Updated: May 22
When my friend asked me to help him write a few scholarship essays for a cyber security training program, I didn't hesitate.
He had terrible dyslexia, limiting self-esteem, and a penchant for self-depreciation. I knew he wouldn't stand a chance without my help.
When we sat down for the interview, I was surprised by his story. It was honest, since he was talking to me and didn't know what facts would end up in the final draft. He told me about his childhood - learning how to overcome the security systems of many adults who attacked him in the PC video games he played. He was a hacker at heart, one who had learned to put up defenses at a young age.
He told me most companies still don't hire a full-time cyber security guy, although if they knew what was out there, they would.
Instead, they offer incentives to their employees to go to cyber-security training workshops like the one he was applying to and earn a certification. Most of the companies would foot the $10,000 bill happily, considering it part of their continuing education budget. Many of the attendees would never go on to fully apply their training, their companies having passed the buck onward and unlikely to follow-up. It would only show up as another line item on their LinkedIn profiles.
I knew my friend wanted to attend the program for different reasons. Cyber security wasn't a small part of his career, it was his mission. I was dedicated to sharing his motives.
Since he lacked formal education and the employment history of more typical candidates for the program, I knew we would have to take a risk with revealing details about my friend's background if he wanted to be considered.
Check out our winning essays below:
Why Evolve? (The Name of the Program)
The Evolve program uses the latest technology and is targeted at industry professionals who have their fingers on the pulse of cybersecurity. I believe this program will immerse me in a competitive environment that drives me to exceed my own expectations.
I am ready to dive into learning and outpace my classmates, motivated by my commitment to saving the world, one network at a time. I am a big fan of Elon Musk and share his vision of the dangerous future of artificial intelligence and its potential to be used to automate hacking. It’s my goal to be one of the white knights standing in the way of complete destruction when the time comes. I want to have these skills so I can use them for their highest purpose - protecting those who are defenseless.
Tell Us About a Time You Exceeded Expectations
I have always been motivated by pursuing my interests and wasted little time in endeavoring to “check the boxes” to meet other’s expectations. While some students would go to class every day, faithfully taking notes, I was content to learn all of the material the night before an exam and get the grade I needed to move on.
When I was in the engineering program at the University of Denver, I had to find other ways to motivate myself to succeed. I wasn’t the only one who had a motivation problem. I met a friend in my dorm who became my lab partner in class.
As a capstone project for the semester, the professor gave us about 7 weeks to work on programming code to make a car stop before it hit a wall using ultrasound sensors and wavelength measurements. He styled it as a competition, giving an A+ for the entire semester to the team that came the closest.
Since my friend and I had focused on other things the entire semester, we had a lot of motivation to do well in the competition.
We dedicated three days to the task.
We got together Friday evening and began crunching the calculus numbers for the data readings we had, hoping for the best, and then it was time for class!
Our car stopped 7 inches from the wall, beating the second closest car by over three feet and giving my partner and I A+’s for the semester. Everyone in the class looked at us with disbelief.
In 2004, I was an 11-year-old living in Lincoln Park with my parents. It was the year Halo 2 came out and I was lucky enough to find a copy waiting for me under the Christmas tree. I began playing the game in earnest, staying up all night to advance my skills, longing for more competition.
Halo 2 was the first game to feature Xbox Live sessions. Since I was so young, my mom forbade me from signing on, and for a while, I obeyed.
One night, about six months later, I was sleeping over at a friend's house and he signed into his Live account and let me play. I was so engrossed in the action and longed for more glory and power. I knew that I wasn’t going to abide my mother any longer.
Once I was online regularly, I fell in with a group of people who were much older and had a much deeper understanding of technology. They were incredibly aggressive with the way they played.
I would listen to them talk about how they attacked other players who angered them - targeting their IP addresses and hacking data from their systems. The better I got at the game, the more I became a threat to my newfound friends.
I feared they would soon turn their tools on me, and so I had to begin building a defense.
I asked my parents to buy me the parts so I could build a computer capable of greatness and I used a DDOS botnet to over-flood the servers of anyone who got in my way.
To get enough power to perform the attack, I had to remotely hack a website's server and redirect all of their traffic to the targeted IP. I wasn’t yet able to get into the servers for the larger websites with tighter security, but a medium-sized website did the job and offered me little challenge.
It had been two weeks since I built my computer, and now I had the perfect weapon. A nuke of sorts, to make others wary of attacking me. I was a 12-year-old capable of firing back.
The competitive nature of hacking appealed to me and I began to play the game “Capture the Flag”. This game deepened my knowledge of hacking and helped me to learn the thinking strategies I needed to be one step ahead of my friends - the black-hat hackers.
I fortified my knowledge, later attacking higher-level servers and accessing confidential data for the pure pleasure in the exercise of seeing if I could. My passion for hacking was ignited.
Through this program, I hope to hone those skills and learn how to protect many people from the dangers lurking in the dark web and the potential chaos that could come with a hack performed with the benefit of artificial intelligence.
Why You Deserve a Merit-Based Scholarship
Many companies provide funds to their employees for continuing education in the amount of around $10,000 a year. I believe that this program is targeted at professionals looking to expand their skill set and take advantage of that benefit.
I, however, do not already work for someone else and the entire expense of the course would have to come out of my pocket. I am still pursuing my interests and finding the path that best uses my talents and haven’t yet begun to monetize the investment of that energy. If you choose to give me this scholarship, I will use it fully to the benefit of others and use the knowledge I learn to advance the values you believe in.