By Erhan T, finalist in the Security Serious Unsung Heroes Awards
As an ambassador for the Cyber Security Challenge UK, I often volunteer my time to be present at career fairs to support and answer questions from the next generation of possible cyber security professionals. The first question I am often asked is “how do I get into Cyber Security?” I talk through the variety of ways from apprenticeships to formal education (university), to even good-old self-taught via free resources online however one thing I always recommend regardless of the approach is a mentor. As a mentor for several aspiring students, who gain an experienced mentor with industry expertise, will find that they gain exposure to the breadth of technical challenges and soft skills all security professions must possess when tackling crucial decisions as part and parcel of working in this industry. This real-world perspective will complement the academic study which is also essential for any technical questions they may have as well as the softer skills to aid with any tricky decision-making choices we all must make as we progress on our career paths as security professionals.
Before anyone embarks on their mentor seeking journey I would suggest that they ask themselves the four questions below?
- Am I willing to dedicate my time to this? – Mentors may often give you recommendations to your challenges which will require you to go away and do some exploration/reading. Mentors will want to see you are motivated and are willing to react to the advice provided.
- Am I eager to learn? – Security professionals should be willing to keep learning through certifications, reading and online resources. One thing any security professional will tell you is that our industry moves fast! I often feel that I have been away for a whole year following a two-week vacation!
- Am I willing to try new approaches? – Sometimes as a mentee you may not like what you hear, your mentor may explain that your past approach was ineffective and suggest a different approach. I recall in the past as a mentee for my own mentor when I didn’t like an answer I received. I would ask myself “surely that can’t be right” but I remember reflecting and then thankfully came across a quote by the motivational speaker Tony Robbins who puts it very nicely and said, “Success Leaves Clues, but they must be acted upon”.
- Do you know which area of cyber security interests you? I’m often asked, “What do people do in Cyber Security? to which I often respond, “It depends on the role you have” When I last checked there were officially 80+ different job types in Cyber Security and the list keeps growing. I recommend every potential mentee to not silo themselves and instead explore the different areas to identify the areas they prefer. (red team, blue team, Information assurance etc.)
When looking for a mentor, they should provide the following qualities:
- Be willing to listen – no question should be a silly question and your mentor should be willing to listen and respond no matter what you ask. We are all on a learning journey.
- Open and transparent to share – Mentors are often established in the field and can often link you up with others in the industry to help with specific challenges you may have. We shouldn’t overlook the power of networking!
- Provide advice to aid with your career progression – Mentors should be able to provide specific advice on educational opportunities (certifications to take) as well as advise on industry experience opportunities that may be open to you. As I often tell my mentees, “Experience + Education = Destination”.