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My experience at SkillsUSA


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For the purposes of this post, the names of everyone involved will be initialized using only the first letter of their names. As a key:
C – my partner
K – another competitor from my college
Dr. M – my professor/faculty sponsor

In the May of 2019, Dr. M invited me, C, and K to compete in SkillsUSA, an international organization dedicated to promoting the trades with many colleges and even high schools as chapters. SkillsUSA had just added cyber security and computer programming as areas of focus to their ever-expanding roster, so as the director of the ITS program at my community college, Dr. M pounced on the opportunity to join as the college’s first chapter in the organization. Since we were majoring in cyber security, Dr. M entered me and C in the state competition that SkillsUSA was hosting. K entered the programming competition.

When we got there, C and I went to our areas as did K. To our surprise, C and I were the only ones that showed up, aside from only one high school team who we weren’t competing against anyway. We did however still at least attempt to complete the lab that was set up.

The lab scenario was straight forward. We were given a server to connect to and had to find any vulnerabilities we could with it and write a report on what we found.The main rule was that we were not allowed to use password cracking software. I took an Nmap of the server and used an open-source vulnerability scanner called OWASP to scan it. C used Nessus. All together, we found, if I remember correctly, ten vulnerabilities, several open ports, and that it was using Windows 7 as the OS.

K fortunately had his fair share of competition. I’m not sure exactly what he did, but I do remember him saying something about a having to write a program with a GUI that could convert a number into the correct Roman numerals. He believed that he only got second place, but when he got called up to get the gold medal, he learned that the person who he thought beat him didn’t include a GUI, which halved his score.

In July came the national event. Once again, C and I competed in cyber security and K in programming. Now, I should mention that at the time I was a complete noob with Linux. Fortunately, C was an expert. I should also note that Dr. M REALLY likes the programming language Java. This will be important later. In addition, the whole month of June, K was really stressing out because he wanted to win, but kept freaking out because he had started studying C++ and felt like he had forgotten Java.
The first thing that stood out was that, unlike at the state level, we had real competition. The first thing that we did, strangely but welcome enough, was take a certification exam, the ETA (Electronics and Technicians Association) ITS (Information Technology Security) to be more precise. C got an 84 while I got a 74. The minimum passing score is a 75, so I didn’t get the certification (by 1 freaking point!). The rest of our scoring looked as follows:


I should also make a note that the digital forensics lab wasn’t working, so everyone got full credit for it. The station I felt most prepared for was the wireless and mobile device security, which had us configure security settings on a tablet, enable remote wipe and configure a VPN using the Opera browser.

On the managed switch table, we had to set up several VLANs on a Cisco switch. C had a script written preemptively on how to do it (which was allowed). However, the commands we needed didn’t exist. We also saw that other teams had to use a GUI to do it. According to them though, they would have gotten much further if they had to do it from the command line instead.
Meanwhile with K, I don’t know what programs he had to write, but looking over his scorecard, he clearly got jipped. The written test, which counted for a big percentage of his score, was unfair. The competition clearly said that the competitors could use any language they pleased, but the test was written with C in mind, which K wasn’t familiar with. If it weren’t for this, he would have gotten first place.

There was also a section for a competition in video game design. One table I remember was a high school table that had a game called Battle Champions. I told the girl working on it that it looked like something that would have been on the SEGA Genesis and I loved it. I wish I had taken a picture of it.

Prior to the awards ceremony, there was a “Meet the Employer” hour, where, as the name suggests, we got a chance to meet potential employers. Due to SkillsUSA’s primary chapters being welders however, that was what most of the employers were looking for. Humorously enough, the corporation my dad works for had a booth there with the regional HR manager there, and she sure knew who I was through my dad. You see, when he first got hired at this company, my dad had a little run-in with the IT department. The printer in the shipping department wasn’t working, and the IT guys couldn’t do anything about it due to needing a ticket filled out so they can document all their work. Being the reasonable guy that he is, my dad took the printer and threw it into the IT guys’ office. He’s not allowed back there anymore. Unfortunately though, she didn’t have any IT internships she could offer me, but one company was interested and I’m still waiting to hear back from them as they said that it would have to be a Summer internship next year. In the meantime, I’m trying to get on a national research lab near my college that Dr. M has personal contacts in, and yes, these contacts are in supervisor positions. 

In the end, we all got third place. C and K were actually relieved because they had kids ( C had his first kid this year and K has a 5 and 13 year old) and the international event was in Russia. This was probably one of the better experiences I’ve had in life so far. Whatever I do next, I hope that it will be as good a learning experience as this was for me.

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