What can I say, but wow.
So much has happened over such a short space of time. Looking back and reflecting, my whole experience feels surreal, yet I know that the events of Summer 2018 have shaped the person I am today. So where to start?
Last November, I registered for the HM Government Cyber Discovery Programme, never knowing what would be in store. This programme is a series of challenges with different phases and levels with the aim of finding students with an aptitude for problem solving and logical thinking, and training them from the very basics to become cybersecurity “experts”. There is a severe need for employees with these skills, particularly considering the deficit of women within STEM, and so to me, discovering Cyber Discovery was like finding a goldmine.
After passing the initial “Assess” phase, each section has a wealth of knowledge complete with quizzes and later exams, and yet is presented in a fun and easy to follow manner; I could not recommend the programme more for anyone who’s looking to uncover their hidden cybersecurity skills (which aren’t limited to coding), or anyone with an interest in Computer Science. Sign up is easy at https://joincyberdiscovery.com/ and their social media feeds are always active, so keep an eye out for additional challenges and material.
My interest in the subject had been piqued – despite not qualifying for the final “Elite” camps, I became determined to learn more about the field. While I had previously binged on Cyber Discovery challenges, trying to make the most of such a valuable resource, CyberStart Essentials eventually came to a close, and I was left wondering how I could progress within cybersecurity post-GCSEs before the next year’s course began. I researched GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre; I read whenever I could, brushing up on computer fundamentals and networking, constantly extending my knowledge.
What came next I could never have expected.
An email arrived on the 11th June from Cyber Discovery:
“We are pleased to inform you of a very exciting opportunity which has been made available for a selection of our top performing students within the Cyber Discovery programme this year.
“You have been selected to apply for the Future Cybersecurity Leaders Exchange programme and visit the United States of America. “
I remember reading those words, and pausing, before re-reading them twice more as the news sunk in.
America? I’d never been. I’d never travelled that far on my own before – the prospect was terrifying and exciting, that tingling feeling of anticipation. I couldn’t understand how I’d managed to be selected to even apply; I hadn’t got that far through Cyber Discovery, and before that, despite having excelled in Computer Science GCSE, I’d never even considered the security sector. Somehow, I had been given this opportunity, and I knew that I couldn’t waste it.
The email explained that the trip, funded by the US Embassy in London, combined 8 UK and 8 US students who would travel to and around the US, embarking on cultural experiences and a week-long cyber camp.
Next came forms and application – I later celebrated my acceptance onto the programme with similar feelings of confusion mixed with fear and absolute excitement.
After a few weeks I was visiting the US Embassy in London and meeting some of the other UK participants, having a briefing with the funders, picking up more information about the trip and applying for my VISA. The US Embassy building is impressive in itself, a 214 ft glass cube, but meeting my fellow candidates was the biggest step for me. Prior to this meeting, like true cyber nerds we set up a group chat, yet there was still the underlying feeling that I’d somehow scraped my way into a programme of advanced cyber geniuses. Later on, as I grew to know each character individually, I started to see how much I already knew. The same worries and insecurities, in addition to our passion for all things cyber-related, united us all.
Before long, it would be time for the course itself – and what an adventure that would be.
Check back soon for the second instalment 🙂