My favorite thing about my career in cybersecurity has been a constant opportunity to learn new topics. Cybersecurity weaves itself through every aspect of our lives: the phone in your pocket, the smart TV in your home, and on and on. And the idea that each of these devices allows me to gain new knowledge is fascinating. It can also be daunting when there is always so much to learn. I want to share a learning method I’ve developed to help you quickly learn new concepts. I have been using this mental model since I started in the industry. It works equally well whether you are new to the field or if you are adding to years of experience.

Exploring a new city

When I first moved to the Bay area, I picked an area I thought I would like (the Redwoods), I would walk in my neighborhood and explore the streets and restaurants. As I did this, I built up a mental map of the area. Eventually, I wanted to explore new neighborhoods.

I discovered that this way of navigation allowed me to grow my knowledge of a new area and anchor it in my existing understanding. First, I would learn a little bit about a new neighborhood. Then each time I would go back, I would learn a bit more about that area or a new way to get there. The first time I would visit a new area, the map was small and the connections were weak. But over time, I would learn new connections and discover interesting areas to explore.

Eventually, I would build a better map of my neighborhood and others close by.

Applying to security

There are many parallels between different security domains and learning a new city. Learning about cybersecurity starts with picking an area of interest. Then you start exploring that area until you feel comfortable. You understand the tools, know the leaders in the space, and have read the books. Once you feel comfortable in one area, you may branch out to an adjacent area. Your connection to the new topic will be tenuous at first, but if you find it interesting, you will keep returning until you know the second area well.

As you continue to explore new areas it gets easier. Sometimes you can use the same tools or maps, or it is simply that the tools and maps become easier to understand because you have a frame of reference based on all the other things you have used.

If you walk the streets of Rome, Italy after growing up in Los Angeles, United Sates you may find yourself easily disoriented, like jumping from network security to cyber operations, but once you have learned enough new things about the neighborhoods it become easier.

Seeing how each neighborhood is connected from a bird’s eye view and how security is applied at the street level makes new topics easier to understand.

Broad awareness first, then go deep

I love learning about a new city’s hidden gems, but often I will start with the “must-see” landmarks. I use standard methods of travel like walking or trains to move between neighborhoods. Once I have spent some time in a new area, I will start to explore more deeply. When I am in a new city, I first look for parallels or how it’s like what I have seen before.

The same is true for learning cybersecurity. First, try to apply things you already know.. Next, look for the landmarks or recognizable features. Ask yourself, ‘what unique concepts make this domain uniquely different and memorable?’ Finally, explore deeply.

I hope this method of learning will help you frame your new challenges. A career in cybersecurity truly gives you a passport to travel the world. And the skills you learn are globally recognized yet locally relevant in any country you choose to visit or explore.

Interested in learning more about cybersecurity? Start exploring here.


Swati Handa

Senior Product Servant Leader

Cisco Networking Academy