Meet Stephen Hilliard

When the pandemic hit and we retreated indoors, Stephen Hilliard started rethinking what he wanted to do with his life. He’d followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and become an accountant, a career he liked well enough, but didn’t love. After almost ten years in accounting, he wondered what else there was for him beyond the state lines of Georgia.

That’s when he and his girlfriend decided to shake things up and do something completely different. They packed their bags and moved to California, where Hilliard had lived as a child. “I live a block from the beach now,” he says. “We wake up every morning and bike ten miles along the coast. It’s a dream.”

“Then we get to work,” he adds with a laugh, noting that they are both full-time students.

Hilliard is finally pursuing his true passion at MiraCosta: computer science, and more specifically, cybersecurity. “I started building computers when I was nine. I was always gaming with my friends and tinkering. Now, I’m focused on learning everything I can about protecting systems from attacks.”

Hilliard is ambitious and very disciplined about his work, for which he credits his military upbringing. “My dad was a Captain in the Army, and even when I was a little kid he had me up before sunrise, working on something. That influenced me, it helped me develop a strong work ethic.”

Hilliard has already earned the CompTIA cybersecurity certificates, including the A+, Network+, Security+, and Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+). With so much experience under his belt, he now tutors other MiraCosta students who are testing for CompTIA certificates, as well as students who are taking computer science courses.

He is also a Bridges Program awardee. The Bridges program prepares students from underrepresented groups, who attend MiraCosta and other community colleges, to transition to four-year universities. It includes funding, academic and career advising, as well as many great opportunities for growth, including summer research, research projects at California State University at San Marcos, and attending conferences.

Hilliard plans to eventually pursue his MS at CSU, San Marcos. An internship at a local company, EP Analytics, helped him nail down his career path. “I worked full-time on security requirements for Department of Defense standards and produced a thousand-page document. I created a template for them,” he says. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a pretty big deal, especially for a student.”

That internship helped Hilliard realize how much he enjoyed research. Now he plans to pursue a career that combines research, cybersecurity, and working for the government.

“I just want to keep tinkering and hacking, perform research, and help keep America secure,” he says. Sounds like a plan.