Tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Drexel alumnus, Akshay Finney, was one such student who combined his master’s degree coursework with industry exposure through a co-op in the emerging cybersecurity field at Meditology Services, a healthcare information technology security company.
Inspired by the 1995 classic film Hackers, Akshay works in cybersecurity doing what he calls “ethical hacking,” where Akshay and his colleagues travel to hospitals and hack their systems to demonstrate how they’re vulnerable. For Akshay, this work is building off of his Master’s Thesis at Drexel University, which focused on cyber-physical systems and medical device security. He’s passionate about this too, acknowledging that those most vulnerable are often the first to suffer.
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Finney recently completed a co-op in the healthcare industry doing IT risk management at Meditology Services, a company specializing in healthcare IT security.
He found the position through a career fair held for Drexel students by the Steinbright Career Development Center. Meditology Services was one of the many companies that had set up a booth to meet with potential interns, and Finney hit it off with Brian Selfridge, a partner in the firm.
“We met for an interview and it all worked out,” said Finney. “Career Fair was a great place for meeting potential employers.”
What did you study?
Before coming to Drexel University for my Masters (M.S., Cybersecurity) i did my Bachelor’s in Computers from Sathyabama University
Tell us about your work
As a graduate student co-op, Finney says his job was more like an entry-level risk management associate position. A large part of his job responsibilities was to evaluate security measures for health care providers to ensure they are compliant.
“I worked with the ethical hacking team, which meant I would try to break into the health care network and get personal health information. Then what we do is offer remediation plans to fill those gaps,” he explained.
How does your work benefit the community?
One of the many projects that Finney was involved with on co-op concerned the security of medical devices.
As fans of Showtime’s “Homeland”series know, one plot line in the second season featured a terrorist who attempted to access to the Vice President of the United States’ pacemaker. The terrorist wirelessly gained access to the device and accelerated the VP’s heartbeat, ultimately inducing a heart attack that killed the Vice President.
That’s something that could happen in real life too, Finney said.
“It’s very scary. This arguably is a hospital’s weakest link, because there are myriad ways you can hack into a medical device,” he said. “Cyber security in medical devices is not a field that people are doing a lot in. The industry is very narrow.”
Finney, who had never worked in healthcare IT before, says that his co-op gave him a lot of exposure to this field, which will come in handy in the future, he thinks.
“There’s just so much here to do,” he said.
What did you gain from the co-op?
While new to the healthcare IT industry, Finney brought a sound knowledge of cybersecurity. “With respect to my technical skills, Dr. Harish Sethu’s Web Security series was invaluable. The beauty of the course was that it wasn’t just for engineering or math majors,” reflected Finney, who thrived in the interdisciplinary nature of Drexel’s cybersecurity program.
As with any field though, real-world situations may vary from what is learned in the classroom. Finney put his studies to action through co-op, gaining important client service, presentation and decision-making skills. “When I joined Meditology my goal was to absorb everything and be the best I could be at what I did,” he said. “Being in the industry and getting hands-on experience, I felt that my security skills and knowledge had increased to another level.”
Beyond the professional experience and skills gained, Finney made lasting connections with colleagues and leaders in his field. “A huge aspect of my co-op was interacting with new people. Top information technology and security officers at some of the largest healthcare organizations in the U.S. were people I got to speak to on almost a daily basis,” Finney said.
Finney’s co-op also propelled him ahead of his peers before his approaching graduation. “As an international student a full-time job is something that weighs heavily on your mind,” Finney, who is originally from India, explained.
So, when Meditology Services offered him a full-time position before Drexel’s Commencement this past spring, he not only jumped at the opportunity, but also knew he was ready. He said, “Nothing prepares you for real-world experiences until you’ve gone into the trenches.”
Finney was just about fully trained when he started his first day as an associate, saying, ”I knew what to expect right off the bat.” He now works on innovative IT risk management and ethical hacking teams, traveling from cities ranging from Buffalo to Los Angeles, ensuring the critical security of Meditology’s healthcare provider clients.
Your advice to students?
Describing the career opportunity as a “combination of luck and hard work,” Finney said, “Once you have the mindset to ‘learn’ instead of ‘earn’, you find that perfect position.” He also credits being motivated by his new colleagues and mentors, saying, “My team at Meditology welcomed me through the journey.”
Finney’s advice as an alumnus will be especially useful for the many new and forthcoming graduate students enrolled in a co-op track program. “Making the most of the opportunities to learn about your industry goes a long way,” he said.
Acknowledging the journey isn’t always easy, Finney added, “I always say don’t be disappointed. Keep plugging through and eventually you will get it. Reminding yourself that you are good at what you do takes you to new heights. So be confident, and never be bogged down by disappointments.”