Stories of Success: Sameer Khanna, M.P.S. ’15, Cybersecurity

When it comes to the cybersecurity field everything is in movement. Nothing stays the same. To operate in this dynamic industry requires a certain level of flexibility and a whole lot of desire to continue learning and growing as you journey through your career. This ever-changing nature is what excites Sameer Khanna, M.P.S. ’15, cybersecurity alum.

We sat down with Sameer to discuss his experience as a graduate student in the cybersecurity graduate program.

What did your educational journey look like before beginning the cybersecurity graduate program?

I went to boarding school in India until about 2010. After that point, I ventured to the United Kingdom to study for my undergraduate degree. I attended The University of Exeter and studied IT management for business. This three-year program prepared me for an exciting venture into the field of cybersecurity. Upon graduating, I learned of UMBC’s program and was accepted. I began my studies as a graduate student here in 2013 and graduated in 2015 with my master’s of professional studies degree in cybersecurity.

Can you talk about your experience as a grad student?


Studying at UMBC offered a very different experience than my undergraduate degree. The major way it differed was in the instruction. The instructors worked in the industry in the heat of the hub of the Maryland, DC, and Virginia areas. They brought this experience working with government or government contractors into the classroom. Additionally, my peers – fellow students – also brought their professional experience into class discussions. So, this created a very different experience for me as a graduate student. I got to learn both theory from inside the classroom, as well as practical knowledge from those doing work outside the classroom. I found my footing in graduate studies and eventually discovered how to work with a wide range of companies, both in the private and the public sector.

Did you have a favorite cybersecurity course?

Yes, I did. One of my favorite cybersecurity courses was Managing Cyber Operations. The course tested my knowledge in the exact science of how a business should work in terms of preparing for cyber attacks. It also taught me how to examine how these attacks occurred and what their eventual fallout could be for a company. So, this course really covered all the bases from the very start of analyzing the cyber landscape all the way to the end resolutions for any issues that occurred.

What was your greatest takeaway from the cybersecurity program?

One of the skills I definitely learned during this program, and I think I’ll keep with me for a long time, is that I will not know everything in this realm of understanding. This field is always evolving, and that’s exciting. Everyday something new is happening. So I have to always be prepared to take in new information and discard something that I thought was true but may not be true anymore. Honestly, this challenged my way of thinking at first. There’s a level of uncertainty that I had to accept. That can be difficult. But, I know it’s the nature of the industry and something I will need to balance and embrace throughout my career.

What is the best part of being in the cybersecurity industry?

Being in the cybersecurity field is very interesting. One reason is because whenever something happens in the news, people will always ask me what I think about it. They want to know where I see it going. So, it’s always interesting to see how people react because I have subject knowledge. I find it interesting to connect it to various other things in the world. It keeps me engaged with what’s happening in the world, especially as it relates to my job. It’s very essential for cyber professionals to have a working understanding of how things may eventually evolve.

Why cybersecurity at UMBC?

During my undergraduate degree in IT and business management, I was always interested in cybersecurity. But, interestingly enough, I didn’t know what the field was actually called at the time. So, when I saw the UMBC cybersecurity program, I grew curious. I saw it wasn’t heavily programming-based. In fact, the program is more strategy and looking at policy and how all that fits into today’s world. That intrigued me. Something I now find interesting is that whenever I go to a conference after having being a part of the program and graduating, I meet people who definitely know UMBC. They either know my professors or peers. So, it’s very interesting to be part of this community.

Furthermore, UMBC is a very diverse university. It’s a very close knit community, and everyone is willing to help if you reach out. You will always find someone who is willing to help you and is willing to go the extra mile just to make sure that you feel comfortable here.

Additionally, although UMBC is very academic-based, it’s also very extracurricular-based. So, there’s literally something going on every other day. I never experienced a dull moment living here. It’s so close to DC and Virginia. And for me, I was just a short distance from my family who live in NY. Basically, there’s a lot to do in this area, if you’re willing to go out of your comfort zone and explore it.

How has UMBC changed you?

When I first started UMBC, I was a little bit hesitant. I only had a few internship roles and didn’t have much professional experience. So, being in classes with people who had solid work experience, some decades of work experience, at first intimidated me. But, then I learned how willing everyone was to work with each other. Professors gave me a chance and encouraged me not to be nervous while presenting, attending class, and participating in group discussions. Overall, it gave me a sense of confidence that I could implement while working both professionally as well as just conversationally. It’s transformed me into someone who can actually go the extra mile and see that I don’t need to be worried about the things that I can’t control. It’s more of yes I can do this now.

UMBC’s cybersecurity master’s programs prepare computer science, information systems, and other experienced professionals to fill management, analytical, investigative, and/or technical leadership roles in the cybersecurity and cyber operations fields. UMBC’s Cybersecurity Master’s and Graduate Certificate programs are offered in-person in Catonsville (UMBC campus) and in Rockville (UMBC at the Universities at Shady Grove).

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