Women In Cybersecurity introduces KITT content expert Robin Abernathy

March 29, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Posted in Careers, Certification Paths, CISSP, CompTIA, cybersecurity, Knowledge | Leave a comment
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Women In Cybersecurity is a quarterly IT blog feature that addresses news and information for women who wish to find out more about careers in cybersecurity.

If you were asked to picture a noted cybersecurity educator and author, you might not imagine a tiny woman with bright red hair and a thick Alabama drawl—that is, until you saw one of her CISSP instructional videos or tried to fit into her standing-room only panel at the recent (ISC)2 conference. And if you were interested in earning one of those security certifications that routinely make top ten lists—certifications like CISA, CISM, and CISSP—you’d find that she wrote not only the practice test, but frequently wrote or co-wrote the textbook as well.

Robin is no stranger to challenge. Her career journey has been a noteworthy progression, as IT in general and cybersecurity in particular are still fields primarily populated with males. Like many IT specialists, she followed a non-traditional career path, starting behind the counter in a strip-mall PC shop in the 80s. She taught herself PC repair, moved from sales to desktop administration, and then took a variety of jobs in network administration and database administration. Robin honed her skills at the primary IT support specialist at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, where she was responsible for many of the institution’s computer security initiatives, including software updates and documentation, culminating in a coordinated response to the Y2K crisis.

Robin’s strength as a writer and her ability to organize information enabled her to move forward in her career, and eventually led her to a job at a training provider called SelfTest Software. She’s now the shortest and the most senior member (four foot ten and 18 years, respectively) of the content development team at Kaplan IT Training (formerly Transcender and SelfTest Software).  Her twin specialties are project management and cybersecurity, particularly information security and auditing. Her many certifications include CISSP, CASP, Security+, Network+, Project+, A+, PMI’s PMP and CAPM, and ITIL Foundations. Her latest textbook is the CompTIA Project+ Cert Guide: Exam PK0-004 (Certification Guide) published by Pearson IT Certification. Two forthcoming titles are the 2nd Edition CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP) CAS-003 Cert Guide (with coauthor Troy McMillan) and the 3rd Edition CISSP Cert Guide (with coauthors Sari Greene and Troy McMillan), also from Pearson IT Certification.

Robin was willing to share her experience with me for this blog post, which we hope will help students who are curious about cybersecurity careers.

Shahara: What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

Robin: I have an affinity for constant change. I thrive on it. And the world of cybersecurity has real-world direct connections. What I like are the real-world stories. There’s always something new. There are new attacks, so I have to stay abreast of the here-and-now versus the used-to-be. The knowledge you need to know is always building and changing. It’s never static.

Shahara: What do you think about certification as an enhancement to the traditional college path?

Robin: I facilitated a recent discussion at a conference where I explained why the certification route is necessary. Attendees asked me the same question, and as I told them, 15 different colleges may have 15 different curricula. I cannot truly measure your job skillset because the requirements and class emphasis will probably be different for each college. Certification standardizes what the industry expects. For instance, CISSP has a blueprint. Employers can see that you have mastered what companies are looking for once you have passed the certification. With a certification, I can assess your knowledge.

Shahara: What would you suggest that colleges and universities do to help their students?

Robin: In the future, colleges and universities might want to consider adding a practicum component to their requirements along with basic certifications.

Shahara: So what are your thoughts on the roles and possibilities for women who want to go into cybersecurity?

Robin: When I was presenting at a recent conference, I noticed that there weren’t many women in attendance, and most of the ones I did see were in support and administrative roles. I presented to about seventy participants, out of which about five were women. Let me tell you: women are needed. I want to see more women in the field. We don’t have enough people in cybersecurity in general, and we’ll only be adding more jobs as more advanced persistent threats. Everyone doesn’t have to be a programmer. There are many other opportunities that require different abilities. I say, investigate and find out where you fit best.


If you have questions, she can be reached by email: robin.abernathy@kaplan.com.

See you soon with more great stories about women in cybersecurity!

–Shahara Ruth




Microsoft Beta Exams Aren’t Free Any More – and I’m Glad

February 8, 2018 at 4:28 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Nothing is truly free in this world; it all costs something in the end. This is even true with Microsoft beta exams, that unspoken perk of the IT industry. It used to be that IT pros could register for and sit a beta exam for free. If you passed the 3+ hour exam, you got the credential and Microsoft got valuable psychometric information, plus written feedback on individual questions. Even if you failed the exam, you got a valuable free preview of the content that would help you study – again, without any cash outlay. The only drawback was waiting weeks for your score report to drop.

Given my career as a trainer, it was important for me to teach the latest classes, and I had to take the corresponding certification exams. I did not want to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket to take a certification test when I could take it for free. Well, a lot of people had the same idea, and that meant it was extremely difficult to grab a seat for a beta exam. It was almost like camping out for U2 tickets in front of the box office.

