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Cybersecurity duo advances to nationals this summer

In April, juniors Vincent Dang and Kaden Tham were named the state champions in cybersecurity for SkillsUSA and will represent Texas at the national event held in Atlanta, Georgia, in June. After winning second place at state last year, they have practiced about 12 hours a week and feel confident and excited about their upcoming challenge.

“I am really looking forward to the competing side of it,” Kaden said. “I feel like we have a good shot at winning at least third place just because of how much we have practiced and prepared for this.”

After seeing how they did in 2023, these juniors became even more determined to do better this year.

“We knew what we needed to work on, and I spent the last year focusing on those things,” Vincent said. “When we go to Atlanta for nationals, I’m looking forward to networking with other people in the same field and looking for new skills to learn through the competition.”

Former computer science teacher Leonard Cohn, who has helped them prepare for the event, is proud of what they have accomplished at this year’s competitions.

“I was not too surprised to find out that they advanced to nationals,” Cohn said. “They came in second place last year, so I had really high hopes for them this year. They both have really competitive personalities and work really hard to finish what they want to get done.”

One of the biggest things that has helped Kaden and Vincent do so well in the competition is their ability to work together effectively on events such as Capture the Flag (CTF).

“The advantage of working with someone on a CTF is that not everyone is experienced or familiar with each category,” Vincent said. “For example, I don’t really do cryptography, but Kaden does, so he solved many of the cryptography challenges while I solved the other challenges. That helped us get a lead on the competition.”

Kaden enjoys the area of cybersecurity, and his skills complement Vincent’s when they compete.

“I really enjoy the cryptography side of the event,” Kaden said. “Cryptography is a branch of cybersecurity that is all about breaking codes and figuring out how they encrypt a piece of data. It is a lot of math, and I prefer math over other aspects of cybersecurity.”

Cybersecurity training allows students to learn the skills necessary to help businesses find vulnerabilities in their data to protect themselves and their clients.

“The cybersecurity event is more of an activity than a test,” Kaden said. “They give us a couple of challenges, like an application, a website, or some sort of creation from code, and we have to find a way to break it or hack it to see where the vulnerabilities are, which gives us training for a future career in the field of cybersecurity.”

Cohn recognizes how their talents complement each other to create a solid team.

“Vincent has a lot of technical knowledge and can easily take new facts and data and integrate them into his mental model,” Cohn said. “Kaden is incredible at checking, logical thinking, and problem-solving, so he really understands what needs to be done from start to finish. They work together by Kaden coming up with a plan and Vincent working really hard to enact it.”

The biggest way Cohn has seen them grow is in their ability to take learning into their own hands.

“They came in freshman year, and both of them were really interested in a lot of topics,” Cohn said. “Both of them really dedicated themselves to what they wanted to study and continued to make that growth. It’s exciting to see what they will accomplish this year and their senior year.”

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