Up until recent times I pigeon holed myself to a certain career and skill set. I found that this was mostly down to a mix of being told I needed to make career decisions and pick a path early on. It always seemed to be “this” or “that”, with a small selection of career opportunities put to me. I remember getting career advice at school, and the conversation seemed to just revolve around question “well, what sort of career do you want to do?” (if I knew that, I wouldn’t have been sat in that room). Then proceed to tell me that I need to go to sixth form to get ‘X’ amount of UCAS points to go and do the university course, to get me on to that career path and that’s the way I needed to do it, and so on, and. So. On…. I found this not to be the case.
I just want to point out at this part, this is not a break the mould, go do your own thing and don’t listen to anyone else kind of story (spoiler; I did take the more traditional route). But, this is an alternate way to a career. And I want to highlight alternate, as this word was not common to me. Because there is so many alternate ways of gaining a career and it doesn’t have to be down a set path and once you’ve chosen, that’s it, you have to stick to it.
So I went to the first of my two years of sixth form to study biology, psychology and design and technology (yes all the ology’s!). Fast forward a year, I get my grades with my sights on the second year of sixth form, which, didn’t happen. Maybe because my grades were pretty bad…. This wasn’t through a lack of trying, I really give things my best shot, as cliché as that may sound!
So I’m panicking, what do I do now. I hadn’t been prepared for this, I need to sort something out. If I wanted to stay in education, I needed to make a snappy decision on what I wanted to do as the academic year is coming up pretty fast! Alternatively, find a job or an apprenticeship. I helped out with a careers day earlier on in the year and had a good chat with a police officer. I did like the sound of a career in the police force, the mixture of being out on the beat and doing office work suited me. My family also have a history of working in the public services and always told me how much they enjoyed it. So I set my sights on becoming a police officer.
I attended college to do a BTEC Diploma in Uniformed Public Services, a new course at the time and absolutely loved it. It had that mixture of doing practical and theory work which I enjoy and found that’s how I learnt best. Not attending the second year of sixth form was a blessing in disguise for me. I was doing something I loved and as a result of that, I finished the course after two years with the top grade possible; triple distinction, along with other accolades. My college tutor constantly told me during our one-to-one meetings to apply for the RAF as he thought I’d be well suited. However, I really wanted to have a career in the police force, that’s all I wanted to do! But, this was a decade ago, at the time of the police cut backs, whom stopped recruitment for 3 years. And only then they would carry on applicants that were frozen before the cuts, then I had to think about all the applicants who had more life experience than me. So I tried for the space of a Special Constable (voluntary police officer), but was unsuccessful due to my lack of life experience due to only being 18 at the time. I found that there was talk of also professionalising the police by requiring applicants to have a qualification in policing, yet another new course that had just come out. I’d never been keen on going to university, it just hadn’t interested me, but now I was putting two and two together. I could do three years of university and gain a qualification in policing, just in time for the recruitment process to open back up. With that in mind, I applied for a Policing Studies course at five different universities, with an eye on one. Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) was the one I wanted to go to as it was considered the best out of the ones I had applied for and had nothing to do with my love for Liverpool FC! LJMU was the first university to get back to me with an unconditional offer, so I took it! Fast forward six months and I was ready to make the journey up north. Car full to the roof, we made our way up the M5/ M6.
My first day on the course and we ran through the scope of the course for the three year and did a couple of ice breakers, which were great. We were also advised that we should apply to become a Special Constable with Merseyside Police and do that alongside our course to get that mix of theory, practical and experience. This suited me down to the ground! I went through the process to become a Special Constable, but unfortunately didn’t get through on the final interview. I was gutted! for those who don’t know, if you don’t make it through the process, you have to wait six months until you can apply again. So, I set my focus to use that six months wisely. I studied various books on becoming a police officer; the necessary skills, techniques to deal with difficult situations, law and so on. I set up mock interviews with my tutors and friends, video recording these interviews and playing them back to see where I could improve. The time to reapply came back around and I felt ready and got through the whole process! The relief was immense as I put so much hard work in to becoming a Special Constable. Receiving that uniform, warrant card and taking the oath was a very proud day for me. It had taken a while to get to that point, but I was determined and persevered throughout. I started with the neighbourhood team in Liverpool City Centre, it was brilliant working with the community and creating relationships with them which they could rely on us.
In addition to being a Special Constable, we needed to complete voluntary work for our course. So I volunteered at a youth centre in Speke. This was also a very rewarding role. The focus was to get the kids in to health and fitness. So we taught them about healthy eating and played various different sports; being in Liverpool, obviously the most popular being football. But I needed to earn some money as well, due to my pot of money at the start of the year I had saved up was diminishing, so I took up a role as student helper at the university. At this point I was doing my university course through the week, assignments in the evenings and weekends, police shifts either in the evenings or doing nights and getting work where I could with the university to earn some money. It was a bit of a challenge, but I enjoy being busy and thrive off challenges! In addition, I received a student citizenship award from LJMU in recognition of the work I had done, which again, was a very proud moment for me. It also taught me the importance of recognising and awarding positive work, as it just made me want to keep on going and gave me an indication I was doing something right! So that’s what I try to instil and encourage now, to recognise and celebrate positive work and a hard work ethic. I’m always happy if someone is trying their best and willing to help their colleagues. For me, personality and mentality is key! Knowledge can come.
