Why I Recommend WGU
Whoo, how time flies. It’s been quite some time since my last post. I’d say something like “life got in the way”, but truth is, I honestly didn’t have much to say (at least publicly). Things have changed a bit since my last entry here, and the title of this post should give away some of it…
I went back to school! That’s right, your pal here finally bit the bullet and completed his bachelor’s degree. Why did I do it? Well, frankly I had some time on my hands. You see, I was minding my own business, working the IT contracts I typically do, when all of a sudden this thing called COVID-19 hit like a ton of bricks. Ok, well maybe not like a ton of bricks, but gradually it got worse and long story short, I was laid off. I wasn’t freaking out or anything because up to that point in my career, there had ALWAYS been some IT work out there. But what I soon found was that while there was tech work available in my area, it seemed HR depts were either looking for the super senior IT vet with 10+ years of experience in 100 different technologies….or the entry level “take-any-pay-they-offer-to-get-a-foot-in-the-door” technician.
This left me in an interesting position. I found myself getting hit with a barrage of calls and emails from various recruiters with “opportunities” that were paying WAY less than they were even a few months before the pandemic hit. It’s clear businesses are looking to hire the most skilled guy or gal, for the LOWEST possible rate.
Anyway, In the midst of all of this, I was keeping a close eye on the job market as a whole. That was months ago, and even now as I write this, with vaccines on the way, another possible stimulus check coming and a new administration less than 50 days out..I can’t help but feel like things are STILL pretty grim out there.
I started thinking about the competition coming down the line when companies really start hiring again, and thought to myself, “how can I better position myself to compete?”. At the time the certs I did have had long expired and my associates degree was cool, but wasn’t really moving the needle for me offerwise. Obviously a degree doesn’t “guarantee” you a particular salary, but it can definitely help get past all of those freaking HR filters.
So I applied to WGU in Winter of 2019 and started Jan 1st 2020. Why WGU? Well, for a guy with a wife and kids, I needed the freedom to work whenever I could, without the added nonsense of responding to group questions and group projects. I know some people love that kind of structure, but I couldn’t stand it when I went to UoP. Next reason: Certifications!!!!! I know ultimately I’m still paying for them through tuition, but paying for certs out of pocket is an expensive endeavor (especially depending on what cert you’re talking about). Another reason was competency-based learning. Honestly, I think this is the best way to show you actually know something. Yeah I know, some people are good at cramming information for exams and whatnot and then quickly forgetting it. But if you REALLY want to land a job, you kind of need to prove you know what you’re talking about.
Anyway, I hit the ground running, quickly knocking out the A+, Net+ Sec+ and moving through classes on Cryptography, and more. Oh, I guess I should mention I chose the Cloud Computing program. The fact that the program included the AWS SysOps Administrator certification really was another selling point for me.
One of the things I thought I would have the most trouble with was writing papers (APA format, bleh!), but I actually found out that I’m pretty good at knocking papers out. I guess I can ramble quite a bit when I’m talking about things I’m interested in.
Obviously this school isn’t for everyone. I will say, if you aren’t used to studying and just learning independently, this is NOT the school for you. While you do have instructors for each course that will provide help, the majority of the responsibility will fall to you. Another thing is the material for certain courses is outdated. I might have been OD with it, but for the Network+, Security+ and AWS SysOps certifications I went and got outside material. Again, this might have been overkill, but I actually wanted to have a clear understanding of the topics, not just to slide through an exam. In fact, before I got to the AWS SysOps cert, I decided to pay for the AWS Cloud Practitioner certification out of pocket, and then used the 50% off discount to get the AWS Solutions Architect cert after. Once I passed both of those, I scheduled the SysOps, because everyone kept telling me it was much harder than the others. I actually did much better on the SysOps certification than the Solutions Architect Associate, so I’m glad I did the other two first.
Remember how I mentioned WGU is Competency-based? Well, because I was able to show I was competent in course material, I ended up accelerating through the program. After transferring credits from my associates degree, I was able to complete my bachelors this past October (roughly 10 months, start to finish). The complete list of certifications I was able to obtain this year (including the ones I took on my own) include:
From CompTIA: Network+, Security+, Cloud Essentials, Cloud+ and Project+
From AWS: Cloud Practitioner, Solutions Architect Associate, SysOps Administrator
From LPI: Linux Essentials
Not to bad if you ask me.
Because I finished quicker than I expected I would, I’ve actually decided to go back for my Masters degree this upcoming January. Since graduating, I’ve dabbled in things like Infrastructure as Code with Terraform and CloudFormation, as well as tightening up my Linux and Python skills. But the one thing that really struck my interest as I was studying for my AWS certs was security. As an IT guy, I’ve never really realized how lax some of the standards were at places I’ve worked. Things like RBAC were implemented in the most basic form. Working with AWS really got me focused on the security aspect of IT. Which is why I’m going to be studying Cybersecurity and Information Assurance. I actually looked at a couple different programs, but all my reddit pals recommended this program overwhelmingly. So yeah.
I’ve also been learning a bunch of Pluralsight (did I mention being a student of WGU gets you FREE access to Pluralsight and Linkedin Learning even as an Alumni?), particularly when it comes with ethical hacking. I’m about 15 hours deep in the CEH path by Dale Meredith and Troy Hunt and I gotta say, I’m having a freaking blast. I’ve got my hacking environment set up on my laptop for practicing as I go along in the course. I’ve learned a ton about reconnaissance and networking scanning and now I’m learning about enumeration. I’ve also been doing some reading. I finished Sandworm about a week ago, and now I’m in the middle of Ghost In the Wires. I think I’ll check out Countdown to Zero Day next.
That’s pretty much all I’ve got for now. If you happened to just skip all the way to the bottom of this post and you’re looking for an online school to earn your degree, yeah, I recommend WGU 100%.
Also, I’m open to any good book recommendations on cybersecurity, cyberwar and various tools (particular a good one nmap).