Shrikant Adhikarla

From INI to Microsoft – one alum’s journey to his dream job

By Jessica Corry, Carnegie Mellon University / 412-268-4829 / jcorry@andrew.cmu.edu

It was while wrapping up his undergraduate thesis in electrical and computer engineering that Information Networking Institute (INI) alumnus Shrikant Adhikarla discovered a personal quirk that makes him the savvy computer security expert that he is today: paranoia. In his case, it is a good thing.
 
Adhikarla channeled that trait of paranoia, along with experience gained in the INI’s Pittsburgh-Silicon Valley Master of Science in Information Technology - Information Security (MSIT-IS), to develop the skills necessary to land his dream job as a software security engineer at Microsoft.
 
He joined the INI’s bicoastal MSIT-IS program in 2011 after four years in industry. “CMU is one of the top schools for computer science and INI offers one of the most focused and very well-structured computer security course with great research in all aspects of security,” said Adhikarla. “This was a no-brainer.”
 
According to Adhikarla, great research and networking opportunities stand out among the program’s many advantages. While studying in Silicon Valley, he secured research experiences with IBM and Symantec, in addition to a practicum project with NASA. Flexing his hacking abilities outside the classroom, Adhikarla won first and second place in developer hackathon competitions sponsored by Sprint and PayPal.
 
Also crucial to his learning experience at the INI was the heavy focus on hands-on homework, course projects and exercises, which for him evolved to research presentations at national and international conferences. “The program is really well balanced in terms of cutting edge research in the software security field and providing hands-on experience dealing with the engineering side of those research problems,” Adhikarla explained. “While the former provides the needed building blocks for tackling new problems in the area, the latter gives the needed experience to make the right trade-offs and to design cost effective solutions.”
 
“As an information security professional, it’s vital to have a good balance of both,” he concluded.
 
At Microsoft, Adhikarla works as a software security engineer in the Azure cloud security team. He is involved in threat modeling, security review, exploit generation and penetrations testing to help secure Azure.

“In a nutshell, I have the freedom to break/hack platform, services and applications at various levels,” he said. “This was my dream job when I joined the INI and will be for the next few years. I see my career evolving towards becoming a software security consultant.”

 
With the recent increase in multiple TLS level attacks in the wild like BEAST, CRIME and POODLE, Adhikarla cites the nitty-gritty of TLS protocol learned in the INI’s Network Security course as vital to his current position. “Having a solid understanding of the TLS protocol and its internals, it was super easy to keep up with the new attacks/research and design mitigations for Azure cloud.”
 
For students with their eyes set on a job at Microsoft, Adhikarla recommends finding the area in security that they are passionate about, challenging themselves by taking related courses and gaining hands-on experience through projects or internships.
 
“Shrikant is an excellent example of how students can really benefit from the INI's MSIT-IS program,” said Patrick Tague, associate director of the INI. “His time spent at the Silicon Valley campus demonstrates how students can quickly build on what they learn at CMU by applying their skills immediately to real-world problems and becoming influential players in industry.”
 
Over the past few years, Adhikarla has witnessed firsthand how the field of information security has evolved. Until early 2009, he says, information security consisted mainly of hackers wanting to prove point or make the news. Today, it is an industry in itself. The attack model has become more targeted, with ample opportunities to monetize by selling bots or attack vectors.
 
“There is an entire field opening up for an array of security consultants for almost all kinds of businesses,” concluded Adhikarla, which is great news for INI students headed toward a career in security.

To read more profiles of INI alumni, visit the Meet Our Alumni page.