Kamron Kelley ’21 attended an innovative workshop—Cybersecurity Weekend with Google Switzerland—in Zurich over the weekend of March 9–10. The event was hosted by Google Zurich, the tech giant’s largest research and development location outside the United States, and organized by TechSpark Academy, a Swiss-based organization whose mission is to “empower your child with an understanding of our digital world and a desire to learn.”
We sat down with Kamron, who has been studying programming since seventh grade and aspires to have a career in STEM, to learn about his experience at the workshop.
What made you decide to apply for this workshop?
The first time I heard about the event at all was when Ms. Bloodworth, my Computer Science teacher, mentioned the workshop to me. She thought it would suit my interests and abilities. I decided not to just respond with a hollow “sounds interesting” and never look into it. I realized it would be a unique opportunity that not many could say they had the chance to attend, and also cybersecurity is a topic I did (and still do) want to learn more about.
What did the selection process entail?
The application asked mainly about prior programming experience. Past and future extracurricular projects, as well as motivation, were also taken into consideration. I am told that more than 80 students applied, and 25 were selected to attend the workshop.
What did you do at the workshop?
The main focus of the workshop was one continuous cybersecurity game of Capture the Flag, CTF for short. The CTF challenge consisted of separate tasks, organized in layers, that got progressively more difficult. The goal of each task was the same: obtain a password to advance to the next path of tasks. In each task, the only pieces of information we had for reference were the title of the task, the brief description, and an attached file. Using these bits of information, multiple steps must be executed, all through the Linux command line, to extract the password from somewhere in the file or the subfiles within.
The CTF challenge took up about 90 percent of the workshop, but we also had time for three other activities. One was an outdoor presentation of two Google Streetcars, an older model and a more recent one. I even got to go inside the cars and check them out from the driver’s seat.
Later on, some of the Google employees gave presentations that focused on the application process and daily life at Google.
Last but definitely not least was the tour of the entire Google (and YouTube) HQ building. The Zurich HQ is 90% focused on the programming and engineering factions of Google. Multiple floors all with their own unique theme and layout led to a pretty amazing first-hand experience of one of the biggest and most important technology companies in the world.
Were there any parts of the workshop that you found particularly interesting or useful?
I particularly enjoyed the presentations delivered by Google employees. They provided some excellent insight into what working at Google is really like.
Did this workshop expose you to anything that could influence your academic/career choices in the future?
Simply, yes. The main takeaway I received from the workshop was the level of depth cybersecurity really consists of, and what the word truly means. There are an incredible amount of steps necessary in today’s world where most information is stored digitally. With the amount of struggling I dealt with while solving the tasks in the CTF challenge, I can’t begin to imagine the amount of dedication and experience required to achieve expertise in the field of cybersecurity. I definitely will keep my options open in the future if I hear mention of a possible career in cybersecurity.