Breaking into Cyber: an apprentice’s story

Cyber Security Apprentice

Written by Chris Underwood, Cyber Security Analyst Apprentice at Nominet UK

The cyber security industry can appear intimidating to an outsider, and for me it was exactly that. But I knew one thing: I wanted to be involved. Let me share my story of how I managed to enter the cyber security industry without a computer science degree or any experience in a technical role. It’s been quite a journey so far, from a daunting barrier to an exciting opportunity, and I’ve only just begun.

A little about me first: I’m three months into my two-year Cyber Security Analyst Apprenticeship at Nominet. I previously worked in the advertising and marketing industry for 18 months, falling into a job after my Geography degree. The work made me realise that I needed to be an industry I was passionate about and wanted to advance within. Marketing was not for me.

I have had an interest in technology from an early age, from building desktop computers to making small projects on a Raspberry Pi. I always kept my ear close to the ground for tech news. My marketing job made me see that I wanted to take the plunge and find a career in technology, specifically within cyber, and build a technical skillset that would be hugely useful in a growing industry. I heard about apprentice opportunities and applied – and here I am.

Before starting the apprenticeship, I anticipated a good mix of on-the-job training opportunities. I expected to learn new skills, such as malware analysis and penetration testing, and broader personal development. I hoped it would give me a foot in the door at least, but it’s been so much more than that.

The opportunities to get involved and contribute to projects have been incredible, allowing me to develop new skills from day one. I was immediately impressed with Nominet’s scope and ideologies, encouraged by the company’s commitment to build a safe and secure UK namespace. Dedication to and expertise in cyber security are critical here. I also liked the fact that public benefit was integral to Nominet, making it a unique company to work for. The profit-for-purpose pledge is a rewarding philosophy to have behind your work.

During my time so far, I have learnt a wealth of new skills and worked with a variety of teams across the business. I have supported data analysis, reported on cyber security threats and helped the business develop their security education programme. The in-house experience and training is supported by classroom-based teaching. This covers topics such as Open Source Intelligence and Ethical Hacking, giving a good balance of learning environments.

I have even had the opportunity to experience the cyber security industry first hand, attending ‘BlackHat Europe 2017’ to gain an incredible insight from thought leaders. All these experiences have made me realise that cyber security isn’t just full of code breakers. The industry calls for a variety of skills, from technical understanding to business or policy knowledge, and there are many key roles that most people wouldn’t think exist within cyber security.

As for my future, my thoughts are still developing. Ideally, I would like to be able to apply my technical skills to business processes, blending my interest in business and cyber security. It’s early days yet, so I’m excited to see what the rest of the apprenticeship has to offer. I look forward to building my skillset, gaining the certifications and ultimately enjoying my time with Nominet.

Looking back, I would tell my cautious graduate self that there are other routes available into the industry you want beyond the conventional degree approach. That said, I still believe higher education is a great starting point and my development during my time at university has served me well. Apprenticeships provide a unique approach and offer real world experience alongside training. With the Government having set a target to offer 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, it is evident there is a strong push to empower people to access new careers. The cyber security industry is a great fit for this, as hands-on experience is a real differentiator, providing what I hope to be a brilliant launch pad into the industry.


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