This interview is part of the City of Philadelphia’s Most Diverse Tech Hub initiative. Campus Philly is featuring the “Philly stories” of Black and Brown tech founders, entrepreneurs, and young professionals who are making an impact in the region, demonstrating why the Philadelphia region IS the most diverse tech hub.
Tyler Ramdass is a Jr. Cyber Security Specialist at Sabre Systems, Inc., a Warminster-based technology solutions company serving the national defense, federal civilian, and commercial spaces. In this role, he works on cybersecurity solutions for the commercial sector, including compliance assessment, vulnerability and risk detection, and a variety of other cybersecurity roles.
A native of the Philly area, Tyler grew up just a short SEPTA ride away from Philadelphia and has spent the vast majority of his life here. Tyler has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Arcadia University and a Master’s degree in Security Informatics from Johns Hopkins. Outside of school and work, Tyler loves to explore the area with friends, take nature walks, read, and learn how to draw.
Tell us about your “Philly story.” What is your connection to the area?
My parents immigrated to the US from Trinidad and Tobago, and they chose the Philadelphia area to settle into, so this area really is my home! I was born and raised in Abington, Pennsylvania, and have spent my entire life in the Philadelphia area—living in Hatboro, Roslyn, and Horsham. I graduated from Abington Senior High School and Arcadia University, so a great deal of my personal development has happened right here in this region.
Philly itself has always been a fun place to be, whether it’s seeing the Sixers play at the Wells Fargo Center, attending a concert at The Met, or just walking through the city with friends—there’s always something fun to do and good times to be had. One of my favorite things to do is just walk through Chinatown with my friends and enjoy a delicious meal.
Some people know what they want to do right out of the gate. Did you know right away that you wanted to work in computer science, and, later on, cyber security? Was it a smooth journey getting there?
Honestly, I was about as far from knowing what I wanted to do as humanly possible. In high school, I went back and forth between so many different paths in my head, including medicine, writing, and law. Eventually, I came back around to medicine. So, I went into engineering, specifically bioengineering. I ended up going to a pretty great engineering school; and even though I loved the people, I discovered that major wasn’t for me. I didn’t do well, and my motivation was shot, but I ended up sticking it out for the full school year to see if I could turn it around (not the wisest move), but I eventually ended up leaving that school.
At that time, I was at a complete loss for what to do. I realized that the computer science classes I took in high school were something I always enjoyed and would be happy to study more of. Fast forward to the next semester, I started at Arcadia University and immediately knew that I made the right choice. I went from a pretty mediocre engineering student to a straight-A computer science student, and I hadn’t even learned about cyber security yet!
I wanted to include this to make sure that students know that it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to not know what you want to do, and it’s okay if your journey isn’t a smooth ride. What’s important is that you get up and keep on fighting. Learn from your mistakes and just give it your best shot—you’ll surprise yourself. If my freshman self knew that he’d go from a pretty bad engineering student to getting his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins, he’d be in complete shock.
Your Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science could have taken you down a number of different paths. What drew you to a career in Cyber Security?
I discovered cyber security while working on my undergraduate degree. I took a class titled “Introduction to Network Security.” From there, I really fell in love with the material, owing heavily to the teaching style and hands-on lessons of my professor, Dr. Vitaly Ford. He later became a mentor to me, helping me to discover that cyber security really is my passion. That same mentorship is also what led me to Sabre Systems, as he was the one who introduced me to the company!
What is a typical day like as a Junior Cyber Security Specialist at Sabre Systems?
A typical day at Sabre Systems really depends on what projects I’m working on. On any given day, I could be developing policies, procedures, and plans for a client, setting up cybersecurity awareness lessons, or writing up a report and presentation to discuss how to improve a customer’s cybersecurity posture. While here, I’ve had the fortune of working on so many different types of projects, from compliance to penetration testing to vulnerability scanning, and it’s helped me diversify my skillset. The sky has really been the limit, and Sabre is always willing to help you achieve what you want to achieve.
While attending Arcadia University, you began interning at Sabre Systems, where you now work as a Junior Cyber Security Specialist. When did you first realize that you wanted to stay at Sabre Systems to launch your career, and what tips do you have for students interested in turning their internship into a full-time job?
I realized that I wanted to stay at Sabre Systems not long after I started working there. The company has always been extremely supportive of its employees, including myself. Plus, I felt a connection to what I was doing and knew that it was a great place to develop as a professional. The cyber team is full of talented individuals who offer so much, and I learn so much from them all the time.
As for tips on turning your internship into a full-time job: it’s really important to go in every day and be the best version of yourself that you can be. Not every day is going to be great, but do your best. Additionally, try to be a part of the community within your organization. Get to know people, whether they’re in your department or not. This is obviously harder with the pandemic and remote work, but it’s not impossible! Really becoming a part of the team and showing that you’re valuable to the company and its people goes a long way. At least, that’s what’s worked for me.
How did you balance working at Sabre Systems part-time while also pursuing a Master’s degree at Johns Hopkins in Security Informatics? Any advice for other graduate students who are also working while pursuing an advanced degree?
Balancing working with graduate school was a tough task, but, admittedly, the timing of the pandemic made things a little more manageable. The first two semesters of my program were done remotely, so I was able to live at home and work from home and could switch from my personal computer to my work computer really quickly. For the final semester of grad school, I moved down to Baltimore and was able to take my work with me. While at school, I was fortunate enough to have earned a scholarship that covered tuition and living expenses, so I could afford to cut my hours down to a manageable level. It was very important, though, that school came first; a view shared by myself, my family, and Sabre Systems.
My experience with working during graduate school is probably a bit different than other experiences due to the inherent remote-friendly nature of my job. I think it’s really important to establish that balance between work and school. I went to school full-time, but many schools, including Johns Hopkins, have degrees specifically for working professionals that can work around your schedule. Remember to take care of yourself and work smart. Make time for things that can help you relax or de-stress (for me, that might be writing, drawing, listening to music, or playing a video game). Advanced degrees can be overwhelming and are hard work as it is, and that is often exacerbated by working a job at the same time. Manage your time well and practice self-care—it goes a long way!
Out of all the things you did to prepare for a career in cyber security (classes, internships, joining organizations, advanced degrees), what prepared you the most for success?
I think my classes and internships honestly prepared me the most for success, including my undergraduate and graduate degree programs. My undergraduate classes were a more breadth-focused experience in Computer Science, but it still built the foundation for a love of learning and the desire to work hard at everything I do. My graduate classes really focused on the different areas of cybersecurity and built up a strong, varied skillset that allows me to feel confident in taking on challenges. Additionally, my internship showed me different areas of working in cybersecurity, from the policy side to the more technical, hands-on side. Working on both sides really allowed me to develop into a well-rounded individual. A lot of tech people seem to fear the policy/writing side, but I think it can be just as fun!
If you were to offer ONE piece of advice for a college student interested in pursuing a career in cyber security, what would it be?
There are so many things that I want to say here, but I think what it boils down to is keeping an open mind and trying different things with earnest. Cybersecurity is a massive field with different areas that, at a glance, are nothing like each other and can seem intimidating when they’re introduced to you. Give them an honest attempt, and you might find that the thing that you were scared of is actually the most fun part for you! Explore cyber security, and you might find yourself surprised by what’s out there to work on.
As an example, while in grad school, I signed up for a Space Systems Cybersecurity class despite knowing anything about space. As it turns out, it was one of the most fun, interesting, and engaging classes I’d ever taken, and now space cybersecurity is something I am extremely interested in. Who’d have guessed?