'It’s about always being better at what you do': my mid-career master’s in Cyber Security
For Lee, a formal qualification to complement two decades’ industry experience will smooth the way for future career moves.
Lee began his career at British Telecom more than 20 years ago as an engineer, and was later tasked with setting up BT’s first foray into cyber protection. Since then, he has worked his way up to become Director of Cyber SecDevOps and Engineering for BT’s Enhanced Cyber Security Team, with much of his work taking place in the Middle East. However, he’s recently found that his lack of a degree may present an obstacle to certain jobs.
“When I started getting some work in the Middle East, I had to get a letter of recommendation from the British Government to rubber-stamp my credentials. But it became apparent very quickly that this is a field that I like working in, helping organisations around the world, and a big blocker for me was going to be my educational background. That's why I decided to pursue a master’s.”
Lee was able to secure a place on the MSc Cyber Security at the University of London thanks to his professional experience: “I had to submit a CV and some references, and they deemed that I was ready to go straight in at master’s level.”
The fully online programme is delivered on the Coursera learning platform with academic direction from Royal Holloway, allowing students to fit their studies around their careers. “I'm finding it extremely useful in my day-to-day job,” says Lee.
I was looking at a piece of work involving policy for some customers, and I'm currently studying the Cyber Security Fundamentals module, which covers some information security standards that I was unaware of. I explored them a bit further and was then able to offer my customers a variety of options, which was fantastic.
Looking forward, Lee feels his professional experience will allow him to get even more out of the degree. “I’d like to think I know quite a bit in my field, but I do not know everything, so it's nice to always be learning. It’s about continuously improving your knowledge and being better at what you do.
“But it’s also two-way: if I feel strongly enough about something with regards to the course content, I'm able to talk to somebody and they can either explain it better to me or, if I've got a valid point, take it on board. So, it's about me learning more from the course, but also potentially being able to feed back into it, so that others going forward get a richer experience.”
Asked what he’d say to prospective applicants, Lee advises “just go for it. I would definitely recommend it to people.” However, he emphasises, the time and dedication required should not be underestimated.
“I think you need to really prepare and understand the commitment and the reading required, and then try and do things to make life a little bit easier. So, for example, because it's a distance learning programme, make sure you’ve got the right tech – that will definitely make your life easier.”