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Check Out Tony Bryan’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tony Bryan.

Hi Tony, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I was born into a normal childhood in a suburb of St. Louis in the late 70s. I had a pretty typical life – opportunities for sports, access to good schools, and tons of friends. My life took a drastic turn during my junior year of high school. I had gotten my long-term girlfriend (now wife) pregnant. The school remained a priority, but friends and social life took a backseat to our newfound responsibilities of caring for our son. While working 30 hours a week to support our son, I could graduate with honors and be eventually accepted to St. Louis University for their pre-med program. I commuted daily to school to remain close to my family and son. This wasn’t much of a problem but did prevent me from immersing myself in the full college experience and remaining close friends with my high school friends. We didn’t have the same priorities, and I allowed peer pressure to influence my decision-making in school. A few semesters later, I was on academic probation and looking for my “next step.”

A phone call to an Army recruiter later, and against my mom’s best wishes, I left for Military Police basic training on May 28, 1998. Like most, I adjusted to my new military life and found that I excelled at being in the Army. The discipline, structure, and team-oriented culture allowed me to thrive and grow quickly. Upon completing my training, it sent me to spend the next two years of my life in Baumholder, Germany, separated from my son. While there, I deployed two times to both Bosnia and Kosovo for peacekeeping missions. In the middle of deployments, I do not always make good decisions and am surrounded by strong leaders who see my potential. Upon my return to the states, my wife and I were married, and we began our life together for the first time without our parents in Fort Leonard Wood, MO. During my time there, I deployed once again, this time to Honduras, and eventually got promoted and nominated to become a Drill Sergeant. In just over 7 years, I obtained the rank of Sergeant First Class. This was a milestone many don’t ever achieve in their career. Still, due to those who saw my potential and some consistent coaching, I found my place in the Army only to recognize that it wasn’t the tempo or lifestyle that would be conducive to raising my now four children. After much discussion, we decided it was time to move on from the military and try my hand as a “civilian.”

Transitioning from the military is hard. For nine years, I knew one way of life but had to learn all about things that weren’t relevant to the life I was leaving. I first landed in the world of financial planning for an amazing company called First Command. They made the transition easier as they served military members’ financial needs. It was a language I understood but a tough business. Over three years, I learned how to run my own business but yearned to be back home and closer to family – to find our “forever” home. My wife and I agreed that if I found a job back in St. Louis, we would move back and leave the life we had built over the past 9 nine years in Fort Leonard Wood.

Like many things in my life, I was fortunate to have an introduction to a nonprofit startup leader who was building an organization focused on supporting transitioning veterans, The Mission Continues. An opportunity I likely didn’t deserve was given to me to be the organization’s first fundraiser. Due to the team around me, a strong mission, and a dynamic leader, we grew from a small organization to a nationally recognized program that had a major impact on the lives of the people we served. I had the opportunity to learn and grow from some of the best nonprofits in our country and observe what had made them great. At the time, I didn’t realize that my career trajectory would change, and I would immerse myself into the underbelly of the nonprofit sector. I eventually left the organization for a different opportunity but missed the fast pace and high growth focus. What we had wasn’t common, and I recognized I would have to create the same culture I enjoyed there.

Another introduction (from the same person) later, I was hired as the first full-time employee of what is now CyberUp. Over the past six years, the organization has become a national leader in apprenticeship and reimagining how our country hires entry-level cybersecurity roles. Our team has grown, and our reach continues to scale into different states, but we got our start here in St. Louis. I pinch myself often because when I took this role, I wasn’t sure about the whole cybersecurity world. Still, I have quickly realized (and learned) what a major role it plays in our workforce, national security, and individual security. The sector has continued to evolve quickly, but so do we. Our programs connect adults to in-demand skills and real career opportunities and inspire youth to see cybersecurity as a path they can pursue.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I outlined a bit of this in the origin story but to be honest, all the things I experienced over the years never felt like challenges. These were just my norm, and I have never lumped myself into the bucket of “teen parent” or any other type of statistic/category. I feel fortunate to have parents who took what could have been a bad situation and encouraged me to “step up” and do the right thing. That is what I did. I also recognize that my wife and I aren’t normal to get married. Mathematically, we were doomed from the start. Nearly 30 years later, we have supported each other to pursue our dreams and have built a life together that I think others admire, maybe even lament. Couple our relationship with strong mentors throughout my career, I have been very fortunate in my life and career.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
For the past 6 years, I have been leading CyberUp. CyberUp is a national nonprofit that cultivates the cybersecurity talent pipeline through adult apprenticeships and youth cybersecurity competitions. I am responsible for the organization’s success through outreach, fundraising, and advocacy. This has earned me a reputation as being “Mr. Apprenticeship.” I frequently speak on apprenticeship’s important role in growing the workforce through non-traditional and diverse talent. I am most proud of our role in starting new career paths for our apprentices. I am not special, just lucky to have had the opportunity to do what I do.

How can people work with you, collaborate with you, or support you?
We collaborate in 3 ways:
1. Companies can hire apprentices and support them to begin a cybersecurity career.
2. Companies can mentor apprentices or students who compete in our competitions.
3. Teachers/students can compete in PowerUp Cyber Games.

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