Master of Science in Cybersecurity Engineering

Brendan Sweeney (MSCYBER '15)

What made you choose to apply/enroll in the UW Bothell master's in cybersecurity engineering?

I had just completed my BS in CSSE and was working on an internship when the Cybersecurity Engineering program was announced. I have been passionate about computer and network security for a long time and this was a perfect opportunity to pursue that passion further. I hesitated for a while because I felt that I was ready to enter the workforce, but I finally decided I did not want to look back on this as a missed opportunity and regret passing up the chance to earn a master's degree. So, at the very last minute and with some encouragement from my academic advisor, I sent in an application.

What were some of the highlights of your experience as a student?

One highlight of my experience as a student was getting together with the other students for pre-exam study sessions. We were a tight-knit group and we wanted to make sure everyone had the best possible chance to succeed in their classes. So, before each major exam, we would get together and help each other understand the material to ensure that we would all do well. Another highlight was when I presented to my class a research proposal on a wireless network trust model. I decided that the presentation would be more engaging if I gave the network nodes some personality. It was good to see the other students smile as they learned about my ideas.

What were your most enjoyable classes?

The two classes I enjoyed most were "Secure Software Development" and "Cryptography and Data Assurance." The first one had an interesting segment where students essentially took over the lecture to teach what they had learned on a specific topic and demonstrate a working example. It was fun to see the different ideas covered from different perspectives and how the topics overlapped. The second one appealed to my natural fascination with cryptography, key management and secret sharing. The most interesting project there had students using a high-level programming language of their choice to experience firsthand the woeful state of cryptographic programming libraries.

What has been the most challenging part of being a student?

The most challenging part of being a student has been keeping up with all the deadlines, particularly for research papers. It was very difficult to put enough time into all of the assignments to produce quality work, especially since I ended up going through two moves during the program.

What has been the most rewarding part of being a student?

The most rewarding part of being a student has been the sense of accomplishment from making it through the entire program. It feels good to look back and say that, despite all of the challenges, I finished the program; I learned many new things; and I was able to help others learn, as well.

What advice do you have for future students?

The best advice I have for future students is to look to each upcoming quarter as though you have already aced the current quarter. It is much less work to plan for success and have to make adjustments when you hit a snag than it is to wait until you know you will succeed before planning your next steps. I believe this is more the case when going for an undergraduate degree, when there are more paths and electives from which to choose, but it also holds true at the graduate level.

Where are you currently working, and what is your job title? Do you feel the degree prepared you for the work you are doing adequately?

I am currently working at Amazon Web Services as an AWS security engineer. While there is still plenty to learn, I do feel that the degree has adequately prepared me for the work I am doing. That may not have been the case though, if my capstone project had been substantially different. The independent work is an important part of the degree.

Any other thoughts you want to share?

While attending the University of Washington Bothell, do not get consumed by coursework and deadlines to the point where you alienate your friends or family. You are there to grow as a person, which includes learning the subject matter, but it also includes interacting with people: join a club, do study sessions or take some fitness classes. Make your time there an experience rather than a task. I probably would have completely burned out without those activities.