Alumni Profile: Josh Smith

In the field of cyber security, Josh Smith likes the part about “attacking to protect.”

“One of the ways you can protect a system is through penetration testing,” he says. “Attack as if you were a hacker. Tell them where there are vulnerabilities.”

Smith is a computer and information sciences major with a focus on security who graduated in spring 2014, with a dream job all sewn up.

Josh Smith learned about computers as a toddler, climbing into his dad’s lap to play games. Before long, he wanted to know how computers worked and what was inside them.

The Mechanicsburg, PA, native attended Cumberland Valley High School and Cumberland Perry Area Vocational Technical High School to learn more about computers. His AP computer courses segued into security, and he was hooked.

“It’s a constantly evolving field,” he says. “You never stop learning.”

In high school, he learned about HU from an upperclassman accepted here. Finding that a nearby school offered extensive studies in CIS and security “piqued my interest,” he says.

In a university where internships and real-world, experiential learning are mandatory, Smith is a bit of a superstar. In the first of three internships, during his freshman year, he provided support at the help desk of PSECU, the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union.

Then, with Select Medical Group, he built and imaged computers, took network calls, and led a project to replace 1,600 outmoded computers.

Finally, he endured a grueling and drawn-out application process and background check to land a prestigious internship with the U.S. Department of Defense, performing research into topics that he can’t share.

“Each job’s been a stepping stone to the next position,” he says. “The skills have built a foundation for themselves.”

He now works with the Defense Department in Maryland after graduation. In exchange for three years of training, he has committed to three more years of working for the DoD, in the assignment of his choosing.

“When you think security, the Department of Defense is like the Microsoft of security fields, just because they do all the cool stuff,” he says. After the six-year commitment ends, he can stay with the government or find work with a contractor or private firm seeking someone with security clearances.

“There are plenty of possibilities,” he says. “It’s a huge weight off my shoulders, knowing I have something lined up after school and that this field will always be growing. There’s always going to be a need for it, and I probably will never have to look for a job.”

HU helped Smith land each of the succession of internships by instilling the skills demanded in today’s workplaces. “They gave me a lot of technical knowledge that is really hard to pick up on your own,” he says. “That specific tech knowledge really helps. The way community networks work and the nitty-gritties of operating systems things like that, you don’t sit down and learn on your own.”

Smith’s professors at HU played big roles in the skill-building process, with one-on-one help that can’t be found anywhere else. Dr. Joseph Cannon, professor of computer and information sciences, has “always just been there.” “He’s always there when I have questions to ask,” Smith says.

His time at HU has been “a great experience.” Smith’s high school was very large, but his HU graduating class will “probably be less than 80 people. The small class sizes have been phenomenal. With the personal attention comes a lot of knowledge you wouldn’t gain in any other setting.”

HU’s connections to Central Pennsylvania government and business help provide a strong pool of talent for corporate faculty, bringing their experience straight from the field and into the classroom. In his junior year, Smith had professors who worked for IBM and The Hershey Company.

“Those are two very big companies where security is an enormous issue, so having both of them on hand, where we could ask questions about the real world, is huge for us,” he says.

Smith received a full-tuition scholarship from HU his first year and has two other scholarships that amount to about $7,500 a year. The rest comes from federal aid and his own pocket.

“Not having to pay the first year took a huge weight off, and the additional aid each year takes a chunk off that I would have owed,” he says. “I’m graduating with not as much owed as most people. It definitely cleared the books.”