Mohammad Al-Zard is a security consultant for a solution integrator. He is the 100th Network Security Expert (NSE) 8 certified worldwide and the first engineer to pass the first version of the NSE 8 written exam with a perfect score. The NSE certification program, part of Fortinet’s NSE Institute, consists of eight-level certifications, including a wide range of self-paced and instructor-led courses, as well as practical, experiential exercises that demonstrate mastery of complex network security concepts. We spoke with Mohammad about what drew him to the security field, why he took on Fortinet’s NSE program and how to close the cybersecurity skills gap.
Q: How did you get your start in cybersecurity?
A: Like many, I started in college. I worked in the security field while I studied. Back then, there weren’t many mature technologies, so I had the chance to play with multiple developers before starting work with Fortinet products.
I started in the same company I’m working for now. It was my duty to establish the departments and to steer the service catalog, to be more security-aware. Again, security wasn’t that much of a concern back then; it was mostly a “nice to have.” But services had a lot of security concerns, and that was the driving force for me to pursue security.
Q: What led you to seek out and to be part of the NSE program and get those certifications?
A: I’ve done training courses before because that’s my passion – the theoretical part of the standards and the technology and how to translate technological terms into practical use.
I took on the challenge and earned the recognition because I really enjoyed it. Of course, it was challenging, but what drives me through my career is to always keep my knowledge up to date. As a solution integrator and a security consultant, I am always going to be asked what to do, what the agreement is, what the consent is and what the best practices are.
Q: What did you enjoy most about the process?
A: Absolutely. It was a challenging process, and I enjoyed it because I enjoy being challenged. What’s great about the program is that it allows you to maintain the know-how and keep the technology portion hands-on so you know what you are delivering to your clients. The practical experience was great.
Q: What has been the biggest benefit since getting your NSE 8 certification?
A: Again, it is the know-how. I strongly believe the saying “knowledge is power.” It gives me more confidence, and customers have more confidence in my abilities and deliverables. The recognition and empowerment of the NSE 8 is worth it.
I think of a common example where a client was incredibly nervous. We had to make a lot of updates and changes to his system. I was able to ease his anxiety and let him know we had his back, and I was confident throughout the deployment because I had kept my own knowledge up to date. At the end, the solution was delivered ahead of schedule and the client was very happy. I attribute this in part to the skills I learned studying for the certification.
Q: Do you have any advice for others thinking about joining the program or currently working through the program?
A: Yes! Practice as much as you can. Practice, practice, practice.
Q: What advice would you give to help with the skill shortage in security?
A: I think it needs to start with universities, as they must make the curriculum needed to steer the attention of their students toward security. That’s where we start to raise awareness – and from freshman year, not toward the end of someone’s degree program. So then, by the time they graduate, students are fluent with security. That’s why we do a lot of volunteer sessions for our educational clients. I consider it part of my social responsibility.
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