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Keep Notes, Network and Don’t Forget the Fundamentals: Advice from a U of M Grad Turned Security Leader | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
April 5, 2016
Steen Fjalstad

Each morning, when millions of people across the Midwest region wake up, flip on the light switch and successfully illuminate a room, they in part have Steen Fjalstad to thank.

Fjalstad helps to secure the Bulk Electric Power System, which provides electric power to North America. He is also a graduate of the University of Minnesota Technological Leadership Institute’s (TLI) M.S. in Security Technologies (MSST) program.

“I knew I would learn from the professors and the materials, but I wasn’t expecting the human interpersonal dynamic capabilities of the program,” Fjalstad explains.

MSST students are assigned study groups, in which they work for the entire 14 months of the degree program. Before the first day of class, Fjalstad and his group met and came up with a plan. Each member would take turns being the scribe for a particular day’s class, and those notes would be a shared Google document that Fjalstad still references today.

“We have roughly 140 classes’ worth of notes from all five people,” he says. “I can go back and look at any of the topics we covered. I wasn’t expecting to get so much value from those notes.”

Fjalstad became interested in the MSST degree program when his career began to shift from IT audit and controls to a more holistic security role.

“What I’ve learned is that the people who are the most pursued by employers are the people who can actually do the work,” Fjalstad says. “I wanted [a degree program] that could give me technical training and hands-on experience versus just management skills. It gives you more tools on your tool belt.”

Fjalstad has a bachelor’s degree in management of computer systems along with several security certifications, but says he knew a master’s degree would help him move forward professionally.

“Experience trumps everything, but what I learned in the MSST degree program gave me the knowledge and confidence to go in front of executives and advise as an expert,” he explains. “It gave me credibility, even though I did not have the years of experience they do.”

In addition to his day job, Fjalstad is also president of the Minnesota chapter of ISACA, an association that engages in the use of globally accepted practices for information systems. Fjalstad says he’s been able to apply the policymaking strategies taught as part of the MSST curriculum in both roles.

“I joined the ISACA board four years ago because I thought the organization could improve in some areas,” he says. “In the MSST Partnership in Conflict Management classes, we learned how to make change without actually blowing the whistle. We learned how to think about it differently – Will we really be better off by making the change? Or can we approach it a different way?”

Along with his involvement with ISACA, Fjalstad plans annual security conferences, for which he draws on the network he built as student at TLI. Fjalstad also puts this network to good use serving as an advisor on the local Twin Cities Cyber Security Summit.

“As you advance in your career in the security industry, it’s all about the people you know,” says Fjalstad. “The MSST professors, guest speakers, and classmates are now a network of experts that I can call on to discuss particular topics.”

Fjalstad says he would “absolutely” recommend the MSST degree to security professionals looking to further their expertise. He also says the fundamental skills learned in the degree program have provided the most value in his career because he can apply them to any situation he encounters.

“Retain and understand the tools and models you learned outside of how you applied them. This is my metaphor: Keep your tools – your paintbrushes and paint – separate from the art you created. It’s hard to go back and create new art without your tools. The MSST program has expanded my security palette.”

The Master of Science in Security Technologies degree program has equipped hundreds of graduates like Fjalstad with the necessary skills to lead the rapidly growing security industry. Attend an MSST information session to learn how this degree program can benefit your career.

I wanted a degree program that could give me technical training and hands-on experience versus just management skills. It gives you more tools on your tool belt.

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