Two months ago, I wrote a blog where I candidly discussed my reservations about signing up for Level Effect’s Cyber Defense Analyst (CDA) Bootcamp.
For a quick refresher, my only cybersecurity experience before signing up for the bootcamp was tangential. I work in marketing at cybersecurity firm Huntress, and I’ve picked up bits and pieces since I started that journey back in April 2021.
Really, my background is in English and communication, so I was frankly a bit panicked about what I’d signed myself up for. The bootcamp promised to teach me an awful lot—but did they really mean me, Rachel, an English graduate will know how to be a cyber defense analyst in a matter of weeks?
Turns out, I’m exactly who they meant.
A lot has happened these past two months, and I’m eager to share my experience.
I Can Do What Now?
I showed up to class on day one, not knowing what to expect. Ultimately, we were given a nice overview of what all would be looking at us over the next 14 weeks. The instructors explained that within the next week, our class would be digging into Wireshark to learn how to analyze and dissect network traffic.
But soon enough, the time came to actually look at Wireshark:
And you know what? It looked horrifying. DNS? Standard query response? GET? In English, please.
But that was back in May. I am so happy to report that I now love Wireshark. It’s incredible the amount of detail and clues you can get by analyzing packet captures (PCAPs). I have to say that I wasn’t completely convinced that the instructors would be able to make this click for me because let’s be honest: that interface is a bit intimidating. But I get it! I know how to analyze network traffic with Wireshark!
I’ve had so many of these moments so far during the bootcamp, which has come as a surprise to me. I thought it’d be interesting, but I also assumed I’d be lost by the end of week one.
I’m not, though. Not only am I not lost, but—dare I say it—I’m actually enjoying myself!
My favorite week so far has to be the second half of the Windows OS content. We were broken into groups and given various malware challenges where we were expected to triage systems, identify indicators of compromise, and write a report on them—all by the end of each two-hour class. It was stressful, but so much fun!
We’re just about to move into Adversary Tactics week. At this point in the bootcamp, I’ve got enough knowledge to be able to go out and get a job as a Cyber Defense Analyst. And that is mind-boggling to me.
I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in such a short amount of time—and I’ve somehow managed to retain it in spite of my horrible memory. I’d say that’s a testament to the approach our instructors take. We don’t memorize anything. We’re encouraged to make Google our best friend because we’ll be using it in the “real world” when we hit a roadblock.
It’s a lot to learn in such a short amount of time, but actually using the tools and techniques I’m learning about is helping me retain so much more than memorizing ever did.
What Is Sleep?
Make no mistake, though: This bootcamp is hard. The instructors stressed that to me before I even thought about enrolling, but frankly, I thought they were being dramatic. I’m used to working under pressure. When I was an undergrad student, I worked three part-time jobs while going to school full-time.
In hindsight, that was a cakewalk compared to this bootcamp.
There’s just so much to learn and so little time. It’s doable, for sure, but you have to be willing to show up, do the work, and dedicate the time to studying on weekends. This is not a bootcamp where you can just sign on, hide your camera, and snooze til 9pm CT. You have to be there.
You have to sponge your way through, absorbing as much as you can and letting your brain process and filter through the information overload as it can. It’s possible, but you have to figure out a rhythm that works for you in terms of how to take in all the information and complete the assignments.
I haven’t had a good, restful break since I started this bootcamp. That’s just the reality: You will not have free time during this bootcamp.
But if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, I can promise you that you’ll come out on the other side ready to embark on a cybersecurity career. You will amaze yourself by testing the boundaries of what you’re actually capable of doing.
Career Support (And Support in General)
I don’t know how, but the instructors have even managed to sprinkle in career advice and prep during this bootcamp.
They’ve given tangible advice on how to build a good cybersecurity resume and have even made the open offer for students to send in their resumes to get constructive feedback. We’ve learned more about the types of cyber jobs out there. We’ve learned about the interview process. We’re all on LinkedIn now. And a good chunk of us have even applied for jobs already—and are even hearing back from prospective employers, ready to interview us!
What’s so fascinating about all this to me is just how much the instructors truly care. The feedback during our one-on-ones has been incredible. I know where I can improve, and I know where I excel. I know how much I don’t know—which is also kind of exciting, because I know my learning journey won’t be over after the bootcamp ends.
I’m also pretty sure I’ve gained a few friends for life, and I’m so grateful that this bootcamp has put me in touch with incredible classmates who I’d love to call colleagues one day.
I’ll be back on the blog to wrap up my CDA Bootcamp student experience series once the bootcamp officially ends (which will be such a relief for me—but I fully expect to cry a few sad tears, too, because I’ve loved this experience. 😅)