Professional development

Passion and perseverance equal success for this inspiring scholarship winner

January 20, 2022 by Ali Hadley

Scholarship winner Edelia McDaniel is dedicated, intelligent and inspiring.

Filled with passion and positive energy, this first-generation college student, immigrant, manager and mother practices perseverance every day, proving that anything is possible if you work hard.

Learn how this up-and-coming cyber pro harnesses her hunger for security to help protect, uplift and inspire others.

Overcoming obstacles fuels professional success

To say McDaniel has come a long way in her career would be an understatement. Two decades ago, she was living and working in her home country of Venezuela, where professional opportunities are limited. Especially for women in tech.

Instead of empowering her to close the career gap, McDaniel’s professors and peers challenged her aspirations, making it difficult to break into the industry. “I knew I wanted to be in technology from a very early age,” she says, “and people thought I was crazy. Every one of my friends either wanted to be a lawyer, or they wanted to be in education, but no one wanted to be in technology, only the guys.”

However, despite criticism, McDaniels earned her degree in Computer Science, an incredibly impressive accomplishment considering the obstacles she overcame to attend college in Venezuela. “It was definitely a challenge, but I made myself finish along the way,” she says. “Teachers were difficult because they didn’t think some of the girls should be there. It was quite a challenge, but I didn’t let that stop me.”

After a short stint working for the Venezuelan government, McDaniel decided she wanted more. With her sights set on new opportunities, she packed up her life, left her loved ones behind, and moved to the U.S., bringing only her life savings and unyielding ambition along.

Channeling her passion into protection

While passion came naturally to McDaniel, she knew she’d need to learn English if she wanted to advance her career in the U.S. So, once she arrived in New Orleans, she spent all she had on English courses, enrolled at Tulane University, and wasted no time getting started

After graduating from Tulane, McDaniel secured a position at Palm Spring Unified School District, where she’s worked for the past 20 years. This role, however, is more than just a job: it’s her proudest professional accomplishment thus far.

As manager of the one-to-one program, McDaniel and her team set up devices and hot spots for 26,000 students across 27 schools. “I love what I do,” she says. “I took the program in as a baby, and I shaped it into the child that it is right now. And it’s still growing.”

When COVID forced schools to go remote, McDaniel worked diligently to ensure every kid had access to education, which isn’t always a given in certain communities. “I’m very proud of what I can do for the school district and for the kids and the staff. It might sound cliche, but I know a lot of the kids and their families don’t have the means to get technology in their homes. The fact that we’re providing this for them and making it possible for them to get a great education, that right there makes it all worth it.

Though McDaniels loves to help kids stay connected, she’s making the switch to cybersecurity in hopes of making the internet safer. With the right training and certifications, McDaniel plans to mitigate attacks, increase security awareness and ultimately, protect the kids in her schools.

Inspiring advice from an experienced pro

While McDaniel works on breaking into cybersecurity, these six pieces of advice have helped her achieve paramount success so far.

#1. Harness your hunger

For some, the desire to work, learn and lead is lukewarm. For others, it’s electric. Such is the case for McDaniel, whose career arc is living proof that passion will get you far. You just have to know how to use it.

Channeling this hunger into motivation is what will fuel your success, says McDaniels. It’s what will drive you to overcome obstacles –– and make every accomplishment more rewarding.

#2. Never stop learning 

“If you don’t stay up to date with everything, then you won’t be successful,” McDaniel warns. From learning new technologies to keeping up with ever-changing trends, this 20-year tech veteran emphasizes the importance of prolific learning. “You should continue your education every day.”

#3. Stay on top of your certifications

While hands-on experience and soft skills will help you succeed in the industry, McDaniel says that certifications will help you stand out. “Certify, certify, certify.” McDaniel stresses. “They’re vital in this industry.”

#4. Sharpen your investigative skills

As someone in charge of keeping kids safe online, McDaniel says you must remain attentive, keeping a close eye on details. This, she says, is the key to preventing cybercrime. “You have to be very focused on finding those little holes in the network to make it safer.”

#5. Stay true to yourself

No matter what level of professional success you achieve, McDaniels stresses the importance of staying humble. “Make sure that you don’t lose who you are along the way,” she says. “Know where you come from and keep working towards being what you want to become.”

This sentiment, she believes, is what keeps you grounded and focused on the future, especially in the face of adversity.

#6. Love what you do

While some people pick career paths because they pay well, McDaniel says that’s the wrong approach when pursuing cybersecurity. “Make sure that this is like a career that you love,” she stresses. “In this career, you have to have that.”

Doing something you enjoy will always outweigh the financial benefits, McDaniel suggests. And it’s this same love that will keep you motivated to succeed.

Aspirations for equal access

While a new job title is just the beginning, McDaniel’s next professional goal is to become a Cybersecurity Analyst, ideally within her school district.

With lifetime access to cybersecurity courses on Infosec Skills, McDaniel plans to acquire the certifications she needs to launch her new career.

However, outside of the office, McDaniel dreams of closing the career gap and inspiring the next generation of cyber pros. “I would love to start a program that mentors kids in STEM, especially girls because there is definitely a gap,” she says. “When kids are in high school or middle school, sometimes they don’t know what they want to do. But I would like to mentor them to see if [cybersecurity] is something that they want to do and let them explore this field.”

In addition to mentoring the kids in her district, McDaniel also works especially hard to be the ideal role model at home. From playing “boy sports” to exploring male-dominated career paths, McDaniel strives to show her daughter that anything is possible. “I always tell my daughter, ‘you can be whatever you want to be.’”

By making technology less intimidating (and way more fun), McDaniel hopes that her daughter will follow in her footsteps, paving the way for even more women to break into the field.

Posted: January 20, 2022
Author
Ali Hadley
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Ali is a lifelong lover of words and storytelling. As a full-time and freelance copywriter, she creates compelling content for digital platforms and print materials, focusing on the catchy, the unexpected and the evocative.

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