Jesse Miller's Ed Tech Odyssey

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Unlike many in the tech world, for Jesse Miller, a formal 4-year college degree was off the table due to his family’s economic situation. Over the years this has been, in part, what has fueled his desire to make a difference in the world of workforce development and digital technology systems, a passion he is now pursuing in a major way.

A business advocate and tactical operations expert living in Israel with over 10 years of experience, Miller’s early life included a stint with the counter-terror wing of the Israeli Defense Forces. 

Miller was born and raised in a diverse middle-class neighborhood in the Chicagoland area about 20 minutes from Chicago proper. In a recent interview with Gokhshtein Media, he noted

“I didn’t have the easiest upbringing. I am an only child and half Jewish in a neighborhood where I was the only one of that ethnic background. I dealt with quite a bit of antisemitism growing up. I remember pennies being thrown at me in grade school, a swastica being painted on my locker in junior high. I didn’t have much confidence in myself and was constantly bullied.” 

He says that violence was a way of life in his area, which led him to believe that this was just normal. 

“Gang members were admired by my peers at the High School I attended like basketball or football team members are admired in maybe more affluent areas. This led me to take several wrong turns in my youth.” 

According to Miller, his grandparents were his only real connection to cultural Judaism and they were big supporters of Israel. It was through them, he says, that he learned about Israel. He recounts: 

“Israel seemed to be a country where being Jewish was normal, a country where Jewishness seemed to represent the opposite of how Jews in America were thought of and portrayed in the American media. While I didn’t have family, friends, or acquaintances in Israel, I made visiting a goal.” 

Miller says he never expected to go there, in large part because he believed that traveling internationally was for wealthy people. 

“I had barely been out of the state of Illinois, let alone the country. But after the passing of my grandparents, I was given a small inheritance that I could use to buy a plane ticket.” 

Upon arriving there he immediately volunteered for an organization working on Israeli army bases during the week, and on the weekend. For this, they provided him with a place to stay. Through that experience, he learned how an individual like himself could earn citizenship and even serve in the military.”

After a life of being different because of an identity he didn’t even choose, Miller took the leap and stayed. At the time he thought that despite the country being less developed than his homeland, at least his children would grow up with a sense of normalcy if not belonging.

“Clearly, things are not that simple, but that’s the story of how I got here.” 

He says that the effects of not having a higher education for him came after he served in the Israeli Military and entered into the workforce.

“When I was discharged I went back to the states and ended up working three jobs to support my family. I met a lot of people of low competence working in high-paying even entry-level positions strictly due to having stayed in an education system and earn a degree.” 

Miller says he had interviews where the manager would say that the BA qualification was a requirement, even though he was technically overqualified for the position. He found ways around this barrier by acquiring cheap skills qualifications. 

“I got my CDL and a personal trainer certificate. I was a truck driver by day, moonlighted in the nightlife industry, and worked as a personal trainer on the weekends. During that time I met a lot of people along the way who had attended college, had entry-level jobs that required less skill, and paid nearly double what I made with all three jobs.”

Later in life after moving back to Israel, he decided that he potentially wanted to work for the government. Unfortunately, he was told by a friend that worked there that their hiring policies wouldn’t allow for that because he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. 

“I was even told to get a degree in “interpretive dance” or the easiest thing I could find because it doesn’t matter what kind of degree you have - just that you need to have one.” 

Today, he is driven to provide others with tools he didn’t have the luxury of receiving. Working now in education, he’s seen things slowly changing. Miller offers this: 

“Knowledge of new technology is becoming a prime mover for social mobility, rather than the old guard at the Ivy League schools. Cybersecurity is at the cutting edge of technology and there is a massive worker shortage, leading to those knowledgeable and competent in the field being able to get around a lot of the meaningless qualifiers which indicate nothing but a class status. I thought this could make a real impact so here I am, trying to do my little part in making that change.” 

In terms of how his role commanding a counter-terror wing of the Israeli Defense Forces impacted his life, Miller responded: 

“Well to be clear, I was a squadron commander in a unit that did counter-terror activities. I wasn’t some big general. I was drafted like everyone else and served the time the government-mandated. I was permitted to lead up to 15 people and no more. As far as the work I did in counter-terrorism, it was arrests, ambushes, riots, and other security-related operations. I was a bit more accustomed to violent situations than a lot of my colleagues, which is probably how I received  this position after commanders’ school.” 

Not wanting to turn this interview into a political thing, Miller says the work taught him that things in life are not so much about black and white, good and bad. Rather the world is in shades of grey. 

