Roadrunner Spotlight: Cyber Security Major Brandon Taylor Bonnell
Making the 3,600 mile trip from his hometown in Honolulu, Brandon Taylor Bonnell chose to study at the UTSA College of Business because of its top-ranked cyber security program. Finishing his last semester in the program this spring, Bonnell’s adventure was a smart one. He’ll graduate with three completed internships, participated in multiple cyber security competitions, co-founded the CompTIA student chapter and helped facilitate UTSA’s first student-led cyber security conference.
Cyber Law & Legal System with faculty member Peter Beaudette is a bucket list worthy class for any UTSA cyber security major and my most engaging upper division information systems course while pursuing my minor in digital forensics. While many students focus on the business and technical aspects of information security, having a foundational understanding of how digital investigation and cyber practices affect and apply to judicial issues, laws, law enforcement and businesses as a whole is important. By the end of the course, I came out with a deep background in legal issues relevant to the cyber security industry and was able to identify the steps and protocols that businesses in my internships perform as a precaution to avoid future litigation and lower overall risk.
Rita Mitra, Ph.D. has my upmost gratitude and respect for contributing to my academic success in and during the pandemic last year. At first I was timid about my coding abilities and made it transparent to her when I enrolled in her Intermediate Object-Oriented Programming course. However, by the end of the semester, she helped me gain that confidence and even motivated me to deepen my understanding of more than one programming language such as Java, Bash and Python. With Professor Mitra’s ability to be interpersonal with the class and individual students, flexible in an asynchronous class style despite my four-hour time zone difference, and adapting course material to be relevant and applicable to my collegiate InfoSec competitions is why I implore every student to register for her class when they have the chance.
How has COVID affected your studies or you personally this semester?
Unfortunately back in March 2020, I had to resign my position at Chaparral Village as a resident assistant with UTSA’s Housing & Residence Life and move back home to Honolulu, Hawaii to support my family due to the pandemic. While it was bittersweet to be living in paradise again, COVID-19 took a toll on my motivation, and I spent a few months dwelling on the uncertainty of my future post-graduation in May 2021. In June my ambition to make myself more marketable within cyber security sparked again when I tuned into an AccessCyber podcast episode with the host and Exeltek Consulting Group’s Chief Information Security Officer, Gotham Sharma, and current Chief Operating Officer at Orpheus Cyber, Karla Reffold. Their chat and insight on recruiting, the state of the industry and encouraging words for prospective cyber professionals like myself who can break into the industry despite the entry-level barriers was inspirational. Since that summer and with the help of others, I have exceeded my own professional development goal expectations by landing three internships; creating a like-minded cyber security chapter at UTSA; participating in multiple cyber competitions; and contributing to facilitating UTSA’s first inaugural student-led cyber security conference promoting the education of future I.T. professionals featuring my favorite InfoSec professionals, Karla Reffold and Gotham Sharma as guest speakers.
What have you learned most from your program of study thus far?
The most important thing one will learn while earning their cyber security degree is not programming, not cryptography, or network security, but the importance of community. Take the advice from someone who moved from Hawaii to Texas and only knew one person from the islands on move-in day. How many times are you willing to invest into a group, organization or mentor that aligns with your professional goals is going to be the deciding factor on your level of undergraduate success in this program. Cyber security is an ocean of complexity, but classroom knowledge can only take one so far. Students tend to undermine developing the communication and interpersonal skills versus the technical skills. It is key that they become adaptive and take that first step to reach out to a community to acquire the resources and support for both types of skills. If new cyber security students do not know where to look at first, I highly encourage them to join the CompTIA Student Chapter at UTSA.
Any organizations or activities that you’ve been involved with in the COB or at UTSA?
Currently I am heavily involved as the co-founder and officer for the CompTIA Student Chapter at UTSA. Since June 2020, I have been actively building a like-minded collegiate cyber security community and helping transition our members from students to entry-level cyber security professionals through hosting professional guest speakers, participating in information security competitions and facilitating CompTIA certification workshops. In December, I served as one of the executive chairs and the marketing team lead for RowdyCon. This chapter has given its members and I the opportunity to showcase our skills outside of the classroom. I am also more than proud to have been on the competitive SOC team that placed 2nd in the 2020 UTSA Cyber Range SOCathon competition. Additionally, I am grateful to compete and learn threat hunting and digital investigation skills alongside my CTF competition teammates. Together we placed seventh nationally at Elastic’s Battle of the Universities: Capture the Flag with Elastic Security virtual event in December 2020.
What are you watching, reading or listening to right now?
Currently I am watching NetworkChuck’s channel on YouTube, reading Darril Gibson’s “CompTIA Security+ SY0-501 Study Guide” and listening to Gotham Sharma’s AccessCyber podcast and Monica Verma’s We Talk Cyber podcast to learn relevant and marketable skills, prepare for my certification exams, stay updated on current state of the industry and to help myself narrow down a specific specialized future role within cyber security.
Professional work experience or internships that you’ve participated in?
Last June I completed a remote summer externship with AT&T where I received entry-level training in human resources, finance, advertising, media and technology, communication and leadership. Since August 2020, I have been a cyber security remote intern for Mossé Cyber Security Institute to continue learning relevant cyber skills such as performing network vulnerability scans and exploiting web or application vulnerabilities with various tools. I have been writing cyber-related blog articles as a freelance content creator for AccessCyber. This spring I will have the privilege of joining B.E.A.T LLC. as a cyber security analyst intern under the mentorship of John Arce, director, Cyber Security Community of Practice.
What are your future career plans?
With the uncertainty of the pandemic, I am constantly reviewing my options between full-time professional work opportunities in Texas or home in the Hawaiian Islands post-graduation (May 2021) to proactively bridge an understanding of business functionality, information security controls and forensic investigation. Whether it is a contingency for the uncertain job market in May or for my far-off future academic endeavors, I plan on pursuing a Master of Science in Information Security and Privacy (ISP) degree from the University of Texas at Austin or a Master of Science in Information Technology, Cyber Security concentration degree from UTSA. The more I have studied cyber security in these past almost four years, the more complex it becomes and makes me even more indecisive on choosing a specific professional role roadmap. As of now, getting into Red Team Security Operations sparks my interest and will be the closest job in my field to feeling like the social engineering team from the George Clooney Ocean’s heist films.