Today, SynED, a national non-profit organization that identifies emerging best practices for effective articulation between employers, job seekers, and education providers, announced that Efren “EZ” Zamaro was selected as its national Cyber Hero for April 2021.
At just 18 years old, Zamaro has already completed a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and information assurance from Western Governors University and secured a position as an associate security analyst at CrowdStrike, a leading cybersecurity firm.
Zamaro’s journey into cybersecurity started accidentally just a few years ago. He was in his junior year at Valley View High School in Moreno Valley, California, and looking for a course to fill a free period in his schedule. He chose a CyberPatriot course on a whim and found that it appealed to the analytical skills that drove him to his original career interest in finance and his experience working with computers.
The course allowed Zamaro to participate in cyber competitions; he said the California Mayors Cyber Cup, a competition organized and sponsored by SynED’s Cyber-Guild, was the first event that really opened his eyes to the potential cybersecurity could offer as a career field. He also had the opportunity to visit cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks, where he saw his first cybersecurity operations center and got to witness the things he’d been learning about happen in real life.
“Those experiences were truly my first insights into what cybersecurity is about,” Zamaro said. “They taught me about offensive and defensive operations and started my interest in cybersecurity and learning more on my own.”
Chris Lorenz, the CyberPatriot instructor at Valley View High School, said Zamaro was the type of student every instructor dreams of having — curious, engaged, and always willing to help his classmates.
“I could never teach him enough, and his desire to learn more is endless,” Lorenz said. “He has made me very proud of all that he has accomplished, and my hope is by telling other students about his successes that other students will be inspired as well.”
Donna Woods, SynED’s academic relations manager and instructor in the CTE Cyber Academic Pathway in the Moreno Valley Unified School District, saw Zamaro’s talent in action at cyber competitions and how he dove in with both feet to any opportunity that came his way.
“Having Efren in the MVUSD Cyber Academic Pathway was an absolute joy. Both ‘EZ’ and his parents were engaged with the program and desired to take advantage of every opportunity we provided for the students,” Woods said. We are extremely proud of this young man and know that he will pursue each future endeavor in his career pathway with the same passion and enthusiasm.”
Once he entered his senior year in fall 2019, Zamaro began supplementing what he learned in the classroom with his own work to earn three industry-recognized certificates. He earned more than a half dozen certificates during his senior year of high school and parlayed that experience into an entry-level IT role immediately after graduation.
“Certificates are the best thing in this field because they provide a perfect outline of what you need to know, how you should learn, and how you should apply what you’ve learned,” Zamaro said. “Then, you get rewarded for your learning with exams that are well known within the industry.”
Zamaro was in his senior year at Valley View High School when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Rather than be deterred by the prospect of remote learning, Zamaro decided to make the most of the situation and employ what he describes as the “pandemic hustle” to make the most of his new schedule.
“When COVID started, I thought it was unfortunate but that it would give me an opportunity to focus on cybersecurity, which is what I did,” Zamaro said. “Passion is what pushes you forward and it’s where your discipline comes from.”
Zamaro took the momentum he built from the certificates into an online degree from Western Governors University, a school that specializes in remote learning and allows students to complete courses and programs at their own pace — which, in Zamaro’s case, was very fast. He finished a bachelor’s degree in just four months and graduated in December 2020.
After pushing himself nonstop throughout the degree, Zamaro took a much-needed break and started his job search. In March 2021, he started his first full-time cybersecurity position at CrowdStrike, focusing on hacking remediation.
“There’s an insane amount I can learn here … some of the things I’ve seen so far are just so next-level,” Zamaro said. “The stuff you hear about in the news is the stuff that we’re working on.”
He continues to pursue cybersecurity certifications and give back to the community by staying involved with the California Mayors Cyber Cup and other cybersecurity education initiatives. He encourages other students to follow their passion and curiosity for cybersecurity because it will pay off in the long run.
“This stuff gets more fun the more you learn,” Zamaro said. “This field rewards people who are passionate, proactive, and curious and I’ve seen how those things can pay off.”
CrowdStrike is a leading cybersecurity company protecting customers from all cyber threats by leveraging its Security Cloud to stop breaches. The CrowdStrike Falcon platform has revolutionized enterprise security for the cloud era. Its single lightweight-agent architecture leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and offers real-time protection and visibility across the enterprise, preventing attacks on endpoints and workloads on or off the network.
Western Governors University is the first university where all bachelor’s and master’s degrees are competency-based, with online courses designed in partnership with leading employers. The university was created by a group of U.S. governors, an innovative solution to their states’ demand for high-quality, outcomes-oriented higher education.