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Getting to NSE Level 8: A Conversation with Sylvia Schlaphof

Sylvia Schlaphof is the Head of Engineering for Boll Engineering in Zurich, Switzerland. She is the first woman to achieve Level 8 certification through Fortinet’s Network Security Expert (NSE) program. We spoke with her recently about how she got involved in cybersecurity, what it was like to go through Fortinet’s NSE program and what she’s passionate about in cybersecurity.

Q: How did you get started in the cybersecurity space?

A: I started to work with Fortinet products in 2003 around the start of my career in cybersecurity when I took a job with one of their distributors, Boll Engineering. I remember that in the beginning it was a nice startup experience with a new product operating system, FortiOS 2.25. We learned a lot by ourselves back then as the curriculum was still developing. Since then, I’ve supported Fortinet products and witnessed the evolution of the lessons and I’ve learned a lot in the past 16 years.

Q: What was your first impression of Fortinet’s Network Security Expert (NSE) program?

A: I thought it was great, because it’s not only one certification. It was increasingly more challenging with several steps to do the Level 4 certification, then the Level 5 and to take a few exams to get the Level 6 certification. I love challenges, and that’s why I love this NSE program. It’s not only one certification and then you are done; you have to work harder to achieve it, and it’s always a challenge.

Compared to other tech vendors, where there is only one level of certification, the NSE program demands a bigger commitment to proceed through the levels. Through this commitment you truly became a Network Security Expert.

Q: What did you enjoy about the process of going through the different levels?

A: I especially loved the NSE 7 because it fits my job and was very relevant to the work that I am doing here at Boll Engineering with the support department. For example, I used the training materials later on when I was on the support phone and I needed some CLI commands for troubleshooting. I found them in the training materials, and that was really helpful for my job!

And of course, achieving the NSE level 8 certification was an exceptional challenge. I took part in the first official practical exam. Nobody knew what was going to happen there. I flew to Sunnyvale thinking, “What’s awaiting me for the next two days?” There were no previous exam-takers to call and ask what to expect. That was really tough, and I was a little nervous before the exam. But Fortinet has done a great job setting up the exam. It’s really a hands-on exam with real devices, not a simulation. That’s what I loved about it. When I passed, it felt like a big achievement. And, of course, people are impressed. Especially because I was the first woman to accomplish it.

Last year I went through the first re-certification of NSE-8. Of course, Fortinet has updated the exam with new questions on current security topics. Therefore, it was a great challenge again and not only a repetition of what I did two years ago.

Q: For others that are looking to join the program or that are currently working through the program, do you have tips to help them stay motivated?

A: If you’re working with the Fortinet products on a daily basis, then it’s easy to stay motivated. If you’re not working with them, you need the commitment to build up a test lab and to play with the products. It’s really necessary to have hands-on experience.

Q: The first two NSE levels are more for people who may not have a technical background; it’s more for cybersecurity awareness. Do you feel people who aren’t in a technology-based career should take these certifications?

A: Yes, definitely. These lower-level certifications help people to learn more about cybersecurity. All of our staff working with Fortinet products -- whether it is sales, product management or support -- work through this level as a foundation.

Q: What are you passionate about in terms of cybersecurity these days?

A: I’m a pretty technical person, for example I love all this deep-dive stuff about TLS, especially TLS 1.3 and how Fortinet is handling it. I really love to go down to bits and bytes and see how Fortinet is working with new protocols and so on; that’s what my passion is.

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