August 23, 2022

Student Spotlight: Tristan Luikey

Samantha Bell

BDC Cybersecurity Student Lands Job with Top Ranked Cyber Firm

Imagine landing your dream job before even being old enough to go to a bar and celebrate! Not many people go straight from receiving their high school diploma to receiving a high-powered job offer, but Tristan Luikey put in the work to make it happen.

Luikey, an eighteen-year-old Beaufort native and volunteer at the Beaufort Digital Corridor (BDC), will be relocating to Tampa for a role with ReliaQuest, a cybersecurity company that counts St. Jude's Children's Hospital, the Boston Celtics, and Hard Rock Cafe amongst its clientele.

In lieu of a college degree, he independently taught himself the fundamentals of cybersecurity and ethical hacking, dedicating several hours each day to hone his craft on his own time after school. In addition, he also started his own cybersecurity consulting side-hustle, carrying out penetration tests for local businesses. But Tristan also credits the educational offerings and community he found at the BDC for his early success.

"[The BDC is] a great place. They offer the path and courses to learn the skills for cybersecurity, and they'll help you with resume building, gaining experience, and networking. The Beaufort Digital Corridor has helped me tremendously," said Luikey.

In August, Luikey was honored at TECHConnect, the BDC's monthly networking event. Before departing to Tampa for his new job, he was honored with a chocolate cake toast and was able to find a few minutes between congratulations to sit down for an interview.

Where do you consider home?

Right now I live in Port Royal, but soon I'll be living on my own in Tampa for work.

What was your first experience working with computers?

My first experience was in the third grade – we had an iMac and I played a lot of games on that, and that's how I got started thinking about how computers work.

It's fascinating that you were able to see past the fun of the games and question the mechanics. Is that what made you interested in computing?

No, it was hardware! Building computers, picking out parts for future computers and learning about how each part works.

When did you know you wanted to pursue cybersecurity in particular, then?

About a year ago, when I read that it didn't require a college degree. That was when I became interested!

What obstacles have you faced that have dissuaded you from college?

I've got dyslexia and ADHD, so those are obstacles, but I know how to find ways around them. Another one is my age – I'm seventeen, and finding work wasn't ideal because a lot of companies won't hire until you're eighteen. I was lucky enough to get an interview because I'm just about to turn eighteen, and I'm happy they took a chance on me.

Without a degree, you still need to be able to prove you have the experience, so you have to do internships or find another way to get experience. You need technical knowledge, but also to have soft skills, to counteract your age. For dyslexia, I use a lot of spelling programs and read through everything carefully. There's not as much you can do about ADHD.

What else do you like to do in your free time, Tristan?

I like cars, so I drive quite a bit, and listen to podcasts.

What was school like for you?

Senior year of high school was my best year. I was given a lot more freedom to explore activities I liked to do. After classes, I would spend up to 4 hours a day on skill refining websites, earning the top 2% ranking on HackTheBox and a top 500 placement on TryHackMe. And, of course, looking for jobs.

It takes a lot of guts to break out on your own, but you have the talent to make it work! How did you actually find this job?

A recruiter reached out to me through my LinkedIn profile, and we started the interview process from there. Jess O'Brien, Executive Director at the Beaufort Digital Corridor, taught me how to research interview questions, negotiate salaries, and checked in on me throughout the interview process.

How long have you been coming to the Beaufort Digital Corridor?

I started coming to the Beaufort Digital Corridor about a year ago, October 2021.

And how has being a member here helped you in your career, or just in your personal development?

Well, it's helped me a lot from the social side. They built up the importance of LinkedIn and helped me with my profile. And constructing my resume, that made a huge difference.

So you've made some good work or personal connections here?

Yes, I've met a lot of people who have taught and mentored me, and I've learned quite a bit from the people I've talked to.

Describe an average day in the life of Tristan.

I wake up, some days I do a lot of work – recently I've been doing malware analysis, so getting malware code samples, taking them apart, and finding out what they do and how they work. I usually stay up until 10 PM-12 AM doing that.

What advice would you give to someone young who is interested in following in your footsteps?

Keep persisting. There are multiple avenues to finding your path, so you kind of have to find your own way, and not quit.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully still working in the field. I kind of want to move into threat detection or possibly pen (penetration) testing, so I'm hoping to move up into one of those roles. But the field changes so quickly, it's hard to gauge where you're going to be in 10 years. There might be jobs that don't exist now that exist in a decade that I might want to do, so we'll see.

What is your biggest goal in life?

Pssh, I'd like to be able to retire at, like, forty.

What else motivates you besides retiring young?

Small little wins, like being able to successfully do something you maybe weren't able to do a few months ago. Learning and figuring out how to do that, you can move on to accomplishing bigger goals.

Final thoughts?

Never give up, keep being persistent, and try hard.

As the conversation wound down and Tristan returned to the event, I reflected that there couldn't have been a more apt choice for a member success story. For someone so young, he knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. He may not have taken the most traditional route to success, but he knew when to invest in himself. Anyone, at any age, could take a thing or two from Tristan's perseverance and discipline. Far from an underdog, he's a testament to what the BDC stands for. We at the Beaufort Digital Corridor wish Tristan the best of luck in all his future endeavors, in Tampa and beyond!