When Infantry Soldier James Murphy suffered life-long injuries from a rocket-propelled grenade in Helmand Province, he was at a low ebb. Forced to rethink his military career, he became an Intelligence Specialist, but in 2018 his injuries pushed him to take the leap into civilian life. After 19 years in the service, the prospect of finding a whole new path in life and work – one that was sustainable, fulfilling and challenging – was daunting. Add to that a young family to support, a CV to write from scratch, and the groan-worthy phrase ‘industry experience required’, and the challenge became downright anxiety-inducing.
“It was exceptionally difficult to understand where my skills could be transferred that wouldn’t result in me taking a considerable salary cut,” says James, now CEO of TechVets, the UK not-for-profit that supports military veterans to build a career in cybersecurity. “Most receive a year to prepare for civilian life, but as a medical discharge, I had just three months. I was under huge pressure to upskill, network and land a role in that time – or face unemployment with a young family to support”.
Gareth, who served for 24 years and completed operational tours in Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan echoes that sense of ‘what do I do now?: “I didn’t have a clue about what career to move into. I didn’t want to go into a job that was simple and easy – I needed a new challenge”.
For Jordan Cheal, who joined the Royal Marines at the age of 18, things were a little different. He knew he wanted to get into Information Security when he left the military, but faced an all-too-familiar stumbling block: with no industry experience, finding his first role seemed like an impossible task. With 14,000 people leaving the UK military every year, many of whom lack the ‘traditional’ experience and certifications that blight job specs in every industry, this is not an unusual situation.
Luckily for James, Gareth and Jordan, they were all introduced to TechVets through their networks. For James, “being part of the TechVets community provided the appropriate support to help me understand how my skills and experience could be applied in cybersecurity. I realised that my previous experience as an Intelligence Specialist was very relevant to threat intelligence roles”. Similarly, having a community of veterans who understood how tough the transition from military to civilian life could be helped Gareth to gain the confidence to delve deeper into cybersecurity.
They began to use the Veteran’s Digital Cyber Academy, a free version of the Immersive Labs platform that’s available to military veterans in the UK and US. For Jordan, it was addictive: “I was obsessed with the labs and really enjoyed how the labs would provide you with a simulated cloud-based environment, but not provide you with the answers. The time I invested on the VDCA was the reason I secured my first job in industry within a Security Operations Centre”.
Gareth’s experience with the VDCA helped him realise where his passion lay. “TechVets and the VDCA gave me my first insight into the tools and techniques of penetration testing. After that I was hooked!” says Gareth. By November 2018, having completed further pen testing qualifications, he secured a job as a cybersecurity consultant – and hasn’t looked back. “I spend every day out of my comfort zone and learning new things. I get to see and do things that I never thought possible before 2018.”
James used the platform to focus on threat intel and strategic security awareness labs. This allowed him to successfully land his first role out of the military as the Cyber Threat Intelligence Lead at Government Digital Services and move almost seamlessly from the military into his non-military career. “I now find myself in the very fortunate position of leading the organisation that helped me find my way back in 2018,” finishes James.
To all those in the military looking for their next step, Gareth shares his wise words: “A career in cybersecurity teaches you resilience and to never give up. If you have a passion for cyber and want to push yourself, there is nothing stopping you!”
The Veteran's Digital Cyber Academy helps veterans from any military background in the UK and US to reskill and develop hands-on cyber skills for free. By registering, you will have access to labs that cover everything from cybersecurity basics to malware analysis and threat hunting.
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