The engineer working to keep your data secure

20 Sep 2022

By Evan Jones 5 min read

Harrison Mbugi, Security Engineer at Google talks about his career pathway and his current role at Google.

“I am a security engineer working at Google,” says Harrison Mbugi. “What I do is building detection for the company – building detection systems to help us identify any potential threats.” The role sees Mbugi performing threat analysis operations and working with software engineers to identify and remedy security flaws, as well as building detection mechanisms. 

With so many businesses and individuals relying on Google, protecting data from malicious attacks and keeping processes operating 24/7 is an incredibly important role. Despite his successful security career, though, it wasn’t always the path Mbugi had in mind.

Education and pathway

“The path was not actually clear,” says Mbugi of the progression to his current role. “When I was in secondary school, I was more interested in doing business. Later I changed and was more interested in doing sciences.”

Completing secondary school in Tanzania, Mbugi’s idea of a STEM career was initially bent towards engineering, but the idea didn’t last long.

“Two things happened,” Mbugi says. “One: I bought my own laptop – as in, this is mine. And then at the same time when I had that laptop I had access to the internet. Like this was me having control, not parents telling me what time to be online and what time not. That changed everything. I started becoming more and more curious of how the internet works.”

Still, the computer classes offered at Mbugi’s secondary school were limited in scope, and computer-related career paths were unclear – particularly programming.

“I really didn’t know what I could do with programming,” says Mbugi. “When you talk about tech, what was very common to me was, you go to the office, you know someone will be there to install software on your machine. Someone will be there to troubleshoot the network connectivity. That was very easy for me to relate because you know every office has one of those. It was hard to meet people who were like ‘hey, I work for this company as a software engineer.’ We didn’t have many of those.”

Mbugi followed his growing fascination with computers into a Bachelor of Computer Science at St. Xavier’s College, Palayamkottai in India. “People were like ‘you want to understand computers, how a computer works and everything? Do computer science,’” Mbugi says. 

In the first few years of his undergraduate, Mbugi often found himself questioning what a post-university career would look like for him, based on his studies. “The first year I realised that I’m doing a lot of programming. What can I do with what I’m learning after school? I really didn’t see that,” says Mbugi.

Mbugi took a practical approach, looking at jobs available in Tanzania that could fit with his education. He resolved to complete a Master’s in IT, studying at Loyola University Chicago in the US. “Every company has an IT guy,” says Mbugi. But, in his second year, his path changed again.

“One of the government’s websites got hacked,” Mbugi says. “What I thought was interesting was it took a while for that particular site to be fixed. At first [the hack] was there, I could see it was still there, and then the site went down. So the government couldn’t fix this, they had to take the site down for a while. It was very interesting because the image that I had for the government was that they had all these resources, they could do anything.” 

The experience piqued Mbugi’s interest. He worked in on-campus IT tech support at Loyola University, using his studies to delve deeper into the world of security. 

Companies in general, when they’re looking for candidates, the first thing is, they’re looking for candidates that they believe in, they have the right skills they need"
Harrison Mbugi, Security Engineer – Google

Moving into employment

For Mbugi, employment at Google was assured in the year before he graduated. For those looking to follow the same path, Mbugi’s example is a strong one. Though he missed an internship, extra-curricular learning made him a top candidate.

“I used to be very proactive in attending conferences,” says Mbugi. “I built a relationship with my professors and told them what I was interested in. Whenever they saw anything, they’d say ‘Harrison, there’s this thing you might be interested in.”

This diligence ended up drawing the interest of employers. “Before I went [to a conference], a Google recruiter reached out to me and said ‘Hey, I see that you’ve registered for this conference and you’ve uploaded your resume and it’s impressive, would you like to interview with us?’ And I said yeah, sure, why not?”

Mbugi got the job – an IT position with Google, from which he eventually transferred to his preferred role in security. For those already thinking of the transition to employment, Mbugi recommends a broad scope of education, backed up by real world experience. 

“Companies in general, when they’re looking for candidates, the first thing is, they’re looking for candidates that they believe in, they have the right skills they need,” Mbugi says. “For me, I had computer science and then transitioned to IT. So I had two fields in tech, but then on top of that I had work experience. I had chosen to only work in tech-related roles. You could see this knowledge that was accompanied by experience.”

For many, like Mbugi, the path to finding a good career fit can be a long one. Figuring it out along the way, though, is okay. As long as you find something you enjoy. “If you’re passionate about it, it never becomes work. It just becomes doing something you love,” says Mbugi.

Accel iQ STEM careers webinar

Looking ahead from high school to university and future employment can be a puzzle for young students. Accel iQ hosted a series of webinars designed to give students an understanding of future STEM careers.

If you couldn’t make it, you can catch up with a full replay of the webinar series to see what you’ve missed. 

Interested in learning more about future STEM careers?

Our ambition is not only to ensure that students get the ATAR they need to enter their chosen university and degree; it is to inspire and support students on their journey towards university.

We help students to discover which kind of career path will suit them and support them to choose and be accepted into the right course.

For more information contact us and one of our learning specialists will get back to you.