Target Red Team senior engineer returns to alma mater to share advice, develop recruiting pipeline

November 28, 2018

Catilina Self presents, "Hacking Corporate America: Cybersecurity from a Red Team Perspective" to UWF students.

When asked which University of West Florida courses best prepared her to be on the Target Red Team, Catilina Self named a half dozen and explained each in detail. Her answer lasted nearly 10 minutes.

Self, a senior engineer on the Target Red Team and a 2016 UWF graduate, presented, “Hacking Corporate America: Cybersecurity from a Red Team Perspective” to about 50 students on Tuesday night in Building 4. Her presentation lasted about two hours and approximately a dozen students stayed nearly an hour to speak to her afterward.

The UWF alumna returned to her alma mater to share her story with UWF students and potentially develop a recruiting pipeline between the University and the retailer. The Red Team is one of five information security teams that form the Target Cyber Fusion Center, which is based in Minneapolis. The Red Team simulates real-world attacks on Target’s environment to uncover defensive control weaknesses.

Self credited Target for creating a culture that stresses work-life balance and utilizing a best-fit philosophy when considering job placement for hires.

"They want to teach you and help you learn and grow," said Self, who told the students about internship and job opportunities at Target.

Self advised students to take risks when searching for employment and to remember that the job market favors the employee. The nation currently faces a shortage of over 300,000 cybersecurity professionals, and over 1,300 vacant high-wage cybersecurity positions exist in Northwest Florida alone.

“When you have employers telling you that you don’t have enough experience, that’s not on you,” she said. “There are a lot of employers who don’t even know what they’re looking for, so don’t take that as a personal hit. There’s a negative-employment rate, so just because they don’t want you, good. Good riddance. Go find somebody else.”

Self holds the distinction of being the first graduate from the cybersecurity program after the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security designated UWF as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.

Target hired Self after she attended the career fair at the Women in Cybersecurity 2016 Conference. She credited Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, UWF Center for Cybersecurity director, for recommending that she present at the conference. Target initially hired her for software development before promoting her to the Red Team.  

“It’s a jungle gym because you don’t know what skills are going to be needed for what job,” Self said. “You might be a system admin today, you might be a database administrator or software developer or a software engineer, and then tomorrow you might be in a totally different role. The reason I think I’ve been successful is because of the willingness to be versatile. You give me a job and I will find a way to make it impactful and effective and I will do my best at it and maintain that attitude has kind of created its own culture usually on my own team.”

Self offered job interview tips to students. She stressed the importance of asking the right questions.

“If you ask an employer, ‘So what does my day-to-day look like?’ versus ‘What visibility do you have in your environment right now?’ those are going to speak volumes to your understanding of how security is applied inside an enterprise environment,” she said.

She concluded her presentation with a slide that contained a famous quote from deceased Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz.

“You can tell a man is clever by his answers. You can tell a man is wise by his questions.”