However, I’ve also noticed a strange trend in the last couple of years. Beta periods have lasted longer and longer instead of selling out immediately. I’ve been able to get a seat in every beta exam I’ve wanted for several months. Does that mean fewer people are interested in taking Microsoft exams?


I’ll come back to that. But apparently Microsoft wasn’t getting the results they needed or wanted from beta seats, so as of late November 2017, they announced that beta exams are no longer free.

The human paradox: we value the things we pay for

While it might seem like a dumb idea to take a product that you’re having a hard time giving away and start charging money for it, this is actually a really sound business principle.  It’s human nature for people to not value something that is free. It turns out that a lot of people registered for beta exams and never showed up at the test center to take the exam.


This caused the limited number of test seats to go unused. The folks that ran the test centers were upset because people did not show up. Since the exams were free, the no-show candidates weren’t penalized. The Microsoft  folks did not get their feedback. And I’m sure Microsoft wasn’t happy shouldering the facility costs involved.

Years ago, I worked for a training company that offered free one-day seminars on various technical topics. We had maximum registrations on each class, but on average, only 33% of those registrants would show up for the seminars. But when we started charging $59 for the seminars, 90% of the registrants showed up — and we ended up with the same total number of attendees as we did when the seminars were free.

What hasn’t changed: beta geo-restrictions

To my knowledge, Microsoft still places geo-restrictions on beta exams. In the past, you could not take an exam if  you were located in India, Pakistan, or China. I was told this was due to fear of the exams being pirated. The last beta that I participated in had the geo-restrictions in place, and I believe these geo-restrictions have not changed with the new fee policy.


What has changed: beta exams aren’t free—but they’re still a great deal

Although Microsoft betas aren’t free any more, they are heavily discounted. The beta exams are 80% off the price of the exam. So if the exam fee is normally $165, you will pay $33 to take the exam, which is still a heck of a bargain. And, recognizing that a beta exam isn’t a perfect testing instrument, Microsoft has built a fail-safe into the cost. If you pass, you get credit for the exam. If you fail, the funds that you paid for the beta exam will be applied to the cost of a future exam after the beta exam is scored. Beta exams can be scored from 4 to 12 weeks after the exam was taken. …So, technically, if you don’t pass, then the beta exam is still kind of free. Right?

So, as it turned out, I was winning all those free exam tickets only because Microsoft had to keep them open for longer and longer periods to get enough valid candidates. This change in the beta test policy will help out those candidates who truly want to take a test by ensuring that there will be a spot available. It will help the test centers by ensuring that seats in the center will actually be used. Of course, it will help Microsoft by making sure that the more dedicated and qualified candidates sit for the exam, which will improve their psychometric data.

All in all, I’m fine waving this particular “free” lunch goodbye.

Happy testing,

George Monsalvatge

Certification and the Real World

October 9, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Study hints | 1 Comment
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Editor’s note: Josh addresses the (somewhat frustrated) perception that the solutions you use in the daily world might never show up on certification exam scenarios, while somewhat obscure concepts…often do.

“You would never do that in the real world!”

Having been employed in the IT world for over fifteen years, I know the frustration of taking time out of your job (or your job search) to get certified for the “real world,” only to find out the exam expects you to run an operating system or application in the mystical land of Oz. You’ve heard it many times before, but it’s especially true when it comes to certification: you’re not in Kansas anymore.

In the past few years, certification has definitely embraced new technologies to emulate the workplace environment and evaluate job competency, like case studies or emulation environments. But a certification will never become your workplace. (Otherwise, the test writers of the world would take your jobs.) Exams have to test you on every function of an application or system, even if you could perform your current job using one-tenth of the available commands. But you’re getting certified to prove you’re more than a button-pusher or mouse-mover; you’re here to prove that you’re a tech wiz.

So, to help you get over the Oz culture shock, I have gathered a few tips about the way certification exams are structured, and some tips for navigating them:

  • Follow the yellow brick road – In an effort to connect questions to the “real world,” many vendors will add long, fluffy scenarios to seemingly straightforward questions. This “mood music” begins nice and easy (“You are an administrator…”), but as the lights dim, the scenario ends abruptly with a heart-thumping chord. Before getting carried away by the fluff nuance, skip down to those last couple of sentences to find out what they’re really asking. Once you have a good handle where the question is leading, go back and re-read the scenario with that core concept in mind. In some cases, the scenario isn’t even required to answer the question. In other cases, it provides the one key detail that separates the right answer from a similar alternative.
  • Avoid the poppies– Most certification exams do not have the luxury of being subtle. Certain objectives must be covered with a minimum amount of interpretation. This will require some exams to rely heavily on vendor documentation and/or customer feedback. So, remember Occam’s Razor and don’t be afraid to pick the simple or obvious answer, because often that answer is the correct one. If you’re not sure, then mark that item (if possible) and go back to it, but avoid second-guessing your first impulse. Unless you have a reason to reconsider your answer, you will be better leaving it alone.
  • If you only had a brain…. Continue Reading Certification and the Real World…

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