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3 min read

Meet Our Spring 2022 Open Doors Scholarship Recipient: James McGrenera

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Our Open Doors Scholarship recipient for our Spring 2022 Cohort was James McGrenera! Now that this cohort is wrapping up their journey, we wanted to ask James about his experience so far—and his plans for the future.

James’ Story

Q: What were you up to in terms of your career/education before the bootcamp? 

A: I was working at a wastewater plant as a licensed Florida operator, learning and using SCADA every day. I had heard of Industrial Cybersecurity Systems (ICS), and my background is in the trades (electrician) and Army (aviation/electronics). I got my Bachelor of Science in Information Systems. 

Q: What made you decide it was time for a change of pace?

A: I knew it was time for a change after spending two years in a toxic career that was affecting my family and health. There were dangerous working conditions (gators, snakes, wild boar, etc.) and horrible work schedules—16-hour days were typical. The last straw was not getting a pay raise after getting my operator license and two years of professional experience. I felt unappreciated and devalued with no future for job growth.

Q: Why did you choose to attend our bootcamp over the others out there? 

A: I had first researched the top 10 bootcamps available currently and read up on all the individual bootcamps. My sister-in-law had completed a Python developer bootcamp, which was a more singular and "on your own" program. I thought why would I pay $10k+ for a bootcamp that included very little available assistance? They had been considered one of the best, but I was unimpressed.

I researched another well-known bootcamp, but ultimately had to ask myself the same question: I couldn’t justify paying $10k+ for a bootcamp that didn’t include any in-person or online help.

I went with Level Effect because of the instructors’ "hands-on" and "aggressive" stance on teaching the classes. Plus, the instructors are ex-military, veterans, NSA, or government-related, so I kind of felt a familiarity with what to expect. 

What really impressed me was Will Nissler's professional experience, his familiarity with all the content they teach, and his understanding of the position I was in with not being able to afford the bootcamp. I was completely blown away the day Anthony Bendas contacted me and offered me a full scholarship. I thought he was joking at first. I was in shock; I had never received any scholarship but had always given 100%. I am eternally grateful for what all instructors, students, and industry leaders have contributed to help me succeed!

James’ Experience as a Cyber Defense Analyst Bootcamp Student

Q: What has your experience been like as a student in the bootcamp?

A: I have met a great number of excellent professionals from many different backgrounds around the world. The diversity in the classroom I believe is the strength that motivates students through the most difficult parts of the classes.

Q: What have the instructors been like? The coursework? 

Will Nissler and Anthony Bendas have been excellent. I couldn't ask for any more of these instructors. They get back to any questions I have on the material through Discord. 

Advice for Future Students

Q: What advice would you give to future students in the bootcamp? 

A: My biggest advice would be to stay ahead of the instructors, especially when you get into the Linux and Adversary Tactics weeks. Try to complete or start the lessons that say "Instructor-Led." These weeks were tough. Myself and many others seemed kind of lost in these weeks—not because of the teaching, but because it was just a ton of material that required "hands-on" familiarity before the instructor started to teach on Monday.

Q: What advice would you give to someone new to the field of cybersecurity? 

A: Stay ahead of your classes!!! Do not fall behind! If you have five lessons to complete per week, try to knock one out a day depending on your schedule, and try to do the instructor-led classes before class. You will absorb much more material and remember it at a higher level.

The sense of humor the instructors had really helped, too. Feeling comfortable with classmates and the instructors makes a better experience for everyone!

I appreciate the help from all my fellow classmates in my cohort and others! Also, the instructors (Greg, Will, Rob, and Anthony) were excellent, and I will forever be appreciative for the opportunity they granted me to help myself, my family, and career!

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Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us, James! We can’t wait to see where you land after you finish up the bootcamp.

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