The Army National Guard signal officer earned his bachelor’s degree in information systems and cybersecurity in 2018, the same year he began working at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Not long after being hired as an entry-level analyst, Mims was promoted to technical lead of the Mission Systems Security Center, a team of 20, for the Mission Control Center.
He accomplished all of this before his 30th birthday.
“NASA was one of those places that always seemed really cool to work for but I never really thought it’d be a possibility,” he said. “The combination of having military experience in certain areas and then having the degree from CSU really helped me wind up here.”
The Mission Systems Security Center provides support for flight operations and the International Space Station, working in the Mission Control Center. Mims’ team works in a highly secured area, but they can always keep their sights on what is important.
“We work in a segregated facility because what we do can be so sensitive; we are talking to the flight director and ground controller throughout the day in order to maintain an accurate operational picture,” he said. “We have a TV in our room that we always keep on a livestream from the International Space Station to remind us of what we’re protecting and what the mission is. It’s a reminder that there are people up in space who are counting on you to do a good job.”
The most surprising thing about working for NASA? Seeing just how many people are involved to make each mission possible.
“It takes so many people to actually get to space, and people are involved at all different levels. It is quite amazing what they are able to accomplish. It’s not just the scientists and astronauts on board.”
Mims says he enjoys exercising his creative muscles in this job, as there is always an interesting problem to solve.
“Cybersecurity is a lot of critical thinking and figuring out how to solve unique problems with whatever resources you have available,” he said. “There is often a unique or even weird solution to the problem; you just have to think outside of the box, just like how you would think a detective might work. You must look at all the data and figure out how the pieces fit together, building a story or where the bad guy came from, what his objectives were, and the tools he was trying to use.”
In addition to NASA, Mims also works in cybersecurity and communications for the National Guard, which he has been a part of for 10 years.
“The two roles benefit from one another; the training I get in one role helps in the other,” he said. “One of the cool things about cybersecurity is that it’s a very dynamic and changing thing, especially because people are involved. It’s more difficult but also more fun because you always have something new and weird to freak out about. It is a scary, interconnected world. You always have to be reading up on the latest trends and trying to stay on par to stay ahead of the bad guys.”
Staying ahead of the bad guys is exactly what his team at NASA does.
“We’re a 24/7 operation, constantly protecting the network. We have people who work around the clock 365 days a year because the bad guys don’t stop on Christmas.”
Mims’ advice for anyone looking to begin a career in cybersecurity is to think outside of the box.
“You have to be studying on your own and doing projects on your own, building virtual environments and breaking them, figuring out how everything works,” he said. “Try to think outside of the box on how somebody would get into your personal computer in order to figure out how to prevent it.”
“My degree enabled me to get my dream job at NASA,” he said. “If you put in the work, it is absolutely worth it. You can try to skate by with the bare
minimum; however, if you truly take advantage of instructors and course materials, you can become a sharpened sword in the cybersecurity fight.”
While landing such a stellar job early in his career came as a surprise, Mims says he feels grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the important work that NASA is doing.
“The vice president laid out the plans for NASA to try to go back to the moon by 2024 and go to Mars after that. My team is involved in that process, so it’s a cool time to be a part of the history NASA is making,” he said.
As far as going to space himself, Mims says he’ll leave that up to the professionals.
“They go up for six months at a time and train for two-to-three years before that; I don’t know if I could handle that much time in such a tiny amount of space.”
“It is a scary, interconnected world. You always have to be reading up on the latest trends and trying to stay on par to stay ahead of the bad guys.”
“My degree enabled me to get my dream job at NASA. If you put in the work, it is absolutely worth it.”