Just take the leap. Alexis Diediker did.  

In just four years, she went from working behind a local bar to behind a keyboard, a key player and sleuth in tracking down vulnerabilities that could shutter a business. The 2023 Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) graduate is an OCO Consultant with ProCircular, a cybersecurity and compliance firm with offices in Coralville, Iowa, and Minneapolis.   

“I’m an ethical hacker, which is like if you were to ask me to come to your house and show you all the places where I could break in. So, say there is a window loose here, or a doorknob jiggles, or there's an easy lock to pick in the back door. That's what I do. I show companies where their weak points are, and I exploit those weak points to prove to them that this is a problem and we either need a budget to fix this or a policy to fix this,” she said.   

Diediker knows what she is talking about. She earned an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) in Information Technology – Cybersecurity, is a recipient of the Women of Cyber Academy scholarship from The SANS Institute, and holds an impressive list of certifications including CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, PenTest+, and PNPT.  

Cybersecurity wasn’t the first career she considered. In the past, she studied cosmetology and electrical engineering. Neither clicked. 

“I didn’t grow up knowing what I wanted to do. I never had a ‘dream’ job. I’ve been in the service industry ever since I could work. And when you’re in that sector, it’s really hard to leave. It's good quick money; but it's also a very toxic industry,” she said about the bartending job she held for over 13 years.  

It was time for something new. Diediker’s grandmother had worked as a system administrator at Deere & Company for 25 years, so she was slightly familiar with the IT field. She saw EICC offered a cybersecurity certificate, and while she admits at the time she wasn’t sure what a hard drive was, Diediker didn’t hesitate. “I signed up at 2 a.m.,” she said.  

“I think it feels less intimidating to get started at a place like EICC than a university, because it is a leap of faith. So, if it turns out I don't like what I'm doing, it's not going to ruin me and devastate me financially to change my career path,” she said. 

Taking classes online was a new experience, but Diediker adjusted quickly. In fact, everything clicked; she loved what she was learning.  

“In my hardware class, we were going over what to do if you forget your password and can’t recover it. This is mostly for older computers, but you can pull a piece off your motherboard and put it onto another kind of circuit, and it's like hacking the computer because it gets you in and erases all the information. I was so intrigued by that, it was just the coolest thing to me,” she said.  

“And my subnetting class, I loved it,” Diediker said. “Things other students were groaning about I was super excited to be learning. And that was the moment where I realized: this is it. This is it. 

“Suddenly, I felt lucky. It was like love at first sight, but with a career, and one I didn’t even know existed four years ago. I decided to put my mind to it and get an AAS, and after my first semester, I was set.” 
Alexis Diediker

Diediker dove into every
resource to learn more about cybersecurity roles and careers. She realized she wanted to be a pen tester and created a plan to get there. Earning a degree and certifications would show employers she had the knowledge and skills, and getting hands-on experience would illustrate her deep drive.  

“Roberta Osmers was always very supportive,” Diediker said about the EICC instructor and IT Department coordinator. Other faculty and women she met through events like the annual CornCon Cybersecurity Conference were encouraging, too. That’s how she learned about the SANS Institute scholarship, which helps her prepare for, and pays for, certification exams. “It's a lot of money and a great opportunity. I wouldn’t have known about that opportunity if it wasn’t for networking with women here in the IT field,” Diediker said.  

While working on her degree, she was hired as a network technician for an international company, answering calls on third shift. In her last semester at EICC she applied for an internship at ProCircular, and was hired.  

“It was very hands-on. They made me make a phishing call my second week,” Diediker said, adding she wasn’t sure she was ready. She called the client’s business and convinced an employee to share past and current passwords with her. Diediker gained full access to the company’s system and identified a key vulnerability. She crushed it.  

“It taught me that you are never really ready. You just jump. It is terrifying, yes, but in a good way,” Diediker said. “There's a lot of impostor syndrome, and you think that you're not deserving or doing things right. But nobody always knows that what they're doing is right.  

“What makes this industry so cool is that things are ever-changing. And there's always new tools and new things to learn, and we're all still learning together. I think it is helpful for students to know that it's not unusual to feel lost,” she added. 

Diediker finished her degree in December 2023, and her internship transitioned to a full-time, and very fulfilling, career. 

“When you're doing something that you love, it doesn't feel like hard work,” she said. “To be able to wake up and do something that I don't hate anymore, to do something fun, it feels almost like going to an amusement park for the day. It is relieving; it is a freedom that I've found is really powerful.”