Alumna Kierra Jiles Turned Her Passion for Coding Into a Cutting-Edge Cybersecurity CareerJuly 6, 2020
“A party at Capitol Tech was staying up late coding while drinking Red Bull – that’s how I knew it was the place for me,” says Capital Technology University alumna Kierra Jiles.
Jiles knew she wanted to be a hacker in 7thgrade. She became even more focused on cybersecurity when her high school teacher introduced her to ethical computer hacking to test security measures called white hat hacking. “From there on, I got really deep into coding,” she explains. Today, she’s a Site Reliability Engineer at Microsoft with previous experience in software and computer engineering for top government agencies including the U.S. Department of State, NASA, and the CIA.
Jiles, who graduated with a Bachelor’s in Cyber and Information Security in 2017, says that Capitol Tech was the only school she applied to. Having already known that coding was her passion, Capitol Tech’s hands-on approach to STEM-focused education was a perfect fit. A tour of the Laurel, Maryland campus solidified her commitment to the university. “They showed me exactly what they do – we sat in the Cyber Lab writing code and doing cyber activities.”
A STEM-education designed to build expertise
“On one of our final exams, we had to code on the spot. You had to write code on paper for one part, and then write it on the computer for the other,” Jiles explains. This is a skill that makes her feel confident in job interviews. “I start smiling if they ask me to code on the whiteboard, which kind of throws them off a little bit and reassures them.”
Jiles adds that Capitol Tech professors gave her opportunities to be creative by encouraging students to explore new avenues to solving problems, rather than focusing on the answer being just right. “There have been times where I’ve had a completely wrong answer on a final, but I got an A+ just because the teacher appreciated the thought behind how I got to my answer and the techniques in the coding – not necessarily the answer itself.”
“All the tools we used in our cybersecurity courses were relevant to what we’d be doing in the real world,” says Jiles – adding that she had a few professors who had students share weekly current events with the class. Many Capitol Tech professors are also working professionals, bringing up-to-the-minute knowledge to courses. Jiles adds this made a difference when applying for jobs because Capitol Tech cybersecurity professors emphasize “different techniques and tools that make us more attractive [to employers] in that field.” Capitol Tech’s Cybersecurity program was recently honored with the prestigious 2020 SC Media Award for Best Cybersecurity Higher Education Program.
Experience that goes beyond the classroom
During her time at Capitol Tech, Jiles worked on a number of cutting-edge cybersecurity projects with Dr. Bill Butler, current Chair of Capitol Tech’s Cyber and Information Security Department and Director of the Center for Cybersecurity Research and Analysis (CCRA).
Jiles spent a semester working with Dr. Butler and two other Capitol Tech students to test a company’s antivirus software. “We would load viruses on a tablet and run them to see how many times the company’s antivirus software would run warnings and then compare this to others,” she explains.
As a side project, Dr. Butler had Capitol Tech students working with facial recognition software. Jiles explains, “it was facial recognition to unlock the door to your office. We were trying to figure out the set up and how to best ensure a secure environment.”
Capitol Tech professors were dedicated to helping Jiles build her career in cybersecurity. She credits Dr. Butler for introducing her to NASA and another one of her Capitol Tech professors for introducing her to the CIA. Jiles describes her CIA interview process as nerve-wracking. “I was sure I’d tanked the first interview,” she says, but eight months later she was offered a second interview. Four months later, the CIA offered her a job.
A career driven by passion
“I just love coding. I’ll go into work early and I can just code until late into the evening,” says Jiles. She adds that it’s wonderful to feel confident in her coding skills and that she has room for professional growth in the field of cybersecurity.
What’s next for Kierra Jiles? Right now, in addition to her cybersecurity career, she’s raising her 2-year-old daughter, Kori. “She actually has a computer than she bangs on while I’m coding,” Jiles says. But for the future, “eventually I’d want to become a professor, create my own app, stuff like that,” she says.
As Washington D.C.’s premier STEM university and home to the best cybersecurity program, Capitol Tech is an environment where STEM-minded students like Kierra Jiles can reach their full potential. With the help of a laser-focused education taught by industry-leading experts and learning in a community of like-minded and ambitious peers, Jiles was able to turn her love for coding into a cutting-edge career in cybersecurity. “I’m still constantly getting job interviews and opportunities even when I’m not looking. It’s nice to have that job security – to know I’m still wanted in the career force and that’s strictly because of my degree and the skills that my Capitol Tech education provided me with.”