They were born far from Canada, and while their chosen fields are very different, Alfiia Khannanova and Letícia Santos are both great examples of how the next generation of talent in this country relies on partnerships between colleges and industry to propel their careers.
Khannanova, for example, completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees by the time she made the decision to travel from her native Russia and settle in Toronto. Her original plan was to practice English and become a teacher or a related career in languages or communications. Yet, she felt compelled to take her education even further.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to study for a long time because I was really not into computers, mathematics, physics, or anything where there seemed to be a lot of demand,” Khannanova said. “When you’re a linguist, you usually go into the same field, where there’s a lot of talking.”
Things changed when Khannanova received a call from a friend living in the U.S., who said she was in cybersecurity — where specialists are trained to simulate an attack on a computer system, in order to prepare for a real threat. It sounded like her friend had found a rewarding career, but Khannanova wasn’t sure she could pursue the same path.
“I was not sure of my own abilities to be able to study this subject,” she admitted. “It was my insecurity. The concept of learning cybersecurity skills just seemed overwhelming.”
The value of hands-on industry expertise
Khannanova’s research led her to the Toronto School of Management (TSoM), where she enrolled in its Diploma in Cybersecurity Specialist Co-op. The one-year program is designed to help students learn how to conduct IT security risk assessments, fend off advanced threats, and explore the connections between data protection and technologies such as blockchain and the Internet of Things.
Khannanova was not only attracted to the breadth of TSoM’s curriculum, but the fact it was grounded in partnerships with organizations such as CompTIA, which offers well-recognized industry certifications such as Security+. Then there was the fact that she would be working directly on the front lines, not simply in a class setting.
“It’s one thing to know theory — it’s another to actually be working in the field and having some experience in hand before you go and look for a job,” she said.
Santos, who is originally from South America, came to much the same conclusion when she was evaluating her options to pursue a career in digital marketing.
Though she had worked in advertising in her home country, she was eager to explore education opportunities that best leveraged the different channels and innovative tools available to support an organization’s brand and objectives. But she wanted to learn those skills from people who were actively putting their best practices into action.
“I noticed that TSoM students loved and recommended the school,” she said. “The professors have experience and a lot of knowledge to transmit, considering that they have years of work in this market.”
In fact, TSoM’s Diploma in Digital Marketing Specialist Co-op grants students who complete the program a certificate from the Digital Marketing Institute, which has developed global standards used by brands all over the world.
Santos appreciated the relevance of the program’s coursework, which includes everything from positioning and brand strategy to marketing through social media and optimizing pay-per-click campaigns.
“I have loved my experience at TSoM because the professors have brought up the subjects in a very practical way and they also have put us to work in groups, making us develop the ability to work as a team,” Santos said. “It’s always a little difficult to stay focused during online classes, but I think the classes at TSoM are very interactive and dynamic, which makes my study as productive as possible.”
Lab work that helps you leap forward in skills development
Khannanova said the influence of CompTIA was empowering, particularly thanks to a more than 300-page book that helped guide her through the labs where she tried out her new skills.
“When I started the labs, I realized there was a little bit of coding. For somebody with no background, I always had this idea that programmers were the most complicated people with the most complicated brains,” she said. “Now, after trying to do a bunch of labs and seeing how it works, I’ve realized it’s actually very doable. I’ve realized I can succeed in this field.”
In fact, studying in a program backed by industry expertise has made Khannanova so confident about pursuing a career in cybersecurity that she’s already recommended one of her cousins to consider making a similar move.
“You never lose when you try, you always gain,” she said.
“If you really like marketing, work will become fun and obligations and goals become just details of the great work you do,” said Santos. “Don’t hesitate to start this phase of your life, you won’t regret it.”