MAY 16, 2022 — Feeling like she never really belonged in the world of cybersecurity, Hannah Hardee’s impostor syndrome finally lifted when she was hired as an associate technical analyst in cybersecurity with Southwest Airlines.
Hardee, who has been on this path since middle school, completed her journey by receiving her B.B.A. in cybersecurity from the Carlos Alvarez College of Business at UTSA.
A native of San Antonio, Hardee attended the Engineering and Technologies Academy at Roosevelt High School, following her passions for computers and forensics. She was even on the competition team for the school’s CyberPatriot program, a competition that allows students to compete and collaborate as they learn cybersecurity skills.
“I knew I had an interest in computers,” said Hardee. “That is why I chose UTSA. They have a really good cybersecurity program. It was the only school that I wanted to go to. UTSA is where it is at.”
UTSA is a nationally recognized leader in cybersecurity. It is one of few colleges or universities in the nation – and the only HSI – to have three National Centers of Academic Excellence designations from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency.
Reflecting this past semester on her UTSA experiences, Hardee credits her involvement at UTSA and with the arts for making her a well-rounded individual. She worked as a peer mentor, competed with the college’s Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition team, joined the Women in Cyber Security organization and was a member of UTSA’s Swing Dance Society.
It was these outside interests that made Hardee question her pursuit of a career in cybersecurity.
“I’ve been surrounded by people who love what they do, so they eat, sleep and dream it,” she said. “But that was not me, so I always thought I wasn’t doing it right. My hobbies were my arts. I love singing, dancing and performing.”
While thinking about changing her major, one of her arts professors told her something that kept her on the cybersecurity path.
“She told me to do something to feed my stomach and something to feed my soul,” she said.
Hardee also credits the Alvarez College of Business for making her a well-rounded student. As a cybersecurity major in a business school, she learned the technical skills required in her profession and became well versed in the soft skills of management, communication and leadership.
“I always knew that I wanted to work with people,” she said. “I like to think of myself as a natural manager. All of those business courses helped me better understand business and got me where I am today.”
Convinced that she truly belonged in the cybersecurity field, she began exploring the best career path for her skillset. Meeting with an alumnus, Hardee soon learned about the field of governance, risk and compliance, and it seemed like a natural fit for her.
Working throughout college to fund her education, Hardee also completed two internships that further solidified her interests. Working for a small, managed service provider, she got her first introduction to compliance, helping to align the firm with the regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. She loved every minute of it. Hardee also was the campus manager for the SmartCode Coding Academy, which provides coding classes for children and teens.
“I’ve been able to apply the business skills that I’ve learned to help run this business,” she said. “And, I also had the technical background to provide the instructors with advice when they needed assistance.”
On a whim, Hardee applied for a scholarship to attend the national conference of the Women in Cyber Security organization. She wanted an opportunity to travel as part of her college experience but hadn’t been able to pursue that goal due to her work schedule. She won the scholarship, and this past March, attended the conference in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I didn’t attend the conference to look for a job,” Hardee said. “I had my work with SmartCode, and I had secured another internship for the summer. I’ve always gravitated toward small businesses, not corporate ones, but this opportunity fell into my lap.”
Southwest reached out to her several times to encourage her to apply with their organization. At first Hardee ignored them, but soon realized they were serious about her. After a phone interview, she was invited to attend an in-person interview during the conference.
“Hearing them talk and seeing how passionate they were solidified that I belonged there,” Hardee said. “They are one of the few airlines that do their cybersecurity support in house. I’m really excited to be in an environment where they care about their people so much.”
Hardee admits that it’s surreal to know that everything she worked for has paid off—but it’s a good feeling.
“Knowing that I’m going to be able to provide for myself and my family is an unbeatable feeling,” she said.
Hardee shared that when giving advice to her peers she tells them that even if you have a 4.0 G.P.A. it doesn’t guarantee you a job. She credits her time spent with student organizations, mentoring and networking with setting her apart.
“UTSA has had the resources to help me whenever I needed it,” she said. “Everything from free textbooks in the library to professional support from the Career Center. Building on that foundation, I’ve been able to achieve my goals.”
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