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Cyber security spotlight on... James Murphy, TechVets

Joining the profession

02:40 Friday, 25 June 2021

UK Cyber Security Council

To mark Armed Forces Week 2021, we talked with James Murphy, Director of TechVets, about how veterans and service leavers can find assistance to bridge into civilian cyber security and technology careers.

What’s your own cyber security background?

During my final role in the military, I managed global intelligence requirements for the British Army, with an increasing number of requirements relating to operational cyber security threats and disinformation. When I left the military, I moved into the role of Head of Cyber Threat Intelligence at the Government Digital Service, within the Cabinet Office.

What specific challenges or opportunities do veterans of the Armed Forces face when entering into a new profession?

After a life in the military, many [veterans] are totally unfamiliar with the terminology used for skills, job titles and company structures.

This often manifests in a lack of confidence in applying for roles if they are not 100% sure they tick all the boxes. [Compounding this are] the often stringent requirements in job descriptions for years of industry experience, which they just won't have.

Even more pressing is the way in which they leave. Rather than find a new job, hand in their one-month notice and then leave, military personnel quit their job, have one year’s notice, and need to land a role at the specific end date at the end of that year. That means they are actively moving towards unemployment unless they find a job. This often leads to service leavers following traditional routes into jobs already being redefined by automation, resulting in them becoming underemployed - wasting years of professional experience.

However, a study conducted by Deloitte highlighted that the skills most important for workers now and in the future are not technical - they are in fact the skills employers are finding it hard to source: leadership, teamwork, social perceptiveness, flexibility and adaptability, the ability to work in fast paced changing environments, judgement and decision-making under pressure, grit and resilience, critical and logical reasoning.

Many veterans have just served during one of the most complex and operationally challenging chapters of British military history and have honed all of these skills as the core competencies that the MoD focuses on developing.

What do you find frustrating and/or want to change?

First, the dominance of job descriptions with stringent but unrealistic requirements for years of industry experience that demand all manner of advanced certifications for entry-level or junior roles.

Second, another unhelpful dominance: ‘bootcamp’ vendor training aimed at new entrants and providing a misleading view on what is required for cyber security skills, as well as showcasing false salary expectations.

Third, I think that traditional CV and interview processes that negatively impact many people from diverse talent pools.

Fourth, that it’s all about “hacking”. This has resulted into far too many people thinking it’s all about penetration testing, rather than a tapestry of varied roles requiring all manner of skills both technical and non-technical.

What advice would you give to somebody – Armed Forces veteran or not – considering entering a career in cyber security?

Be passionate about technology first and foremost. There are no cheat sheets to cyber security and if you are starting from zero skills, learn the fundamentals first before seeking a role as a cyber specialist.

Find a community you can trust to help you collaborate with others, and share knowledge and experience, as well as find answers to your questions. Networking is key and the cyber security industry is often a welcoming place for people new to the field.

Do your research. There is a plethora of routes into cyber security, and not all of them require advanced coding skills.

Have fun! Join in with capture-the-flag events, attend the many awesome industry events, mix up your training and learning and you will quickly realise that cyber security is a lifestyle, a community to belong to, and a career not just a job.

What does TechVets do to help?

TechVets exists to empower service leavers and veterans to access fantastic sustainable careers in cyber security and technology. It comprises an online community of over 3,000 veterans, service leavers and serving persons, with regional links all across the UK through 12 active local chapters. The community includes many veterans already experienced in cyber or tech at all levels of seniority, enabling members to ask questions of, and receive answers from, an experienced group of veterans already in cyber and tech.

TechVets has developed partnerships with leading companies to provide free access to top training. It provides a volunteer CV review service, a CV distribution service, a ready-made network with deep links into cyber security and tech, and an active jobs board. Visit the TechVets website for more information on the wealth of campaigns and opportunities available.