Renee Watts works in IT help desk cyber security and currently lives in Chicago. Read on to learn how she fostered her love of lifelong learning from a young age, why she loves what she does (especially malware removals – yes, the bad kind of software) and her favorite restaurant in the Second City!
- Name: Renee Watts
- Location: Chicago, IL
- Role: IT Help Desk Cyber Security
- Reason for Waking Up Every Day: Learning
- Next Thing She’s Going to Learn: Become Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certified
- Go-To Learning Resource: Podcasts like Darknet Diaries, Smashing Security & Oprah Super Soul
- Favorite Place in Chicago: Rajun Cajun restaurant
Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are now.
I can’t talk about myself without talking about my family. My mom is from Jamaica and my dad is from Chicago with roots in Mississippi. They are the most loving and accepting people I have ever met and the both come with huge families. So, if you did anything wrong, not only did you have to face our parents; they also had an army of people calling and showing up reprimanding you.
There has always been a focus on education and art. My mom would bring us to the library, to museums and back to Jamaica to drill into us that we had to excel – she didn’t come to this country for us to be less than our best.
What made you want to pursue your profession/area of focus?
I went to Columbia College Chicago and I majored in interactive arts and media. I wasn’t a stranger to computers, but I was more on the coding and artistic side, working with Photoshop, Illustrator, Maya and AutoCAD. During college I worked on the Best Buy Geek Squad in the John Hancock center, and that job is the reason why I am in my current role.
I have a passion for technology and helping to support it in a way that enriches people’s lives. My favorite thing to do during that time were malware removals. I was able to witness firsthand how these malware programs took advantage of people and their systems. I enjoyed the puzzle work of removals and the satisfaction of helping people get back to normal.
What gets you excited to wake up every day?
Learning wakes me up every day. During grade school my weekly routine was to check out library books on Sunday, read them all and trade them in for new ones, but books in a neighborhood library are limited. My ticket to unlocking the unlimited world was a DVD set called Microsoft Encarta. This was the precursor to Wikipedia and being given this access at a young age taught me to learn at my own pace. In the tech industry it is a must-have skill to advance every part of my life.
What’s the best/most important thing you’ve learned or taught yourself? Why?
Two of the most important things I have learned came from my father. 1) you cannot control everything, but you can control the way you respond. 2) there are only two emotions: fear and love. This is important to me because it shapes the way I interact with people, animals, and nature.
I enjoy interactions based on love – everyone does – the ones based on fear are harder to enjoy. I know that when someone reacts with anger, malice or frustration, their reaction is based in fear. This makes it easier to accept and respond accordingly.
What’s the next thing you’re going to learn or teach yourself? Why?
I am currently working on becoming Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certified. This will help me to better protect my company network from cyber threats.
Do you have advice for finding a strong mentor/ building a relationship with one?
LinkedIn has been a good resource. I recommend looking up people in the career you want and introducing yourself. If they are in your area, ask if they have some time for coffee. People are more open to help than we think.
Related: Check out this interview with Chicago petite blogger and SEO specialist, Jessa Lynn, to learn how she found her mentor – and why it’s all about putting yourself out there.
Favorite resources for ongoing learning?
I love podcasts – Darknet Diaries, The Read, Science Vs, The Brilliant Idiots, Small Doses, Smashing Security, Oprah Super Soul, Getting into Infosec, Freakonomics Radio – I have so many more. CBT Nuggets is what I am using for my CCNA.
What’s your favorite spot where you currently live & why?
My favorite restaurant is in Hyde Park named Rajun Cajun…🤤 vegetarian Indian food is sooo good. Also my mom’s kitchen has the best Jamaican food in the world.
Out of all the places you’ve been, which has been your favorite and why?
Panama was my favorite place to travel. The food, culture, scenery, hospitality, and cost was amazing. Also, it has been the only place I have traveled in the world for an actual vacation and not to see friends or family. I can’t wait to go back.