Yesterday, I went to the University of South Carolina for the final time as a student. After seven and a half years of schooling, I will be graduating Cum Laude from USC with a bachelors in media arts.
I often got weird looks telling security and really IT professionals in general that I was going to school for a media arts degree. I've recently discovered the value of working on a media arts degree, while working full time as an IT professional. More on that in a minute.
Coming out of high school I did not know what I wanted to do as a career. I knew if i went to college I would waste my time and my parents money. Instead I decided to join the Army paralegal to try and figure out what I wanted to do and get the GI Bill. After being disqualified from the Army, I joined the Navy as an electronics technician to try and figure out what I wanted to do and get the GI Bill. After six years in the Navy I was honorably discharged to the beautiful state of South Carolina.
I didn't go straight into college after leaving the Navy. Instead, I ended up pulling cable and inventorying electronic equipment for various organizations via a staffing agency and then moving onto a level two support gig via a staffing agency. I don't remember exactly why I decided to start school, but I did in the Spring semester of 2008. I guess I figured I should use my hard earned GI Bill.
After reviewing a few different programs, I eventually picked media arts. I had always had an interest in media and learning how to use media editing tools like Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Premier, etc. was very appealing to me. Seeing as I was working in IT, I probably should have picked a computer science degree, but there just wasn't anything of interest there. The specialization in a computer science degree seemed to be lacking when compared to a media arts degree that included specialization in areas like: new media, graphics design, photograph, movie production, etc.
If I went back for a computer science degree, half the stuff I would learn I already had exposure to in the Navy. With media arts everything would be new and exciting. I mean who doesn't love the idea of studying movies, television, and art in general, so that is what I went with.
The value of a media arts degree in information security
Simply, contributing and networking within the information security community. I am far from the smartest person within information security. I am also a very shy person when it comes to meeting new people. It is really hard for me to walk up to people introduce myself and start a conversation, even when I know I will be received warmly. I was at three BSides conferences last year with Jayson Street, last year. I've read his book, so I had something to talk to him about, but I was scared shitless to walk up to him, even though he's a very approachable guy. I am working on that part of me, but that fear is something embedded deep within me from years of torment and bullying that I am still trying to shake off.
Once I get to know someone or if they approach me, I am perfectly normal and I tend to even surprise people once I break out of that fear. That leads me to my media arts degree, which I have quickly discovered allows me to meet and work with people that I normally wouldn't get the opportunity to do so. The first time this came apparent to me was at BSides Nashville, when I contacted the head organizer Edgar Rojas about bringing my camera and taking pictures of the conference. I've since spun a podcast with Ed and a buddy of his Paul Jorgensen. I've also taken taken pictures of BSides of Asheville, BSides Nashville 2015, and I'm slated to shoot pictures at Circle City Con and BSides Asheville again this year. I also hope to contact organizers for BSides Augusta and Charleston about shooting pictures at their conferences as well. I didn't shoot Augusta last year because I wanted to volunteer for a BSides at least once and Charleston my old ass camera finally broke down. I have since procedure a new camera.
On the podcasting side of things I've done the Exploring Information Security (EIS) podcast for seven episodes, (which I'm toying with the idea of starting up again) and I've had several discussions with other security professionals about starting up podcasts. Podcasting is a great median for getting the message out, because it's a much more personal type of media and studies have shown that listener interaction and engagement is much higher than other forms of media.
I've currently got my Astros podcast, the PVC Security podcast, and one more IT related podcast in the very early stages. The PVC Security podcast and EIS podcast alone have introduced me to so many wonderful people in the infosec community: Jimmy Vo, Wolfgang Goerlich, Amanda Berlin, Simmon Bennetts, Bob Rudis, and many, many, more.
When I volunteered at BSides Augusta, I remember Mark Baggett, one of the organizers, walking by and saying something to the effect, "Oh yea, I've seen your pictures on Twitter." Mind blown. I am by no means a professional photograph, nor am I striving to be one, but if it allows me to connect with people, that is awesome. The other benefit is that I am contributing to the infosec community, which I think is important for anyone in any type of community.
A degree in computer science probably does help me advance my career and open up new career opportunities, but the media arts degree is allowing me to connect with people within the information security community build relationships and contribute. Honestly, in the end it probably all comes out in the wash, but the media arts degree is much more fun.