Career Spotlight: From Comic Books to InfoSec

Posted by Annabel Steele on Dec 22, 2020 9:25:53 AM

Monday, December 21, 2020

By Annabel Steele, Fuel HQ

Jason Blanchard LinkedIn picJason Blanchard’s path to the information security (InfoSec) field began in an unlikely spot: Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Stationed there as a combat cameraman, Blanchard’s job was to create content and videos for the military. Fort Knox is where tank operators are trained, so Blanchard was not lacking for interesting footage. When the time came to make the next step in his career, Blanchard left the military and went to film school at Full Sail University in Florida. With six years of filmmaking experience under his belt when he arrived, Blanchard quickly earned a new title: teacher.

Meanwhile, a comic book store near the Full Sail campus caught his eye. Blanchard, a lifelong fan of comic books, ended up as a co-owner of the store, called A Comic Shop. Between teaching film at Full Sail and co-owning A Comic Shop, Blanchard was networking with all sorts of interesting people, building connections across industries and surrounding himself with engaging content every day. He eventually ended up working at DC Comics and Warner Brothers for a time before moving to Maryland with his wife. 

When in Maryland, Blanchard was able to run Free Comic Book Day for a major worldwide comic book distributor based in Baltimore. It was while he was running this event in 2015 that his wife noticed a tweet from the SANS Institute advertising an open job position for content creation and marketing — a job Blanchard would eventually secure, completing his long path from combat cameraman to information security professional. 

“The reason that they chose me at that time is because Ed Skoudis, who was leading the department, looked at my comic book background, looked at my teaching background, looked at my filmmaker background, content creation background, and said, ‘That would be a great fit for a lot of the things I would like to do here,’” Blanchard says. 

Entering the InfoSec Field 

Blanchard believes every step of his career prepared him well for InfoSec. He took the skills earned in previous jobs and applied them to his new role creating content for the SANS Institute and later Black Hills Information Security, where he is currently the content and community director. It helped, Blanchard says, that InfoSec professionals really aren’t all that different from film students and comic book fans. 

Like film students and comic book fans, people who work in InfoSec are deeply passionate about their interests and enjoy talking about hacking, researching hacking and engaging in the community. While Blanchard was relatively new to the field, he was not new to the people. 

“When I joined the InfoSec community, I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve been hanging around people like you for years. I get you,’” Blanchard says. 

Through his work running the NetWars Tournament of Champions while he worked for the SANS Institute, Blanchard got to meet some of the world’s top white hat hackers. He says he was blown away by the confidence they bring to their work. Hackers, according to Blanchard, operate under the mentality that they will achieve their goals. 

“I realized they had the mindset of, ‘I will get in. I will succeed. I will figure this out. And I will not be stopped,’” Blanchard says. 

Mentorship and Paying It Forward 

Over the course of his career, Blanchard has accumulated two mentors that he has explicitly asked to formally take him on as a mentee. He meets with one on a weekly basis and with the other whenever he wants wisdom or advice. 

Blanchard values good mentoring because it can help someone understand how to achieve their goals or reach their desired position. And when Blanchard was on the fence about taking on a new project this spring, it was one of his mentors who encouraged him to take the plunge. 

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and people began losing their jobs, Blanchard was seized with an urge to help out somehow. He realized he had been helping people find jobs his entire career, and even taught his film students about how to conduct a job search. So when Blanchard met with his mentor, he revealed he was thinking about conducting job search webcasts every week to help InfoSec professionals who were out of work amid the pandemic. His mentor advised him to host the first session by the time of their next meeting. Blanchard jumped right in. 

Twitch, Traditions and Tailored Resumes 

Blanchard and his wife began hosting twice-weekly job hunt livestreams. “My wife and I do it together on Tuesday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern time, and I do it by myself on Friday afternoons from 1 to 3 p.m.,” he says. 

The sessions are livestreamed on Twitch and average about 40 viewers. While most viewers are already in the InfoSec field, occasionally viewers from other industries tune in — like a young marketing graduate in Sweden. 

When job hunting, “really what you’re trying to do is become a bright, fluorescent resume in a stack of white resumes,” Blanchard says. In order to do that, job hunters should follow several steps. First, look for jobs before creating your resume. Second, tailor each resume to the individual job posting. And third, apply for an opening directly through the company’s website, not through sites like LinkedIn or Indeed. When the application has been submitted, Blanchard advises job hunters to find an internal advocate within the organization and introduce themselves. 

Blanchard developed a fun tradition for the job search livestreams, too. Every time someone tunes in to reveal they secured a job based on the advice given during the stream, Blanchard rings a bell to celebrate. So far, he has rung the bell for more than 31 successful job seekers. 

For people new to the InfoSec field or looking to become more involved, Blanchard has one core piece of advice: find connectors. These connectors could include BSides organizers or anyone running local chapters of industry groups. And Blanchard says it’s essential to fight back any self-doubt that might creep in. 

“Never deny someone the opportunity to find out how awesome you are,” Blanchard says.

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Topics: Career paths, career advice, cybersecurity careers, hacking

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