“This wasn’t a conflict between Israel and Palestine. There’s a very very small group of settlers that cause problems, and there’s a relatively small group of activists that come from western countries that are working to destabilize what is a fairly peaceful area. These are people from the height of privilege in Europe and the U.S. And they orchestrate a lot of what’s seen in the news in the west."

Asked about what led him to eventually pursue work in the field of cybersecurity, Miller notes: 

“To be quite honest, I didn’t pursue cybersecurity at first. It was a job I took where they were seeking a native English speaker with some business experience and I took it.” 

He says that before he began working in cybersecurity, it seemed in his mind to be a boring vocation. 

“I imagined people staring at a screen all day obsessively looking at code. That I would suggest is the first misconception. Cybersecurity has many aspects and while it does all involve technology, coding tools are just one aspect of the industry.” 

Miller believes that up until very recently, cybersecurity was thought to be only for corporations and the military. He debunks that notion saying that many everyday people are often unaware that they've been hacked.

“Identities have been stolen, used, and never traced. People are hurt by cyber-crime. Businesses have gone under, and national security has been gravely damaged. Cybersecurity is the frontline of modern warfare and that it’s not boring or tedious work.” 

In terms of the broader tech scene in Israel, Miller had this to share: 

“Just as I mentioned that the army is amateurish, this extends to pretty much everything in Israel. While this has some major downsides, it’s also somewhat of an advantage in the tech industry as this sort of loose structure can actually unleash some pretty powerful innovations and it shows.”

He says that the innovative work culture there combined with the prevalence of affordable up-skilling tech schools creates an atmosphere where there’s an abundance of qualified people that come ready to work. He believes that this has been a key to Israel’s success in tech and a major reason why the country is a world leader in cybersecurity.

Miller also had a number of interesting insights about what’s happening in the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain in Israel. He remarked: 

“As far as cryptocurrencies, the Israeli government is suspicious of them and like many things has been among the first to regulate them, unfortunately. As is the case with most of the Israeli economy, things produced in the tech sphere are produced for the rest of the world and not for domestic consumption. The good news is that there has been a lot of innovation coming out of the blockchain crypto arena as well as in the education sector” 

In terms of his field of cybersecurity, Miller had a number of things to share about emerging trends in that space. Asked about what’s fueling the growing number of cyberattacks throughout the world, he opines: 

“Lack of manpower and a skills shortage is a major reason. But it goes beyond that though. Specifically, I believe that organizations need to redesign their entire infrastructure to be more cyber-aware.

He goes on to say that it’s precisely the most inflexible organizations that need to change the most: 

“Like the military, large banks, oil companies. Not only are they not designed for rapid changes, but to mobilize that many people take a lot of time and even changes to the management structure.” 

As for why the recent exploitation, he doesn’t believe it’s necessarily recent:

“I just think it’s just been emboldened of late. Enemies of the United States have been hacking critical infrastructure in the U.S. for more than a decade on a regular basis. They’ve experienced an unsure and less than a confident response to these attacks along with little in the way of consequences for their nefarious actions.” 

Miller believes that hackers are ramping up their efforts largely because of the volatile political situation in the United States, where they know that any sort of military action, or actions leading towards military action, would be hugely unpopular among one half of the public or the other. So it’s almost a free pass for foreign adversaries. 

“One frightening trend recently is that it appears that attacks are designed to further destabilize and agitate the political climate.If the free world does nothing, more specifically if it doesn’t invest in education and upskilling to shrink the workforce shortage, expect these attacks to become bigger and bolder.”

Asked about what sorts of professional development practices he regularly engages in to expand his worldview and keep up with rapid developments in this space, Miller offered this: 

“I am currently taking the cybersecurity course at the company I work for. I am always taking courses on alternative education platforms like Udemy to learn new skills."

To broaden my horizons I try to keep up to speed on the political and security challenges worldwide, and to learn about the major companies and stakeholders moving these things forward.”

Added to this, Miller says he does a lot of reading about economics, political theory, and history. 

“Of all the things I do to try to challenge and develop my worldview, history has always been the most helpful to me. I would say, we are creatures of collective habit that just get new toys to play with as time goes on.” 

In the end, Miller says that what’s most important to him is spreading the message that if you’re not privileged with having achieved a 4-year degree, it doesn’t matter anymore. He concludes: 

“Innovations in education and technology are changing the world. So within 6 months to 1 year, you can get a tech job that pays as much as some doctors in an industry with absolute job security and unlimited potential for professional growth.”

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