Time for something a little different: here's a guest post from Tareq Abdula, who recently graduated from the Part Time CAPSLOCK bootcamp. Tareq reflects on his time at CAPSLOCK, the importance of teamwork and collaboration, and some unexpected moral support from a feline friend...
On Stranger Tides
After attending my virtual CAPSLOCK graduation, I felt the need to write about my own personal journey of pursuing a career in cyber security from a non-IT background.
The 26-week CAPSLOCK course has kickstarted my cyber security journey and instilled a greater love of learning. My ambition of trying to learn part-time in the evenings began to feel like a virtual training gym. I was developing a stronger side of myself, and the aim was to become more focused as a person and the discipline was information security.
Despite the challenge of working our day jobs and committing our evenings to studying for the next 6 months, my cohort still signed up to be cyber-prepped and we were raring to go.
Self-discipline was essential, fostered by my virtual buddies who were consistently turning up to do our rounds and become cyber-ready. My team comprised of me, Josh, Barrie, and Barrie’s cat, Penny. We decided on the team name: ‘SIGH’BER Rebels.
In order to achieve anything, you need to surround yourself with like-minded individuals in the right environment. Within a short space of time, we developed a good working relationship in order to achieve our goals.
Every discipline has a routine and our cyber studying routine started after clocking out from the daily grind. In order to succeed, I had to manage time effectively, often grabbing a quick bite just before being asked to put on my thinking cap and be ready for action once more.
Hence the ‘SIGH’ in our team name: it was tiring! But if anything, this course has taught me the importance of determination and how to become more resilient.
We were all determined to know the ins and outs of cyber. In my quirky mind, Barrie's cat started to play the role of a coxswain on a rowing boat, keeping us clear of muddying the waters. She would often appear late into the evening sessions, perched on Barrie’s shoulder as if she were a parrot belonging to a Black-Hatter Pirate - obviously sat there to keep our spirits high!
Building Skills, Building Confidence
Now we have graduated and are sailing well into our cyber journey, I can proudly say that ‘I learnt the ropes’ with CAPSLOCK.
Throughout the programme, we developed the ability to understand what cyber security involves from a wider perspective, and were always figuring out how a company would perceive its own emerging cyber threats and manage those risks through mitigation.
Virtual collaboration taught me how to express my views and opinions in a professional manner. Problem-based scenarios which felt like mini-projects allowed us to understand current issues faced at work such as shadow IT, and how to promote a better security culture in the workplace.
Other ‘business’ skills were gained by regularly taking part in discussions, working in teams and acquiring study skills by preparing for industry-recognised certifications.
It is fair to say we were learning how to learn on the job, a continual process in the world of work and a common scenario in the field of IT with their abundance of projects. Through asking the right questions and sourcing the right materials, I became better at solving problems.
Since working in our teams, the course has allowed me to develop a good overview of many areas of cyber security including governance and risk, defence in depth, cryptography, IAM and cloud architecture. The CAPSLOCK curriculum has allowed me to develop a better conceptual understanding of how to ensure that the security decisions we make are sound and aligned with business objectives. An integral part of our learning was always thinking about how to apply what we have learnt and not just learn for the sake of it.
On the course, we had access to online learning platforms including Immersive Labs and Rangeforce to develop our technical knowledge. These provided a targeted pathway for further training in a specific area such as blue teaming, if that was your thing.
There were times on the course when I felt I was not producing my best work, or I simply was not taking in as much as I would like to. This created dissatisfaction in my own ability and surely that would lead to imposter syndrome. Thankfully, a lot of support was available in tackling such feelings to improve overall confidence, which was an added benefit.
Developing Understanding Through Collaboration
Whenever I tried to find a cyber security course, the options were as always conventional. But since joining CAPSLOCK, I have realised that I needed a modern approach to start learning, practising and developing as a professional. Working with dedicated individuals has allowed me to learn by observation and see how people interact technically, training me to think outside the box and even fathom Kerberos!
Taking part in positive discussions enhanced the learning experience. I learnt how to accept the viewpoint of others and benefit from their insights on the subject matter. I was beginning to think about cybercrime from an offensive security mindset. Initially, the struggle was being unfamiliar with criminal motivations and their cyber tactics.
I was very fortunate to be placed in a team of passionate cyber enthusiasts who had been working on their own technical mastery before starting the course. We got to work, learnt from the pitfalls we identified, and I became extremely grateful that they showed me the way to become cyber resilient!
Completing collaboration tasks using Google Docs was an interesting approach to learning and helped us adopt good habits for hybrid teamwork.
Frequently our team lead would be Barrie, who resembled a pacesetter in a marathon and his attitude was always: “keep going, keep learning, and we will get there in the end!”
I was equally impressed with Josh’s eye for detail on a pen testing report (not my strongest point, might I add) which gave me a chance to understand vulnerabilities and their security recommendations better. It came as a relief to know the duo seemed to be quite skilled with the ethical hacking side of things.
Their ability to complete learning labs flawlessly spelt out two shining words to me: Discipline and Mastery. How do you get good at something? Practice and repetition!
The CAPSLOCK programme allowed me to show up, do the work and keep trying until I got better.
Final Thoughts on CAPSLOCK
Having completed the course, I can honestly say that if you ever wanted to do something and felt you couldn’t, then CAPSLOCK offer the type of support any individual would benefit from. The support, coaching and mentoring staff were quite active in creating a positive learning environment.
Their way of coaching was all about positive reinforcement, which allowed me to be in the right frame of mind and persevere. I showed up and dealt with the doubts in my mind, allowing me to believe that my best work was yet to come. Anyone looking to learn more about cyber security will find support at CAPSLOCK!
Completing the course was a great achievement and that perfect opportunity I was looking for! It’s a unique programme that has allowed me to learn and consolidate core cyber security fundamentals. I finally found a way to figure out my own strengths, and which areas to explore for mastery.
After this course, every cat will be like Barrie’s cat to me: an alert that I need to keep going, do another lab, dive deeper into a new chapter, or challenge myself to another cyber certification.
I guess that’s what makes a CAPSLOCK learner: a lifelong learner.
For more information about CAPSLOCK's cyber security reskilling bootcamps, visit: https://capslock.ac.