At the end of my three year course, I had a bit of a change of heart, an opportunity to do a masters course came; MSc in Policing and Cyber Crime. I find the world of cyber extremely interesting. It is a vast world that is a near impossible challenge to police, so I wanted to know more. I enjoyed my time in the police, it provided me with so many new skills and outlook on life. I worked in neighbourhood and response, in addition to attachments with CID, Traffic and the Control Rooms. But, I found at the time, there was a lot of stress that came with the job. The equipment available was sparse due to the cuts which made the job more difficult. A lot of time was spent doing paperwork, which restricted the ability to be out and about. All the officers I worked with, I had huge admiration for. They were going through some immense pressure at times, but still kept going and trying to help their community.
So now to my next challenge, going from not very technical, to a very technical course (nope, I don’t know what I was quite in for). I was in amongst others that had been doing a technical course for the last three years. I remember receiving the modules and seeing all the computer based sessions and the content with in them, I knew I was going to have be powered by caffeine for 80% of my year to gain that extra knowledge and get up to speed! I had a point to prove as well. Our tutors told us that the IT side of the course were sceptical of doing the course with us as they thought we would really struggle. And to be honest, at times I did, they were right. The concepts of different encryption methods, key sharing, network analysis, all the different protocols, various cyber-attacks and how they work were alien to me!However, I was still very interested and every piece of work I spent extra hours on to educate myself in the fundamentals. In fact, the small group of us who made the transition from policing in to policing and cyber-crime got better grades than others who had been doing this for the last three years. But that was because we were behind after lectures constantly helping each other, spending nights in the library and asking questions left, right and centre!
It came to the end of my masters course and I achieved a 2:1! The sleepless nights and copious amounts of caffeine were worth it! My time at university was brilliant and found the course extremely interesting. The module I found of most interest was network analysis. Analysing various PCAP files using Wireshark to establish what had happened in a network, identifying if there was suspicious behaviour, if so, what it was and if it was an attack, what kind of attack. I figured that I enjoyed the cyber security and networking area of the industry. At this point, I’m 25 and had only really just figured out what sort of career I wanted to pursue, a good 8-9 years after I was told to pick a path.
Fast forward 6 months and I decided to start my own company, I figured I didn’t have a lot to lose by trying at the time! I didn’t have a mortgage, children or loads of bills, so I thought if I don’t try it now, it will be a lot more difficult later down the line. I was lucky enough to contract to some great customers who provided me the opportunity to help them with their network needs. I provided consultancy to various firms from 2018 to 2020 and gained huge amounts of experience.
However, in July 2019, I was provided with the opportunity to work part-time for Infrastar as a sales and technical consultant to help develop the company further. Whilst helping the company reach new territories, we were approached about supporting the Cyber Schools Hub (now known as Cyber First). We thought it sounded brilliant and wanted to get involved. It is a fantastic initiative by the NCSC designed to foster collaboration between local schools, the NCSC, companies and organisations who share a passion for computer science and cyber security.It aims to:
- Encourage a diverse range of students into taking up computer science
- Support students throughout their course
- Develop new content and resources to be made widely available for teachers’. (https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/blog-post/can-you-support-the-ncsc-cyber-schools-hubs)
If you’d like to find out more about the initiative, give the following link a visit https://www.cyberhub.uk/. Even better if you think your company can get involved!
Whilst being at Infrastar, I have gone through numerous training and exams, managing to gain a few qualifications in my short time here so far, which I am very proud of. I think it’s extremely important to keep constantly up to date with training and strive for new qualifications to keep everything fresh and advance your career to provide the best knowledge possible. With these advancements in my knowledge and qualifications, in March 2020, I was appointed Technical Director! I never thought I would say that so early in to my career! Since I joined, I have gained a number of new colleagues in which a fantastic team has been produced. Everyone has worked extremely hard to accelerate Infrastar and bring a great work ethic and passion to the business which is infectious, all whilst having a laugh along the way! The teams working environment is a pleasure to be a part of and I feel very lucky to be involved in, what is ever increasingly appears to be, a very exciting future!
I want to finish by saying, just because you set a path early on, don’t think you have to stick to it. Everyone has a change of heart and additionally sometimes circumstances out of your control can impact what you want to do. If you find something you love early on, great! You have time on your side to educate yourself and master it. If you are unsure early on and If you do find you want to change further down the line, then that’s fine, but make sure you are ready to put a lot of time and effort from your personal time to achieve what you want.
Author: Ben Griffin – Technical Director