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Networking: supplement your skills and experience

Career development and progression

12:00 Monday, 26 July 2021

UK Cyber Security Council

In the same way as many people perceive IT departments, cyber security is something that happens in the back room. Just as one has the mental image of engineers standing in dark, noisy, air-conditioned rooms fettling their servers and routers, so one thinks of cyber types in windowless rooms with electronic-locked doors, hunched over laptops, examining intricate codes (preferably with a 60-inch plasma in the background raining streams of ones and zeroes, Matrix-style).

Yet the worst thing you can do – in most walks of life, but particularly in cyber security – is isolate yourself from your peers. Yes, you can use technology to research your subject and to collaborate with others in your field, but what you find out will seldom be particularly interesting. Even “closed” online forums – those that claim to have a select, controlled membership – must be considered public and so nobody with any sense will admit to anything vaguely interesting that’s happened to them, security-wise.

And if you do find anything interesting it’ll generally be anonymous and deliberately vague so as not to give away who the victim was. This is understandable, because most of us have confidentiality clauses in our contracts that will get us fired if we’re seen to tell people things the company would prefer to keep secret. But it’s unhelpful to the reader, because you get no context of what type or size of organisation you’re reading about.

But what if you find yourself at a conference, surrounded by like-minded people in the coffee break between keynote speeches? (Or, even better, with a glass of wine over lunch, as this can lead to looser tongues). Interacting with people face-to-face brings so much greater value than reading something on the internet, or even posting in forums, because it’s just so interactive. Maybe over lunch you find yourself sitting at a table with half a dozen others munching at finger food, sharing war stories, hearing someone say how useful they’re finding a product you’d never heard of, asking for your new-found acquaintances’ collective opinions on an approach you’re thinking of trying. Even if you find your latest bright idea shot down in flames by someone who’s tried it, you’ve gained from the experience of networking with your peers.

And if you can bring it closer to home, all the better. Local chapters of professional organisations like the BCS or the IET, or of qualification providers like (ISC)2 or ISACA are massively useful for getting to know people who are not only in your industry but are in your area, which adds yet another layer to the value onion of networking.

Yes, you can hide in your cyber cupboard learning things and looking after your security estate. But without networking, you’re missing a vital component that you need to do your job well.