A common misconception about securing an internship in the cybersecurity industry is that you need an extensive cybersecurity background to apply. The reality is, you don’t, and there are two main reasons for this.
The Right Fit
In 2017, as I was heading into the last year of my bachelor’s program in computer systems engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, I was given the opportunity to do a three-month summer internship with Palo Alto Networks. In my program, the curriculum actually focused on both hardware and software, providing graduates with a more well-rounded education. But my interest had mostly been in software. However, when Palo Alto Networks approached me about an internship with the Hardware Engineering team, I decided to take it. I thought this would be a great experience that would expand on my academic training. Plus, I knew this was a great company to work for and this would help me get my foot in the door.
In this role, I worked hands-on with circuit boards — testing, analyzing, and reporting signal integrity issues. It was a good experience with an amazing team, but about halfway through the internship, I realized hardware wasn’t really for me. I spoke to my managers about it and explained that I was feeling more drawn to software engineering. It couldn’t have been a better experience. They not only understood, but they worked quickly to transition the remainder of my internship from hardware testing to automating a lot of their testing platform. So I was able to write up a lot of the infrastructure for testing the circuit boards, which gave me a chance to work more with software. We began having discussions about what a full-time role might look like for me — the Hardware Engineering team seemed excited to keep me at the company, but I was also very clear that I wasn’t looking for a full-time hardware role.
The internship went so well that as I was approaching the end, my manager connected me to the Director of the VM Series team and put in a good word for me. I was invited to interview for a software engineering position, and soon after my senior year began, I was offered a position!
Perhaps it’s unusual at some companies to speak that openly about a desire to switch roles or departments, but from what I’ve heard from others and experienced myself at Palo Alto Networks, its leaders are really open to having those conversations and helping you find the right fit. It may not happen in an instant, but if you approach your manager and are open and honest about your intentions, they seem very open and willing to help make it happen.
I also believe it’s important to branch outside your team and discover what’s happening elsewhere in the company. For me, as a recent intern in the first “real” job of my career,I found the Early in Career employee network group hugely helpful because it allowed me to meet new graduates as well as longtime employees who were willing to share their insights and experiences with me. This helped me to fully understand what work the company was doing and what areas most appealed to me.
I think a lot of people come into their jobs not fully understanding what those jobs entail or where they’d like to end up. But once you have that understanding, communicate that with your manager — it benefits them and the company as a whole to have people using their strengths in areas that they love. The amount and quality of work people do correlates to the amount of passion they have for it, so there’s a benefit to encouraging people to follow their interests.
My current manager and my director are both incredible people who genuinely look out for their employees and want what’s best for us, so I’d feel very comfortable talking to them about anything — including any possible changes I might want to make in the future. I think every employee has the right to explore different career opportunities, and speaking from my experience, Palo Alto Networks does an incredible job of putting people in the right positions to succeed.