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A career in IT and Cyber: Steps to Success for Service Leavers to become Service Do'ers!

Updated: May 6, 2020

Guest Blogger Tom, providing advice for Service Leavers looking to get into Cyber Security
MoD Service Leaver top tips for a career in IT and Cyber

Welcome to our guest blogger Tom from the Royal Navy, who has put together an informative guide using his own experiences to help you start your IT and Cyber Career.

One thing I have come to realise about the term IT is that it is wide as it is deep. This is both with technology, potential roles and the certification to work towards them.

If you are reading this I bet you have had or are having the same questions I had:

  • Where do I start?

  • Where do I want to get to?

  • What role is best for me?

  • What is the journey going to be like?

  • What certifications will be best for me?

These questions go around the head of both serving personnel and ones who are already outside working towards their dream role in IT and cyber.

Here are a few things I have picked up during my journey.

Life is about cogs and keeping them, all turning. I have moved forward with my career in the armed forces and delivered 110% towards it by ensuring I achieved the aim in whatever roles I had. I know as much as anyone on some days the service will throw a spanner in and it may defeat you for a period. If you keep your CV, LinkedIn and your PDR up to date with a plan it will give you a new level of resilience within in the service as you are better for it. Always remember OPSEC and security is always paramount.

The first cut is the deepest. My first tackle of IT certification other then a GCSE and a bit covered off on phase 3 training was in 2010 after a deployment. I had 5 weeks leave and didn’t know how to fill the time so I booked myself on a Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching Course in Manchester. I didn’t complete the pre-requisites and even prior to going on the course had the exam booked as I had the old military ethos of do the course, pass the exam. I booked the exam and failed it miserably with little revision.

Problem: Looking back I was not prepared for this course compared to my SOPs I have today to tackle learning pre-course.

Solution: Don’t have the mentality that if I am going to attend a course I will be ready for the exam after. Since then I have passed several certs: ITIL, CCNA R+S, CCNA Sec SPLUNK Power User to name a few.

Try, Try and Try Harder. I did not pass my CCNA R+S or Security the first time. Get back in the ring. Take note of what area you fell short on and study hard on those areas whilst maintaining your other revision and tackle the exam again as soon as you can.

Have a plan. I like to have options. Keep on top of your drafting cycle, have multiple plans whether it involves a sterling career of 22 years of whether a career in the services ends tomorrow through choice or not. IT should contain education, certification and if possible, budgeting. I currently have a 3- and 5-year plan.

It’s all about exposure. I am always on the search for development, resources and events. I often search Eventbrite and Google for the next thing to do. Because of this I have had an adventure. I have become a Certified Python Instructor (PiCadmy, Manchester), attended cyber security expos (Bristol/London), various BCS events and talks at local universities by IT/Cyber specialists.

Know your resources. There are 101 different free and paid resources to study and support. I currently use Cybrary and to self study. There are podcasts and YouTube channels to help develop yourself.

Know your strengths and develop your own SOPs. With every new topic I do have the following:

  • Get the exam topics

  • Textbook – usually in PDF form on IPAD

  • Lab it up – get the software or borrow the kit required

  • Video Package – from YouTube

  • Join a community - related groups on social media

  • Practise Questions – with any course I like to have a few VCE files squirreled away

  • Professional Course/Training on standby

  • Take good notes. I do this using Good Notes on an iPad Pro. This is for before the course on videos/research where I did over and during the course. CCNA Security had over 70 videos and I did 250 pages of notes prior to attending the course at BluescreenIT

  • Overcoming Learning Difficulties/SPLDs: I suffer badly with Dyslexia and don’t like to read the fat text books you get with a certification. I currently use Natural Reader to break down the text and have it read to me/read along on certain areas on a pdf. These are usually supplied with each book in CD form. It may take a little bit of work to get it on the Natural Read app but with it works well

Take Ownership of your learning and be realistic, but use the course. The course I got delivered at Bluescreen IT delivered to a high spec and there were no expectations of prior learning. If this was the case then do not expect to sit the exam on the final day of course. If you do some pre-learning and use the course as a polisher and conformation exercise then the professional certification on the last day of the course is a valid option. Of an evening I went back to my room and did practise questions where there were areas that I needed help on. I then used the knowledge of the instructor to get a better understanding of my weak areas where I fell short on research and practise questions.

You don’t ask, you don’t get. Again, following a deployment, I had some spare leave and as the Mrs was going to be at work when I am at home and to save me sitting in my pants, I emailed several cyber protection/SOC/penetration companies to get some work experience to widen my experience and knowledge. I only got one response with a possible yes and that was Bluescreen IT. Doing work experience with them has been fantastic. I have fulfilled the roles of a SOC Analyst Tier 1 and Tier 2, met a fantastic Cyber Security and training team whilst making some brilliant connections. Whilst there I spontaneously wanted to study for the COMPTIA CySA+ and I have already booked my exam for Dec 2019. I am currently doing self study with books, videos and practise exam. I do the background support of if and if I don’t reach the standard prior to the exam I can always postpone it and do the course at Bluescreen IT.

Make the right decision for you. I chose to use an ELC to do a CCENT, CCNA R+S and CCNA Sec package with Bluescreen IT and it is the best choice I have make for my career future in a long time. It has given me confidence when dealing with contractor’s day to day at work and it has made my CV more rounded from the previous career and leadership/management courses provided by the service. I know they expire after 3 years; this is only going to push me towards the next level of CCNP.

My 15-year career in the service has been and still will be challenging, but with the knowledge I have gained from pushing myself 110% both within the service and through my own personal development I know I will thrive in both elements and be ready for a career in Cyber Security when it does come to me leaving the service.

I plan to do a live chat session in a few weeks. If anyone is interested please let me know.

I hope I have given you an overview into my journey, my successes, my failures, my lessons learnt and what has given my determination to carry on so that it can help you with yours.

At the very least I hope this blog has been something that can be used to drive yourself towards IT success.

I wish you all the best in your own journey.

We are looking to set up a live chat session, which will take place on Bluescreen IT linked in group. Click here to follow and find out more.

Date: TBC and will be promulgated via website and social media.

Follow Tom here on his LinkedIn profile



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