Posted on May 9, 2022 by Wendy Frost

Feeling like she never really belonged in the world of cyber security, Hannah Hardee’s impostor syndrome finally lifted when she was offered a position as an associate technical analyst in cyber security with Southwest Airlines. On this path since middle school, Hardee will complete her journey when she receives her B.B.A. in cyber security this month from the UTSA Carlos Alvarez College of Business.

A native of San Antonio, Hardee attended the Engineering and Technologies Academy at Roosevelt High School following her passions for computers and forensics. She even competed four years with their Cyber Patriot competition team.

“I knew I had an interest in computers,” said Hardee. “That is why I chose UTSA. They have a really good cyber security program. It was the only school that I wanted to go to. UTSA is where it is at.”

Reflecting this past semester on her UTSA experiences, Hardee credits her involvement at UTSA and with the arts as making her a well-rounded individual. She worked as a peer mentor, competed with the college’s Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition team, joined the Women in Cyber Security organization and was a member of UTSA’s Swing Dance Society.

Hardee questioned her pursuit of a career in cyber security due to these outside interests. “I’ve been surrounded by people who it is what they love to do so they eat, sleep and dream it,” she said. But, that was not me, so I always thought I wasn’t doing it right. My hobbies were my arts. I love singing, dancing and performing.”

While thinking about changing her major, one of her arts professors told her something that kept her on this path. “She told me to do something to feed my stomach and something to feed my soul,” she said.

Hardee also credits the Alvarez College with making her a well-rounded student as well. As a cyber security major in a business school, she learned not only the technical skills required in her profession, but she became well versed in the soft skills of management, communication and leadership.

“I always knew that I wanted to work with people,” she said. “I like to think of myself as a natural manager. All of those business courses helped me better understand business and got me where I am today.”

Convinced that she truly belonged in the cyber security field, she began exploring the best career path for her skill set. Meeting with an alumnus, she soon learned about the field of governance, risk and compliance, and it seemed like a natural fit for her.

Working throughout college to fund her education, she also completed two internships that further solidified her interests. Working for a small, managed service provider, she got her first introduction to compliance helping them become HIPA compliant and loved every minute of it. She also was the campus manager at SmartCode Coding Academy teaching children technology assets.

“I’ve been able to apply the business skills that I’ve learned to help run this business,” she said. “And, I also had the technical background to provide the instructors with technical advice when they needed assistance.”

On a whim, Hardee applied for a scholarship to attend the national conference of the Women in Cyber Security organization. She wanted an opportunity to travel as part of her college experience, but hadn’t been able to pursue that goal due to her work schedule. It wasn’t until several months later that she learned she won the scholarship and would be attending the conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I didn’t attend the conference to look for a job,” she said. “I had my work with SmartCode, and I had secured another internship for the summer. I’ve always gravitated toward small businesses, not corporate ones, but this opportunity fell into my lap.”

Southwest reached out to her several times to encourage her to apply with their organization due to her participation with the Women in Cyber Security conference. After a phone interview, she was invited to interview with them in person at the conference.

“Hearing them talk and seeing how passionate they were solidified that I belonged there,” she said. “They are one of the few airlines that do their cyber security support in house. I’m really excited to be in an environment where they care about their people so much.

“Knowing that I’m going to be able to provide for myself and my family is an unbeatable feeling,” she said. “It is very surreal that everything I’ve worked for has paid off.”

Hardee shared that when giving advice to her peers she tells them that even if you have a 4.0 GPA it doesn’t guarantee you a job. Instead she credits her time spent with student organizations, mentoring and networking with setting her apart.

“UTSA has had the resources to help me whenever I needed it,” she said. “Everything from free textbooks in the library to professional support from the Career Center. Building on that foundation, I’ve been able to achieve my goals.”

— Wendy Frost