The inspiring story of how Jacques became a cybersecurity professional and the CyberPatriot XIII Mentor of the Year.
Jacques was not destined to have a career in technology. “My dad got me into computers when I was really young,” he says, “but, in high school and college, I was more focused on other things.”
But those other things were sidelined when Jacques’ vision started to change.
“The month my vision started changing, my in-laws gave me a Raspberry Pi,” he says. “I stopped working shortly after and found myself—out of boredom—teaching myself Linux because I had this $5 dollar thing sitting around and I had fun with it.”
“I was just chasing something to do, and I enjoyed playing around on computers and I realized if I'm going to go back to work, I should really do what I love and I obviously loved this. I'm doing it with my free time. Let’s just go!”
Asking for help
Jacques enrolled at College of DuPage, which has a Center for Access and Accommodations to assist people with disabilities. “I did need help,” he says. “I’d stopped working and I didn't know what tools were out there… You can't read the article online until you figure out how to magnify the screen to read the article online, you know?”
“I also learned while at College of DuPage that I don't know what tools are available to me unless I ask. I think that was one of the big things that helped me too; being willing to ask ‘what can you guys do to help me?’”
Networking Academy’s accessibility tools were an advantage, and the Program was part of the degree Jacques was pursuing. “That being said it was also the most comprehensive networking coursework available,” he says.
His first challenge was actually getting to the campus, though it was a challenge that led to other opportunities.
“Because of my visual impairment I can't drive, to everyone's benefit and my detriment,” he jokes. With a young son in daycare, Jacques’ wife couldn’t help him get to college, but his brother happened to work nearby, and could drop him off on his way to work.
“Sometimes I’d have a day class, and sometimes I wouldn't have class until 6pm, but there was no other good way for me to get to the college,” he says.
“So we just said I'm going to get there in the morning. And when I'm not going to class, I’ll just use the time to study.”
“The teachers let me work with the equipment whenever I wanted because they knew me at that point. I'd end up inadvertently being in a classroom working on a lab and other students would come and ask me questions because I always was there. And I started working with a couple of students over time because they’d just always show up because they knew I’d be there.”
“The head of the program ended up wanting to know if I wanted to make it more formal. I figured I'd tutor and work with other students because I'm going to have to work next to everyone and I'd rather them know as much as possible, so I decided to share as much knowledge as I could.”
This desire to help others would persist, even after Jacques landed a job as a United Airlines Cybersecurity and Incident Response Analyst.
CyberPatriot Mentor of the Year
Jacques volunteered to mentor three teams from Wheaton Warrenville South High School for the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot youth cyber education program. He was awarded Mentor of the Year for his efforts.
“This was with a school that had never done it, and a teacher that had never done it, and kids that felt like they didn't have a clue doing it, and my first thought was: I wouldn't be here receiving this—and it sounds corny—but I wouldn't be here receiving this without that roomful of 12 or 15 kids working their tails off after school studying. I didn't earn it you know, they earned that for me. And that was all because I was able to help them understand concepts they had never even considered.”
Jacques’ advice to anyone interested in technology is to play. “One of the things that got me as far as I have is the fact that I have probably six pieces of Cisco equipment in my basement right now and I play with it.”
“Sometimes I'm toying with stuff until the wee hours of the morning getting involved in some of the puzzles,” Jacques says, explaining his interest in forensics. “It's kind of a high point for me, because there'll be this one little nugget of something that might be interesting or suspicious and seeing that, and chasing it, is my passion.”
While his formal education may—for now—be over, Jacques says: “I'm going to be doing education for the rest of my life in this field.”
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