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Alexandra Pena: Pursuing a Dream Career in IT Security

“Quitting my job as a psychiatric technician to pursue a career in cyber security was the first time in my professional life I willingly introduced risk. But now I’m doing what I want to do, so it was worth it.” – Alexandra Pena

In 2022, Alexandra Pena was unhappy at work. Her day-to-day as a psychiatric tech had become understimulating and too routine. She loved helping people. But a healthcare career was different from what she wanted.

A Central Michigan grad with degrees in Neuroscience and Psychology, she was on a career track her schooling had prepared her for. But she knew it wasn’t her passion.

Technology was a point of fascination for Alexandra from her earliest memories. From playing games with her father on their family computer to helping her family set up various software, the possibilities of a technology career captivated her. But she felt it was an unattainable fantasy.

“I didn't know of any women interested in the things I was,” Pena said. “So I didn't have that inspiration to stay on an IT path. I deviated away from it, and when I got to college, I just picked a major(s).”

Alexandra found the research aspect of her studies invigorating, so she stuck with it, graduated, and landed a psychiatric tech role in Michigan. Three years later, she moved to Memphis with her fiancé and found another psychiatric tech role. After another two years, though, she felt stuck.

Rather than pursue becoming a licensed practitioner, she took time to reflect and reconnect with her original love: technology. She decided to become the role model she needed as a kid. 

“I was missing the challenge, missing the stimulation,” Pena said. “And so I took some time during February of last year to reflect and to decide what I wanted to do. I did some research, and I learned about cybersecurity.”

“I found that it's an active, competitive, and engaging field,” Pena continued. “You're always learning, and most importantly, it's IT, which is constantly evolving. In short, it was what I was looking for.”

Alexandra decided to enroll in Western Governors University’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance online program. Immediately, she knew she had made the right decision.

Helping people kept her in the medical field until that point. Shifting to cybersecurity provided a means for her to continue to help others while pursuing what interested her intellectually. 

“The challenge of learning how to keep the ‘bad guys’ out and learning how they think fascinates me,” Pena said. “But more importantly, helping protect people's reputation, finances, and other data drives me. How hackers or malicious actors can manipulate people nowadays is always evolving and increasingly scary. This field allows me to do good and spread awareness on the dangers out there online.”

Alexandra Pena 1

She quickly excelled in her online program. However, Alexandra wanted to maintain an active resume while completing her schooling, which meant pursuing certifications. She also needed an outlet to network with people and build relationships in the IT community because her classes were exclusively online. 

When discussing these things with a friend, they suggested Tech901. After researching our program, she felt we were precisely what she sought.

“I loved that the classes were smaller than traditional lecture halls, making it easy to meet people,” Pena said. “Networking opportunities were also built into their courses, so I knew it was what I wanted. I was missing the certifications required to go straight to the Security+ class. So, I enrolled in the Foundations course in September of last year.”

Balancing grad school and our program was a challenging feat. It required Alexandra to quit her job and commit to long hours of studying. It was a risk. But she was ready.

“My significant other at home had my back, and I had some funds saved up,” Pena said. “Quitting my job as a psychiatric technician to pursue a career in cyber security was the first time in my professional life I willingly introduced risk. But now I’m doing what I want to do, so it was worth it.”

Alexandra’s grad program was meant to be completed in 18 months. She graduated in 13 months while simultaneously completing our IT Foundations and IT Networking classes.

By the time she attained her MA and her program’s cybersecurity certifications, she also had earned CompTIA’s A+ and Network+ certifications and the EC Council’s Ethical Hacker certification. To label this as impressive is an understatement!

What kept her motivated during this time? Alexandra says it was primarily due to a shift in her mindset.

“I used to approach every situation by asking myself ‘what is there to lose,’” Pena said. “I realized that this limited my potential. So, I flipped that mindset and now ask myself, ‘What is there to gain?’”

She cut the thread if an aspect of her life wasn’t contributing to her goals. Each new certification required work, but there was plenty to gain for pushing through.

She kept this mentality when she landed her first tech internship post-graduation. 

“I interned as a Technical Services intern, and on my last day, they offered me a full-time position,” Pena said. “I was honored, but I had already accepted another role.”

Betting on herself proved to be the right choice. Alexandra now works at Hexagon AB as a System Engineer and has nearly doubled her previous salary. On the side, she is staying proactive. 

Now, she is attending our IT Security course and plans to complete our Code 1.0 class. She’s also been active in national cybersecurity Capture the Flag (CTF) tournaments.

Earlier this year, she participated in the US Cyber Challenge. Her team finished third, securing a prestigious US Cyber National Cyber Bowl invite. These events further her knowledge of the field and foster connections 

“Whether it's a class or a tournament, I participate in them because they help me gain experience and meet new people,” Pena said. “It all comes down to being proactive.”

Alexandra has made incredible strides despite being in the industry for less than two years. Feverishly motivated, she envisions an exciting future in this field as an employee and mentor. 

“I can’t see myself doing anything other than what I love,” Pena said. “I want to stay with a company that supports and believes in me. Most importantly, I look forward to mentoring someone who is just as curious as I am to learn about IT Security as I am.”

“And for those interested in this career, you need a support system like Tech901,” Pena said. “Tech901 has supportive instructors and courses at affordable rates. That’s ultimately why I continue to choose them”

We could not be prouder of Alexandra’s accomplishments inside and outside our program! She is a living testament to the world of opportunity that a career in IT Security provides and how important it is to bet on yourself.

If you’re interested in pursuing IT, check out our recently announced 2024 class schedule! You can also attend our November 16th Info Session to meet the staff, tour our space, and learn the ins and outs of the program directly from our team and participating alums.

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