Tyler Cornwell

Midlands Technical College

"I used to think, I’m talented. It’ll work out. But it’s about so much more than talent."

Tyler Cornwell recently earned his Cyber Information Assurance certification from Midlands Tech, and now he is an IT Support intern at the SC Technical College System Office. But his path has not always been easy. Not as a kid, when he was bullied a lot. Not as a high schooler, when he got into trouble and butted heads with administration. And not even initially in college, when he discovered app development wasn’t his thing after all.

Fortunately, things are clearer now. “I wanna look back at the younger me and say, ‘Don’t worry. Everything’s gonna be okay.’ Because it is.”

High school may have been tough, but you also had a unique experience that helped prepare you for college.

I started high school at River Bluff and then transferred to Connections Academy for two years.

River Bluff had an ILT (Independent Learning Time) format that’s pretty much the same as college. For example, if a senior only had one class, they could go anywhere on campus during ILT, or they could even leave campus. I think that helped me a little bit with the looser structure of college.

And Connections is an online public school, so it taught me how to manage myself in that environment because it’s really easy to get distracted with online classes. You’ve got to build discipline to get your assignments in on time or you will fall off track. Since most of my classes at Midlands Tech were asynchronous, my time at Connections helped prepare me for that.

And you knew from the outset that you wanted to do something with computers?

From an early age, I’ve always been hands-on with computers, and I’ve always been pretty tech-savvy. At first, I wanted to go to college for application development and try to become a software engineer or a full-stack developer.

App development was something I enjoyed but never really saw myself doing as a career. Still, it seemed like a safe route, so I learned a little bit of C# – that’s the programming language used for a wide range of applications – and took some app development classes.

The thing that made programming cool for me was that the sky was the limit. But learning to do that on the business side was the opposite. You have to do stuff a certain way because it’s more optimal. You have to write a certain set of text a certain way because it’s more security based. That kind of took the fun out of the actual reason that I programmed.

Why did you make the switch to cybersecurity?

I like watching people try to attack things!

From 2014 on, I’ve been building computers and selling them for friends. That’s been my side gig. When people bring me a computer and say, “I broke this. Can you fix it?,” I like the challenge of troubleshooting. I used to tear down Xboxes and rebuild them. I switched out parts from old, dusty computers with newer ones to see what would happen.

To me, cybersecurity is the same kind of thing, but on a totally higher threat level. People are out there saying, “Hey, I’m trying to steal your data. How are you gonna counteract this?” I have to try to troubleshoot and solve the problem. What ports am I going to shut down? What vulnerabilities am I going to patch? What encryption protocols can I put in place?

And you’re learning a lot about this in your role as IT Support Intern at the SC Technical College System Office?

Yes. I am a HelpDesk Assistant, which means that when employees have technical problems, I come in and fix them. Like I said, I’ve been troubleshooting for a while, so I always knew things in an informal sort of way. But the team at the System Office has really helped me formalize my knowledge and use the technical terms for things. You can be educated about something, but for people to take you seriously, you’ve also got to sound educated. That’s one of the major things I’m learning in this internship.

And you’re pretty proud of landing this internship at a state agency, correct?

Yes! Working for the state is big for the resume, at least for IT, and there are lots of opportunities for scaling. Entering the IT field is hard without any experience. The first two years after graduation, you have to get IT experience – internships, working HelpDesk jobs. Experience, experience, experience – I cannot stress that enough.

Because in the workforce, you’re going to get more nos than yeses. I did cold calls. I drove to different businesses and made inquiries. I probably applied for 30 different positions, shooting shots in the dark, trying to hit the target.

Now I feel like I’m in, and that feels good.

I used to think, I’m talented. It’ll work out. But it’s about so much more than talent.

It’s about connections. If I’m trying to find a job and I have connections with somebody who works in cybersecurity, then they can reach out to somebody who can reach out to somebody.

It’s about experience. You can go to school for years on end, but the dude who went to school for two years with two years of experience can do more than a guy who has four years of education and no experience.

It’s about strategy. This summer, I’m going to be studying for the CompTIA CySA+ exam, which basically certifies me as a cybersecurity analyst, which would put me in the middle for the payroll and the title. You can have a bunch of education and a bunch of titles, but it’s the things that stack against each other that really count.

It’s about discipline and maturity. This isn’t high school, where everything is all set out for you. You have to keep yourself in check to get things done, but you also have to go after what you want. After the summer, I’ll have two certifications and can set out to get my bachelor’s degree in finance. From there, I can start my own cybersecurity surveillance business.