March 25, 2003, is a day I won’t struggle to remember.
It was my first day of basic training in the United States Air Force, more commonly referred to as bootcamp. Regardless of what any sister-services would call “easy,” it was a new experience that can be best described as shock and awe and a quick re-write of vocabulary, customs, and courtesies that would shape most of us square pegs into DoD standard-issue round holes.
I’m not naïve to think that bootcamps are the best for every scenario, but they have proven to be a solid approach to train and equip individuals quickly.
I’d like to touch on what I feel they do well and shed some light on what to look for from a bootcamp provider. I’m going to specifically talk about cybersecurity here, but these concepts should work well for other industries and skillsets.
Is a Cybersecurity Bootcamp Right For Me?
Let’s dive into a few things you should consider before enrolling in a bootcamp.
First and foremost, a bootcamp should be thoroughly considered first by looking at yourself and your goals.
A bootcamp is and should be an intensive, hands-on approach to gaining practical skills within the area of focus. Many bootcamps—ours included—require up to 20 hours of study per week, which may or may not include class time.
The most common denominator of those who have exceeded expectations in our bootcamp was simply having the right attitude—perseverance and the ability to make mistakes and to recognize that through our failures, we grow stronger are key to success.
Beyond the financial commitment (which can be steep), you need to be 100% all-in. Most often, bootcamps take months to complete, and you need to assess your near and mid-term priorities. Selling a house, started a new job, lost a job, new baby? While most of these life events are exciting, they can drastically interfere with your studies and your goals of new skill attainment. It’s best to be in a place where you can focus and give it your all.
Additionally, and because we get asked this regularly, let’s talk about an overarching question: “Should I go to college or a bootcamp?”
I’m a bit biased, being an owner/instructor of a bootcamp, but specifically in tech, it is common for companies to provide substantial education benefits. A bootcamp will not teach you everything you need to know, and that’s not the point—the bootcamp should make you a practitioner in the field who can be hired and make an impact quickly. Attending a bootcamp can get you a job that will most likely offer to pay for your college education and save you a considerable amount of money down the road.
I have a degree in Information System Security, and I only had one class in which we did anything technical in over four years of my study there. I learned a great deal about the systems, theories, and logical processes of cyber, but that knowledge may not always lead to employment in a field that demands practical experience.
Who Can Help Me Decide?
A bootcamp should supply relevance and direct application of attained skills that can be used on the job today.
At a minimum, the instructors of a bootcamp are as important or more so than the curriculum itself. Remember, the goal of a bootcamp is to make you job-ready, and the instructors are the reality-check of that learning experience. The instructors must have demonstratable experience and knowledge of the field of study beyond what the course curriculum requires.
With a little preparation an individual can go through a bootcamp, and in brief time, turn around and teach that same bootcamp. This is a huge red flag, and unfortunately a common trend. Your instructor should be able to clearly convey how your studies in the bootcamp fit and apply to the greater industry need.
When researching a bootcamp, it is imperative that the instructors have a solid background in the target industry, and given the amount being invested from a student’s perspective, you should be able to speak with an instructor at length about the program prior to enrollment.
I would then recommend you reach out to alumni of the program and speak with them—specifically, alumni you find on your own. Last but not least, you need to take everything with a grain of salt. A good review, even ours, should be taken lightly. Our students have not been to another bootcamp, most, by the time they wrote their review were not in the field yet. This is why reaching out and finding alumni from the program is crucial to assess quality, compatibility, and the greatest likelihood of long-term success for yourself.
All Bootcamps Are Not Created Equal
A lot of inherent trust is required for students to choose a bootcamp, something we do not take lightly. Many bootcamps align their content and curriculum around other vendors courses or certifications which is a concern. It is good to adhere to a common goal, but more often, this is done as a cost saving measure to quickly regurgitate already existing content to teach the same thing that could be acquired somewhere else and probably for cheaper.
When assessing a bootcamp provider, you need to know who made the curriculum, what it is modeled after, and why it was put together in the manner that it is. This is a critical part of your journey, and the bootcamp must apply to the field of interest. This should not be a list of lucrative-sounding topics for the sake of the course sounding good.
At Level Effect, our curriculum was created around our own certification (Cyber Defense Certified Professional) which encompasses a problem set of incidents in a network that need investigation and remediation. These objectives are aligned to the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE). The NIST-NICE framework defines clear knowledge, skill, and abilities for a given role. Our bootcamp isn't called the Cyber Defense Analyst Bootcamp for nothing. There is a well-defined set of KSAs defined by the role of a Cyber Defense Analyst. This standard coupled with our many years of experience from government intelligence to the private sector where we developed our own patented cyber technology is at the core of what we teach.
A Bootcamp Buyer's Guide
We're currently putting together a Bootcamp Buyer’s Guide, which may be helpful in your hunt for the perfect place to begin your study in a new career. You'll be able to use this guide to help you assess a quality provider and to give you some questions on topics you may not have considered, which could save you a lot of grief in the future.
Check back soon for the downloadable guide!