CodePath’s Tech Fellows are ambitious student leaders who deliver CodePath’s courses to their university campuses. Recently, I caught up with Sahana Ilanchezhian, to learn more about her experience as a Cybersecurity Tech Fellow at San Jose State University. You can read our conversation below.
Interview questions are bolded, and the scholars’ answers are italicized.
Note: this interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How’d you hear about the CodePath Tech Fellow program?
I heard about the Tech Fellow program from my university back in Fall 2019, when I was taking a CodePath course. During one of the sessions, one of CodePath’s Regional Program Managers came in, and she recommended me and my friend to actually apply for the program. We decided to give it a shot.
What is the most rewarding part of being a Tech Fellow with CodePath?
The most rewarding part is working with the students that come to the class, gaining hands-on experience, and experience in leading, recruiting and managing full sessions. And as well as meeting and making connections with people in the same cybersecurity space.
Could you tell me more about the connections you’ve made in the cybersecurity space?
Yes, as a Tech Fellow at CodePath, I’ve met so many people who are passionate about cybersecurity, including mentors like Clinton Minton and Sushma Maryada [both former CodePath students and Tech Fellows] who’ve really encouraged and motivated me to keep at it. By teaching this course for the last 3 semesters, I’ve gotten to know many students from my own school, SJSU, who are very passionate about cybersecurity and I’ve learnt a lot from them, as well.
What advice do you have for someone interested in cybersecurity?
If my time at CodePath’s taught me anything, it’s that Cybersecurity can be tough and time-consuming, but also so much fun and challenging if you keep working at it. My advice would be not to give up early because it’s going to be hard at first, as anything worth doing often is. If they’re not sure where to start, I’d tell them to take the CodePath course!
What would you tell someone considering whether to apply to be a Tech Fellow?
I would tell them to give it a shot. It’s a really rewarding experience. I think you get a lot of program management experience early on, and I think it’s really fun as well, just because you get a lot of flexibility on how you manage and lead your sessions. You can try and find out what works for you, what works for the students and how to make it fun.
How do you think these experiences can, or, will be applied to your career in Tech?
Working at CodePath has allowed me to wear several different hats. As a Tech Fellow, I’d be marketing our course and recruiting students, adapting the curriculum, teaching students, and troubleshooting bugs and installation errors. It also led me to develop some strong leadership experience very early on in my journey that I always draw on whenever I’m applying for something new, or working in a team. It’s also pushed me to learn on my feet that’s really given me the confidence I needed to pursue and complete internships in web and mobile app development.
What kind of person do you think would enjoy the TF experience as much as you did?
Any person with a genuine interest in Cybersecurity and a passion for working with people would absolutely love this job. I had so much fun going through CodePath’s cybersecurity curriculum. The CTFs [capture the flags] and security shepherd labs are fun and challenging each time. During the last two semesters, my CodePath classes were literally my favorite part of my week, because I’d get to meet and interact with so many people in a fun and casual zoom setting, whereas the rest of the week would be pretty monotonous, with camera-off and low-interaction Zoom lectures.
What’s one topic you feel like you’ve gotten more comfortable with after being a CodePath Tech fellow?
One topic that I’ve become more comfortable with, in terms of cybersecurity topics, is SQL injections and cross site scripting. When I was a student, these topics kind of went over my head. But as a Tech Fellow, I’ve had the time to practice them over and over again. So now I feel much more prepared. In terms of other topics that I’ve become more comfortable with, one is speaking in front of large audiences and breaking down complex topics into simpler things for students to grasp. It’s a skill that’s really valuable to me, and I like that I get to practice that in my time with CodePath.
You were an exemplary Tech Fellow, what traits do you think made you successful?
I’m very passionate about creating safe learning environments inside and outside the classroom. Especially with the cybersecurity course which is very intensive and challenging, I think that it’s more important than ever to normalize the fact that this is hard work and that most people, like me, won’t be able to solve these challenges in the first or even the fifth try.
At SJSU, this is a non-credit course, so the thing pushing students through the class is their genuine passion for cybersecurity. I want to do that justice by making my classes as engaging and interesting as possible. This means not being afraid to try something new, and always pushing the boundaries of how we teach and learn. This mindset has brought some really interesting ideas out of my team’s brainstorming sessions like using cornell-style notes during lectures, making fun and flashy presentations each week, and having students lead the lab sessions. I like to think that going the extra mile to make the class enjoyable has allowed us to keep student attendance, submissions, and overall engagement during class high, even during the Pandemic.
As of Fall 2021, Sahana has taken on the role of CodePath’s Regional Program Manager. In addition to leading the cybersecurity community at San Jose State University, she will also be helping CodePath Tech Fellows across the country master their skills and lead their own communities.
Interested in CodePath’s Tech Fellow program? You can learn more here: https://info.codepath.org/campus