The National Cyber Force (NCF). A partnership between Defence and Intelligence, and an organisation shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Working closely with the NCF, we look at what prompted one employee to begin their career in cyber, the steps they took to get there and ultimately why, in their eyes, a career in the cyber domain is one worth pursuing.
My journey actually started during my GCSEs when GCHQ visited my school.
Meet “Ellie”, whose career in the NCF is the result of a chance encounter during her exams. We should point out that Ellie isn’t her real name, and that it has been changed for security reasons, the story of how she entered the world of cyber however, is true.
Ellie continues by saying:
GCHQ did a talk on the opportunities available at the organisation and at that point I was hooked. To give myself the best possible chance I tailored two of my four A-Levels to focus on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, science and maths.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to many that a career in cyber starts with a passion for its core subjects. By studying both science and maths Ellie opened herself up to opportunities after school which then tailored themselves to a career in the cyber domain.
When I finished school, I knew I needed a bit more hands on experience, so I enrolled in a 12-month computing course at college. It gave me a great insight into general computing and set me up to apply for the GCHQ Apprenticeship Scheme.
The GCHQ Apprenticeship scheme is a three-year programme open to school leavers that balances a full-time role alongside a university degree. Combining the qualification in cyber security with valuable work experience, the scheme acts as a perfect gateway into a career in the cyber domain. With placement opportunities offered throughout, it was through one of these that Ellie found the NCF:
I hadn’t really thought much about the NCF, and it wasn’t until my final placement during the apprenticeship scheme that I experienced it first-hand.
As the old adage goes, “good things come to those that wait,” and this is certainly true in Ellie’s case. Enjoying her experience at NCF so much, she opted to come back for her first permanent position. Explaining the thinking behind the decision, Ellie says:
It’s such a fascinating area of work and offers a wide variety of roles, from hands on work to more strategic elements, as well as the chance to work with a variety of customers, all while contributing to national security.
It’s this contribution to national security and playing an active role in the bigger picture of UK Defence, that fuels Ellie’s passion for working in NCF. Add to this the opportunities to continue self-development and growth and you get an understanding of what drove Ellie to return:
Being a part of the NCF’s mission is something I am incredibly proud of and is a big part of why I enjoy working here. But there’s also separate opportunities that allow me to utilise my STEM skills and experiences, as well as programmes aimed at personal growth like the leadership development programme that I enjoy equally as much.
The opportunity to develop and utilise past experiences isn’t perhaps something we immediately associate with a career in the cyber domain. In her current role, Ellie has the chance to be involved in outreach programmes with schools, women in engineering, science, and technology festivals, and Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives which she says all contribute to her development.
At this point, you may be thinking to yourself: “This all sounds great, but you have to be genius to work in cyber – there must be some seriously difficult entry requirements?” But, while it helps to have a grasp of maths and science, Ellie say’s there aren’t any specific requirements needed for a career in the NCF:
There really weren’t any specific requirements. I had come from a hardware background in the apprenticeship scheme and my role here is very much software based. I got sent out on training courses to develop my skills and was encouraged to shadow other colleagues and learn as I went. I learned by asking a lot of questions!
However, Ellie argues there are definitely things you can be doing to give yourself a head start:
I would say developing your software skills and software language would be really useful. You don’t need to be a guru by any means but doing a couple of the beginner and introductory courses would be useful. I think if you’re looking to get some hands-on cyber experience, capture the flag exercises are a really fun and useful entry point as well.
It’s clear from our time speaking to Ellie that a career in cyber, and in particular working in the NCF, is more than just coding.
It’s a working environment where you’re able to grow and develop whilst making a difference and contributing to the security of the United Kingdom.
How many career paths can say the same?
Alternatively visit the NCSC website to find out what training opportunities are on offer to develop your cyber security skills.