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Seize the opportunities: This former MDC student landed a full-time cybersecurity job at AWS while still in school | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


By Nancy Dahlberg

Bryant Pickford learned computer programming in high school but software development just didn’t interest him as a profession. Reading about the cyberattacks in the news, he thought he might want to go into the cybersecurity field but at the time there weren’t clear pathways for that specialty. He told his Coral Reef Senior High guidance counselor that what he really wanted to do didn’t exist yet.

After working for a couple of years, Pickford enrolled in a yearlong cybersecurity program at University of Miami, in a class full of people twice his age. Although he came into the class with little tech knowledge, he excelled and got a job afterward helping local companies rebuild their systems after a cyberattack. However, he wanted to learn much more about cybersecurity – and cloud computing, another area that interested him – and enrolled at Miami Dade College in 2020. Little did he know then, he would find that pathway into cybersecurity very soon.   

At MDC, Pickford quickly earned an Associate in Science in Enterprise Cloud Computing, along with an Associate in Arts in Computer Science, and in 2022 he had completed a Bachelors of Science in Cybersecurity, all while working. He also obtained more than a dozen recognized industry certifications from AWS, Microsoft, CompTIA, IBM and others as part of his classes or on his own.

With each new certificate program MDC offered, Pickford recalled, “I would think ‘it’s hard, oh well, too bad, it’s already hard anyway,’ so I would take the course – and I ended up falling in love with it.”

Miami Dade College, as well as other schools, offer certifications and degree programs that can be stacked, giving students a clear pathway to an internship, apprenticeship or first job, as well as a means to skill up. As Miami’s technology sector continues its growth trajectory, these stackable programs are important in building a tech talent pipeline in South Florida, particularly in high-demand fields such as cybersecurity and enterprise cloud computing. That’s why Miami Tech Works is an initiative focused on fueling the talent pipeline by offering access to resources and creating pathways for students, particularly through its work with its Miami Tech Talent Coalition.

The way Pickford sees it, tech employers are looking for three things: work experience, certifications in certain topics, and of course education. As a young guy, he couldn’t do much about the experience so he went deep on the certifications and education. “What I could do is just amass an insane amount of knowledge and certifications that validates what I know and then from there, speak my way into getting jobs.”

Pickford stacked up credentials at a remarkable rate. During the pandemic, schools were able to prioritize online certificate programs, Pickford explains. “Miami Dade really took that a step further and started partnering with a lot of tech companies, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and other ones. I would agree to everything, even if I was already taking four or five classes. By the time I graduated, if I’m being honest, I probably got 15 certifications.” The courses were free for the students, as well as the exams.

Pickford’s hard work paid off very quickly with a full-time job as a Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Miami after AWS’s first career service session hosted at MDC in 2021 — even before he finished his MDC cybersecurity bachelors degree.

While many students start with an internship, Pickford went straight into a job. His first position at AWS was designed to prepare him for an AWS security specialist role. Within six months at AWS, he joined his first team in engagement security, handling internal security.

Six months after that, in mid-2022, Pickford moved to New York City with AWS to be a Security Specialist Solutions Architect, and now he has logged nearly three years at AWS. “I love my job. It’s super interesting and exciting to work with global customers and solve computer problems,” Pickford says, adding that enjoys that he is always learning. “Truly, the journey of learning in this ever-evolving field is never-ending, and I’m excited to keep moving forward with it.”

Pickford, who served as vice president of  the Cybersecurity Club while at MDC, shared some  advice for students: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable. You’re not going to know everything. The path to be better is filled with very uncomfortable circumstances. To this day, I still get uncomfortable taking certification exams. Just keep going.”

Also, he said, don’t worry about learning it all at once. “Try to get really good at one thing and that one thing will essentially force you to eventually add to it.  Also, create side projects in your spare time. Just don’t think about it as going to class, make tech a part of your life. Even to this day, I still do fun tech projects.”

We would add one more: Be like Bryant. Never stop learning and seize the opportunities.

Pickford remains committed to supporting MDC with mentorship sessions and engaging with students. He recently flew to Miami in April to support the AWS Deep Racer simulation at MDC’s booth at the eMerge Americas conference.

He hopes more companies will choose Miami for their tech expansions. If they passed on South Florida in the past, they should take another look, he says.

“I think Miami can be that next hub. The talent exists. [Miami] just has to prepare for it – create the offices, the culture, the resources to make it work. I’ve met plenty of incredibly smart, talented people, and it’s sad when they say ‘I don’t see the opportunities’.”

Pickford enjoys living and working in the Big Apple but doesn’t expect to live there forever. Will his career bring this Miami native back someday? “I’m sure my mom would love that.”

Miami Dade College alum Bryant Pickford, now working at AWS, is shown here with Antonio Delgado, MDC’s VP of Innovation and Tech Partnerships. Pickford talked to students and attendees at MDC’s booth at eMerge Americas this year.

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For employers: How to get involved in the Miami Tech Talent Coalition

Your involvement can make a significant difference in shaping the future of Miami’s tech industry, creating a vibrant and sustainable tech talent ecosystem. Together, participants can continue to build Miami as an innovative hub and a desirable destination for businesses and tech talent.

  • Join the Coalition here. Employers can also specify a work group they are interested in. 
  • Attend a  meeting: The next in-person Miami Tech Talent Coalition meeting is scheduled for June 13. Find out more and register here.
  • Stay connected with the coalition’s progress and updates by signing up for their newsletter here, reviewing the website here, and following Miami Tech Works on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Refresh Miami is a proud Miami Tech Works partner.

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Nancy Dahlberg
I am a writer and editor with extensive media experience and a passion for journalism and serving the community. Most of my career has been spent with the Miami Herald in business news, and my expertise is writing about tech and entrepreneurs. I love hosting this blog for Refresh Miami and we aim to be the go-to site for South Florida startup and tech news, features and views. Have news? Contact me at [email protected]. Thanks for reading!
Nancy Dahlberg
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