There are many paths into cybersecurity and other tech fields. No matter what the person’s background or experience, so long as there is talent and dedication, there is a path available.
While graduate programmes help bring skilled workers in through the traditional university model, apprenticeships help reach people who may not feel that path is for them.
With a wide range of apprenticeships available and companies dedicated to nurturing talent wherever it comes from, anyone can excel in cybersecurity.
One such company offering cybersecurity opportunities is the international IT consulting company CGI. As part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week, DIGIT spoke with two of its employees. Software Developer Chloe Gallacher was originally hired as an apprentice, while Security Analyst Daniel Harper joined the company through its graduate programme.
While most schools focus on the traditional career path of a university degree followed by a job, Gallacher had her doubts that this was the right way to develop her tech talents.
“The idea of spending four years studying and then trying to find a job wasn’t sitting well,” she said. “I had seen the opportunity of an apprenticeship and thought the idea of earning while I learned and getting work opportunities while studying suited me much better.”
Gallacher started her career by joining CGI as an apprentice software developer and studying at Glasgow Caledonian University.
She learned about different programming languages and gained more general skills like project management. After graduating, the foundation of her solid skills meant she was able to change track and move into cybersecurity, studying for a masters in the subject.
In addition, she also works as an ambassador to help bring young women into the apprenticeship scheme. This involves going out to schools to talk to girls interested in tech. “That was definitely missing when I was still in school, just that representation,” Gallacher said.
For Harper, after studying ethical hacking at the University of Abertay in Dundee, he joined CGI through its graduate programme. As part of his education, he learnt how to perform penetration tests, along with other technical skills such as digital forensics, computer networking, and programming.
“The graduate scheme was a good way to get accustomed to working in the industry,” he said. “At university, you are so focused on the coursework you don’t have the luxury of understanding how the work translates into the industry sector. The graduate scheme just allows you time to understand how things work and build up your skills to that required level.”
With on-the-job training, Gallacher was able to relate her university studies to her work more easily. “Because I’m in university one day a week and at work the other four, I was able to see how my education fit into work,” she said.
Since starting, both Harper and Gallacher have seen their duties evolve as they gain experience.
When he first started, Harper was largely involved in security operations. “That was understanding the security ops team’s daily duties – security incidents like lost equipment or virus detection – and investigating them,” he said.
As his career progressed, so too have the roles he performed. “I’ve been working on security governance and doing more technical reviews or impact assessments for project work.
“Part of my role was to scope pen tests and conduct some security assurance on overall solutions as well. There’s been a massive jump from when I first started. I’m a year and a half into the graduate programme, so it’s been fantastic to expand my knowledge like that.”
Since Gallacher started in software development, she is still at the beginning of her cybersecurity career.
“My current role is focused on test automation,” Gallacher said. “Making sure that the application I’m testing is testing effectively and robustly.”
In addition, Gallacher was entrusted with a large assignment based in Cardiff, and was on-site for six weeks, before switching to remote working, a sign of the confidence CGI placed in her.
While the drive and talent both employees bring to their careers have helped them progress, the support CGI provides them has been vital. With a sense of direction and access to learning resources, apprentices and graduates alike can realise their potential.
“The support and guidance the team have given me have been fantastic, ensuring that I meet my own expectations, but giving me guidance as well,” Harper said.
“Because I was in the security operations, that’s a wide area with a learning curve, but the graduate scheme gives you a safe environment to expand your knowledge to the required level,” Harper said.
Gallacher noted: “When I first joined, having no previous work experience, I had a bit of a fear about doing work I’ve never done. When I joined CGI, I was given a mentor.”
As part of its apprentice and graduate programmes, CGI offers a database of learning tools to help support its employees. These include a suite of resources selected from appropriate parts of academia, along with presentations, and practical examples for applied skills.
Graduates are offered a serious of boot camps as part of a 12-week training period. These include working with Java, DevOps, automation, and core CGI values, to name a few.
- Scottish Apprenticeship Week | Modern apprentices for modern skills
- Comment | 2020 and beyond – A paradigm shift for VDI and the edge
- Gift of the Gab? CEO of alt-right social network publishes tirade following data breach
Furthermore, the company offers multiple distinct career paths. These list the duties and skills needed for each level, helping employees understand how to progress. CGI allows employees to determine their own career paths. This is what allowed Gallacher to switch from software development to cybersecurity
Given that university can put a lot of pressure on students, CGI is able to offer its apprentices extra time off around dissertation time. The company can offer six weeks of paid leave on top of annual leave to let its apprentices focus on their dissertations.
In addition to helping Gallacher and Harper, both programmes bring benefits to the company. CGI Director Consulting Delivery Isobel Stewart noted that the company has been pleased with how its apprentices and graduates have performed.
“From a business perspective, the apprentices have been absolutely fantastic,” she said. “By the time they get to the fourth year, they already have two or three years of business experience and software development experience. Making sure that they’ve got good seniors working with them really brings them on.
“For the graduates, at the end of their initial 12 weeks, they were ready to go on assignment, and the grads we brought in this year have been on billable assignments since they finished the 12 weeks of additional training,” she added.
Developing new skills is essential in cybersecurity. With attackers utilising advancements in technology such as AI and deepfakes, security experts are caught in an arms race with criminals and to catch security threats.
As such, Gallacher and Harper both stressed that learning is the key to success in cybersecurity.
“Absorb as much information as possible,” Harper said. “Security is a wide area – you can still focus on specific aspects but having that wide variety of knowledge, even if it is just that high-level view, is certainly going to help you with your career path.”
Gallacher added: “Try and focus on an area as a whole and don’t go so in-depth. An important thing that I’ve learnt is to network – speak to people and discuss your ideas. It may be that you’re on the right path, but you can always find other ways to do things, so discussing your ideas with someone is always helpful.”
For more information on graduate and industrial placements with CGI as well as wider opportunities for school and college, leavers visit the company’s careers pages.