Chanthea Quinland: Bringing cybersecurity to her local community and beyond
While most cybersecurity professionals are inspired by action-packed movies or articles about complicated international hacks, Chanthea Quinland was first inspired by the security concerns she saw at her local community center.
While working for her local Department of Youth and community development center’s help desk, she noticed many users openly sharing sensitive data with staff or online.
“I noticed many users would be open to sharing sensitive information due to their trusting nature. This piqued my interest as many of the policies we created were disregarded due to emotions,” Quinland shared in an interview with Infosec.
“No matter how well thought through all the training and all the policies were, it didn’t really matter because people are often driven by emotion,” noted Quinland, inspiring her to study social engineering and how to protect against it.
Paired with her nature to help others, that’s when Quinland knew she wanted to join the cybersecurity community.
And as a 2021 Undergraduate Infosec Scholarship winner, Infosec is excited to help her reach her goals.
Beginning her cybersecurity journey
Quinland, a computer science major in Smith College’s Class of 2023, first moved to America from the Caribbean island of Antigua in 2018. After a year of foundational courses at a local community college in New York, Quinland entered Smith College to focus on computer science and networking.
At Smith College, Quinland’s love for cybersecurity has deepened, especially after finding student and community groups focused on the field and those interested in helping women join and excel in the industry. Quinland is also already beginning to share her experience and her knowledge with others in her community.
“I found online communities such as Women in InfoSec Caribbean and Black Girls Hack, and I created a Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) chapter at my school. Through my passion for cyber, I not only found community, but I found a way to share my passion with others through service.”
A recipe for success: Mentorship and a love of learning
For those looking to follow in Quinland’s footsteps, she has found two key ingredients: mentorship and a love of learning.
Through her involvement in WiCyS and Black Girls Hack, Quinland has found mentors excited to help her make connections in the cybersecurity community and navigate her way through course selection. While initially nervous about being paired with professionals working in the field, Quinland recommends others find a program themselves.
“I was a bit nervous about what to expect, but I was able to learn a lot from him, and he was also able to equally learn from me from our sessions.” While one mentor helps her keep up with the latest cybersecurity news and network with others, another, via Black Girls in Cyber, serves as a career mentor.
Together, Quinland has felt the emphasis on what it takes to succeed in the industry: being open to learning and always accepting feedback positively.
“Cybersecurity is something that’s changing every day. Every day something new happens. And if we say ‘I’ve learned enough, I’ve got a certificate, I’ve got a degree, that’s it for me,’ that’s not going to work.”
Instead, Quinland’s approach focuses on staying open-minded, pursuing lifelong learning and recognizing that there’s never a time when you can’t learn from someone else.
The value of communication and community
The best piece of career advice Quinland has received so far focuses on the value of communication, another essential skill for young cybersecurity professionals.
Following several months of performing well in a course, Quinland hit a bump in one of her classes and couldn’t stay on top of things. After getting a grade she wasn’t proud of and beginning to fight the urge to give up, her professor reminded her of the power of asking for help.
“She said, ‘Quiet mouths don’t get fed,'” Quinland shared, “She was making a reference to the fact that if I needed the help, the help was there.”
Until then, Quinland didn’t ask for help.
“I was just there trying to figure it all out by myself. And in the end, it didn’t work out for me. So going forward from that semester, I talk to my professors every chance I get; I go to tutoring. If there’s at least one sentence I don’t understand, I make a note and ask my professor about it. I took the initiative of not letting that happen again.”
Turning the tables, Quinland also recognizes the value of cybersecurity professionals understanding their role in educating and informing everyday users without jargon, ensuring that everyone understands what you are trying to share with them.
“Your job is to educate people and help people; you can’t expect to communicate the same way to your team that you would to an end-user. It’s two different audiences.”
Looking ahead and giving back
With about a year left in her degree program, Quinland is exploring her options with the help of her mentors and her Infosec Scholarship.
After college, Quinland decides between graduate school in cybersecurity (with a policy focus) or entering the workforce in a security awareness and training position. In either case, Quinland’s near-term goal is to achieve the Security+ certification and begin projects in cryptography.
“The cybersecurity industry is the perfect place for lifelong learning, and this Infosec scholarship will help me achieve that and strengthen my skills in cybersecurity.”
In the long term, Quinland dreams of something even grander.
“I plan to one day create a space for young girls in Antigua interested in cybersecurity. The skills I gain from Infosec will help me encourage others like me to pursue their passion for cyber.”