From Student to Teacher: How One Learner Gained New Skills in a Boot Camp and is Passing Them on to Others
Joseph Clay was working at a vape shop in Cornelius, North Carolina, when he decided that he wanted to take his career in a new direction and pivot into information technology. He had tried his hand in the humanities and as a locksmith before deciding on pursuing a role in IT. Having always had a knack for tech, he began looking at different programs. Ultimately, he found that cybersecurity best captured his interests and best aligned with his pre-existing skills.
Although he had played with the idea of teaching himself coding in the past — and picked up some basic hacking and web development skills — Joseph realized he needed more structure if he was really going to commit to mastering these new topics. After comparing different programs, he decided to enroll in The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UNC Charlotte. As a result, he has a new job and a new career path.
Back to school
After graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Joseph was entering into a new kind of classroom when he enrolled in the boot camp. Attending classes in addition to work — which he did full-time before transitioning to part-time towards the end of the program — required extensive learning in a condensed period of time. That said, the instructors and teaching assistants stayed with the class every step of the way to ensure the material clicked.
“I expected some of the subject matter to be over my head, but the professor and I would frequently check in to see how well I was grasping the material,” said Joseph. “That made all the difference.”
Joseph and his classmates all came to the boot camp with different educational foundations, but that didn’t matter: thanks to an attentive and helpful support staff, everyone could master their new skills and succeed. While some of his classmates were already working as app developers or came to the boot camp with a firm grasp on information security, others entered the program with less background — including one learner who had little prior experience using computers. Thankfully, the staff was prepared to work with a diverse classroom and made sure advanced and newer students could work together and mutually benefit.
“We had really helpful TAs in our program,” Joseph said. “You could tell they had a passion for the subject and were challenging us outside of the basic program requirements.”
Coming together, sharing skills
The boot camp wasn’t just focused on learning skills, it also showed learners how to put those skills into action in a collaborative way — mimicking the actual work that’s done in the industry. As such, Joseph had the opportunity to work with other people in his program on group projects.
For his first project, his group ran a malware analysis, coming together to delegate different tasks and reach a final solution. For his final project, Joseph’s team was divided into two groups — blue and red — to simulate a hack for penetration testing. “We gave a presentation on an actual hack — not just on the offensive side, but also the defensive side,” Joseph said. “Through this presentation, we were able to actually show how you can tell when you’re being hacked.”
Group projects allow students to master hard skills and nurture many industry-essential soft skills, like collaboration, group management, public speaking, and presentation. With these projects under his belt, Joseph was ready to step out into the field.
Looking to the future
After attending a hackathon at the suggestion of his professor, Joseph met a fellow aspiring penetration tester. Cultivating a friendship with someone interested in similar topics and skills proved to be useful later on, when Joseph was applying to jobs towards the end of boot camp. Joseph’s friend landed a job in networking, and encouraged Joseph to apply. His interview went well — and the hiring manager was impressed with Joseph’s boot camp experience. Joseph received an offer shortly after, and currently works as a network operations center technician at Global Linking Solutions.
“My instructor took time out of his day on multiple occasions to help train me for the interview and gave me a crash course on networking,” Joseph said.
In addition to his full-time job, Joseph is also paying it forward — working as a TA for the same boot camp he attended to help future learners hone new skills of their own. “Teaching something to someone else is probably the [best] way to show that you really understand it,” he said. “I‘m really excited to start teaching and think that anyone can benefit from this program if they really commit and take it seriously.”