From education to employment

Spotting the next generation of cyber talent

James Hadley, CEO and founder of Immersive Labs

Cyber security could be an option for you!

Today’s younger generations are fully immersed with technology. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but a recent study revealed 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone, with over 45% claiming to be online ‘almost constantly.’

With their information likely spread across social media platforms and the far corners of the internet, it’s entirely possible they would have been affected by the recent data breaches suffered by Facebook and Google. But how many are aware of this, and how many have changed their online behaviour as a result?

The unfortunate truth is that, at one point or another, we will all be impacted by a data breach or cyber-attack. In fact, it has become a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. Not to be disheartened, the youth of today can take this opportunity to become torch-bearers – better skilled in information security than those who came before.

With so much information stored online, more needs to be done to unearth the excellent young talent available at our fingertips to try and close the industry’s skills gap.

The traditional cybersecurity entry route is studying computer science at either university or college. The individual may have studied ICT at lower levels which transpired into early interest, or perhaps they possessed a desire to learn the many components that make up cyber.

Regardless of the learning process, the individual would have primarily been taught in a classroom setting, which has proved ineffective when trying to develop the practical skills required for a career in cybersecurity. Furthermore, industry-recognised qualifications are not good barometers for aptitude, especially if the individual lacks experience.  

Candidates from various backgrounds bring a variety of skills

However, if you happen to be a student that hasn’t chosen a computer science degree or similar, don’t fret. Certain personality traits are highly sought after and sometimes it’s these qualities that can lead you to be an even better cybersecurity professional.

Curiosity, self-motivation, analytical thinking, willingness to learn, communication and honesty are traits any employer would expect when recruiting – and it’s no different in cybersecurity.

Coming from or having a technical background is no longer the minimum; a willingness to learn is. Candidates from various backgrounds will bring a variety of skills and perspectives to the job. The technical aspect of cybersecurity can certainly be learned over time, but many don’t realise that raw skills developed from different degrees or work experience are easily transferable.

Nevertheless, there are many paths available to students who want to begin a journey in cyber and get up to speed with learning the practical skills. Immersive Labs’ Students’ Digital Cyber Academy (DCA) is a free scheme promoting cybersecurity learning, helping those in study develop their practical cyber skills.

The browser-based platform allows participants to learn at their own pace and at their own level. There are various degrees of difficulty, so even the least experienced individuals can pick up the DCA without feeling overwhelmed. Also, because it is available 24 hours, seven days a week, students can work around their current studies without feeling bogged down when it comes to missed course deadlines.

The platform gives users a virtual environment wherein they can test themselves against real-life cyber scenarios. By gathering experience and completing challenges, new job opportunities are unlocked. Individuals also compete on a local leaderboard, while a global leaderboard pits universities against one another.

The leaderboard is not only for students to track their own progression; it also enables potential employers to spot the next generation of cyber talent. With the DCA currently used by some of the world’s leading organisations, it is a way for students to kick start their cyber career, while developing at a pace comfortable to them.

One user of the platform said, ‘I’ve found that it has given me the opportunity to explore a lot of areas that my university doesn’t cover or doesn’t cover on a more technical level. I’ve always found that I’ve learned better from doing rather than reading or being “talked at” by lecturers, so the environment that Immersive Labs provides has been really beneficial for me.’

To conclude, cybersecurity should not be considered a vocation for the elite or for the select few. This myth has been well and truly debunked.

Now, with the right means of education and resources, students from all backgrounds can possess the knowledge and confidence to seek out a career in cybersecurity. The DCA is free and widely accessible, so with more willing participants, more skilled security professionals will develop, contributing to the nation’s future digital safety.

James Hadley, CEO and founder of Immersive Labs

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