Man in graduation attire sits in front of computers smiling

You Have Come So Far, Keep Going: Message from a 2024 Cyber Graduate

Samdup Choephel was around 10 years old when he crossed the Himalayas on foot, leaving behind his home in Tibet for India. 

He recalls several people in his refugee group suffering from frostbite, snow blindness, or hypothermia. Despite experiencing and witnessing hardship at such an early age, Choephel counts himself as fortunate and is determined to see the positive aspects of life. 

His outlook on life has helped him endure the incredible challenge of protecting the electronic data of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), also known as the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, in one of the biggest cyber-attack hotbeds in the world. 

“I don’t expect to single-handedly keep our network’s safe,” he said. “But I will make sure it is much more difficult to hack our network and force attackers to use twice as much money and manpower.” 

Man wearing graduation attire standing outside
Samdup Choephel will walk across the stage Saturday afternoon to receive a master's degree in cybersecurity. Photos by Kevin Beasley/ College of Computing 

He left his role in the exiled government to study best practices at the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy (SCP) two years ago. Now that he has earned his degree, Choephel is preparing to return to Dharamshala, India, and continue where he left off. 

“When I return, I want to serve my government and pass on what I know,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like there is a shortage of hands. There is a need for cybersecurity skills, but no one there to teach them.”

With a newly discovered passion for teaching, Choephel hopes to help bridge that gap himself. When working as a teaching assistant, the alum-to-be taught himself the class’s coursework in his free time to answer any student question. 

Despite a natural talent for computers, he needed to develop strong reading and researching skills to handle complex problems. In Professor Taesoo Kims CS 6265: Information Security Lab, for example, he had to dig into reading up on the advanced techniques in Kim’s intense, hands-on security laboratory.

“I told myself, ‘Forget finishing the degree. You aren’t leaving without mastering this course,’” said Choephel. “It was very difficult but so rewarding.”

Not only did he finish everything in his master’s program, but Choephel is also using what he learned in Kim’s lab to workshop a red team vs. blue team simulation for students in India to practice their cybersecurity skills. 

As he starts to make travel arrangements to return home this summer, Choephel says it feels like he just got acclimated to life at Georgia Tech and will miss it dearly. While there were difficult moments, he persevered by remembering his growth.

“If I had to say one thing to current students, it would be to keep going,” Choephel said. “You have come so far, and you were accepted to Georgia Tech, which wasn’t easy.” 

After he walks the stage this weekend, he plans to fly to New York to visit two close friends. 

Before returning to his job at the CTA, Choephel will spend a month meditating at the Bodh Gaya, a religious site and place of pilgrimage. When he resumes his security role in the exiled Tibetan government, he will sit next to Tenzin Chokden (M.S. Cybersecurity 23), who has been saving him a seat for nearly a year.