method, and the premise is this: Are you able to explain code to a rubber duck? If you can’t convey an intangible concept in tangible words, you don’t know it. That line of thinking taught me to break down technical concepts and really communicate. In some cases, I realized: I know this. In others, I thought: Wait a second. Maybe I don’t know this. 

Have you stayed in touch with your instructors and peers?

Definitely. A few classmates reached out and congratulated me when I landed a new job — and I’ve also bumped into my instructor, Chris, a few times! We actually live in the same apartment complex. He was checking the mail as I was walking out of the building one day. He waved, but we were both wearing masks so it took me a second to recognize him. Then I thought, “Wait, that’s Chris!” I updated him about my new role, and we’ve bumped into each other two more times since then.

How is your new job?

It’s been great! A couple months ago, I was afraid to even apply for a programming job. Now, I’m coding every day as a security networking engineer at Scripps College. I’m constantly applying theories I learned in the boot camp while picking up new knowledge and working my way up in the organization. This job has been the best thing that ever happened to me. I definitely live in sunny Southern California now: no more black cloud. 

Ready to find your future? Explore programs in coding and cybersecurity through UCR Extension Boot Camps.

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