By Bill RocheMay 23, 2018
FORT GORDON, Ga. -- When you talk with Pfc. Lauren Shelsby, you notice two things right away: her South African accent and the intensity she radiates.
Shelsby is finishing up Cyber Operations Specialist training here and awaiting completion of her security clearance. She's ready to get to work as an Army cyber warrior after nearly a year and a half of schooling at the U.S. Army Cyber School here and the Navy-led Joint Cyber Analysis Course in Pensacola, Florida.
Although her roots are in South Africa, Shelsby says her journey to Army cyber started in the Middle East. While studying microbiology and biomechanics there, she met a U.S. Sailor and decided to leave school to return with him to the States and become a citizen.
She says she takes great pride in being an American, and that her personal set of values drove her to want to give something back to her adopted country. She says it with an air of commitment that leaves a clear impression.
"You don't become a citizen of a country and not serve," she said. "So as much as I joined the Army because of cyber, I joined the military because I wanted to do my years of service."
The cyber profession offered an opportunity to do something that interested her, that was similar to her studies.
"I was in biomechanics, which is basically programming, but on an organic level. So this is programming, but on an IT level, technology stuff, man-made technology. So the concept is the same somewhat, but in different environments," she said.
But she also chose cyber because it continually challenges her, and because it's such a huge and growing part of the world we live in.
"I knew it was constantly evolving, so I needed something that I would have to constantly be learning," she said.
"Everything that we touch, do, every single part of our lives, whether it's professional or personal or any manner of things, technology's always there. ... And staying relevant is a huge part of it, because I don't want to learn something and, first of all, end up bored with it, and second of all, not be able to move with it because it's become irrelevant."
Shelsby describes herself as an unusual cyber warrior because, unlike many of her colleagues who want to pursue offensive cyber operations, she's more interested in the defensive side, in protecting systems and networks and data from attack.
"I want to go into the defensive side, because without a good defensive strategy you don't have any offense. You don't. So the defense is the foundational building block of cyber," she said.
In the same way that technology has become pervasive, Shelsby said, to be successful in pursuing a cyber career, you have to let it take over your life. That starts with formal training and critical thinking.
"It's not just [that you] wake up and you, you just go do it, and you don't train for it and whatnot. I've been in the military for almost a year and a half already and I'm not done with training. ... So it's a huge dedication; a dedication of time and effort," she said.
"Anybody can learn from a book," she added, speaking of the JCAC. "But they teach you to think like an analyst, and that skill is more valuable than learning from a book or learning from a parroted session. You can't learn technology, because three years later it's practically obsolete. So it's the thinking pattern that they teach."
Truly dedicated cyber professionals have one other thing in common, she added -- a near obsession with the field.
"I wake up and I think about programming. I dream about programming. And it's not only that. When I go home I mess with my computer constantly. All the time. It's not just going to work and doing the job. It's actually fitting it into your personal life ... it's like you live and breathe cyber. You don't just (go to work) and do whatever, and then just leave it at the door. That's not how cyber works."
Shelsby seems to have that same passion for the Army, because she continually says she loves being in the military. And she vows that if she remains in uniform for an extended career, that she'll always be an enlisted Soldier. Ironically, she admitted that vow could prevent her from staying in, because she believes the cyber field hasn't grown enough to provide a wide array of long-range career opportunities for enlisted Soldiers interested in focusing on defensive operations. But she added that she plans to work for growth and change because she wants to stay in and help the field to advance and expand.
"If you're going to stay cyber in the military, you're going to stay because you love being in the military," she said.
After all, if you want to make money in cyber, you can make much more as a civilian, she adds. But she's quick to stress that cash doesn't matter. What matters is being able to wake up to a job she enjoys and feel like she's doing something that makes a difference. Like she's doing something larger than herself and willing to be part of a team steeped in long and proud tradition.
"It's an honor to be able to serve," she says. And when she says it you believe she truly means it.
ABOUT US: United States Army Cyber Command directs and conducts integrated electronic warfare, information and cyberspace operations as authorized, or directed, to ensure freedom of action in and through cyberspace and the information environment, and to deny the same to our adversaries.
Interested in the challenge of joining the Army Cyber team? Check out military and civilian cyber career and employment opportunities by clicking on the "Careers" tab at www.arcyber.army.mil