As a military veteran, Thomas used VET TEC to cover his bootcamp tuition and a living stipend, which offered him the confidence, freedom, and peace of mind to fully invest himself in learning cybersecurity. Thomas shares how Divergence Academy prepared him for cybersecurity certification exams, the differences between the university and cybersecurity bootcamp experience, and his top two tips for incoming students! Thomas is graduating this week from Divergence Academy – has the cybersecurity bootcamp delivered on getting him career-ready?
What inspired you to go from serving in the Marines to launching a career in cybersecurity?
After my time in the Marine Corps as a Bulk Fuel Specialist and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Tech, I went to college for mechanical engineering. I knew I wanted to find meaningful, marketable work that would interest, intrigue, and challenge me. Technically, mechanical engineering is very different from cybersecurity, but my background as an EOD Tech lended itself to cybersecurity because they both require problem-solving skills.
Cybersecurity piqued my interest, so after some research of cybersecurity bootcamps, I found that Divergence Academy accepts VET TEC, and I decided to enroll.
When researching cybersecurity bootcamps, what set Divergence Academy apart?
Divergence Academy was one of the only VET TEC’s Preferred Service Providers. This means Divergence Academy has to be able to promise meaningful employment within six months of graduating or VET TEC wouldn't pay them my tuition. They’re putting their money where their mouth is. This was a huge vote of confidence in Divergence Academy’s ability to deliver on the results they guarantee, since they had such a high job placement success rating.
I was also really interested in Divergence Academy because they are based in Dallas and have extensive employer connections. I knew if I could put in the work, Divergence would meet me there and elevate my career opportunities. And so far, I feel very confident.
Why did you choose VET TEC over VRRAP or GI Bill?
I knew about the other options but VET TEC seemed to be the best bet for me. Since Divergence Academy accepts VET TEC, it means they had a stake in my well-being. Another benefit of using VET TEC is that it offered me the freedom to focus on studying, so I didn’t have to work while I’m in the bootcamp. The GI Bill uses a lot of education benefits (time) – I plan to use my GI Bill time for a Bachelor’s Degree, and VET TEC doesn't consume my GI Bill benefits. Originally, I thought I would just get a cybersecurity job while I finished my Mechanical Engineering degree, but after going to Divergence Academy, I’m realizing that it’s such an interesting field and I think I’ll switch my major to cybersecurity.
Did you have to know basic networking or cybersecurity skills in order to apply to Divergence Academy?
I had no IT or cybersecurity background before I started at Divergence Academy. It is a beginner level course with no prerequisites. That said, it does help if you've worked in IT before. I noticed that my peers who had IT experience picked up the concepts a lot quicker than those of us without any experience.
Divergence Academy offers a prep course, Cyber Wookie, that is packed with helpful background information to help you get started. My advice to a future bootcamper would be to take that prep course!
What was a typical day like in the online bootcamp?
Our cohort met from 9am-6pm CT with synchronous instruction followed by group labs.
What did you learn in the bootcamp? Did Divergence Academy prepare you for any cybersecurity or networking certifications?
The curriculum is designed around CompTIA certifications and split into three modules:
Module 1 serves as an introduction to IT with week-long curriculum on Server+, Linux+, and Cloud+.
Module 2 is a deep dive into Network+.
Module 3 covers Security+ and Pen Testing+.
What kinds of cybersecurity labs did you work on in the bootcamp?
Divergence Academy requires students to complete labs. Most labs are done in class in groups, and then some have to be completed independently. There are over 100 labs! The general progression of the labs tends to be to complete 5 assisted labs, then test your skills with the applied lab that covers material for those last 5 assisted labs.
After 3-5 labs, we took everything we learned in the Assisted Labs and put them in Applied Labs, which is the same environment but without the hand railings, so we could test if we retained what we learned. For example, in Module 2, there was a group project where we built a network in the GNS3 environment and configured poor protocols and firewalls. We also worked on individual labs in Canvas that boot up a virtual environment with the virtual machines we had to use.
Even though everything is done virtually at the bootcamp, it feels realistic because virtual machines operate the same as computers. If we were ever stuck, the instructors at Divergence Academy were always available to help.
Were you able to take the certification exams during the bootcamp?
After the completion of certain labs, Divergence gives achievement/credibility badges. While these microbadges from Divergence are not the CompTIA certifications themselves, they are ways to show off to employers your understanding of certain concepts. I’ve gotten badges from Divergence Academy for the Network+, Security+, and Cloud+.
You can start requesting vouchers to take the certification exams as early as the completion of Module 1. Divergence has a list of certifications that you can request vouchers for. For those who have already taken their CompTIA certification exams and gotten certified in those fields, they could use that voucher for a different certification.
It's up to you when you feel comfortable taking the exam. You can take the exam up to six months after you graduate, and once you get the voucher, they don't expire for a whole year, so you have plenty of time to study for the exams. Since I came into the bootcamp with no experience, I now have my first voucher and will be taking my first certification test soon.
Did the teaching style at Divergence Academy match your learning style?
I'm used to the online learning environment. My undergrad college work has been online since the pandemic, just like the Divergence Academy bootcamp. I love learning online, because it offers me the flexibility to take care of my child as a single parent. I can drop my daughter off at school and pick her up when I need to. Plus, with recorded lectures I can re-watch anything I missed or need to revisit after class.
Are you finding that your work in the Marines translates at all to cybersecurity?
In the Marines, I was a Bulk Fuel Specialist and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Tech. Even though these are very different from cybersecurity, the problem solving of EOD does translate to pentesting and cybersecurity.
The process of physical threat-analysis does translate to the thought process of approaching a cybersecurity threat.
How is Divergence Academy different from the college experience?
Bootcamp and college have their similarities and differences. They’re similar in the sense of lectures and the necessity of notetaking to retain the information. The main difference is in the structure of the curriculum. For example, at Divergence Academy, we cover a topic in a lecture and then have a lab immediately after while the information is still fresh. In college, if I had a physics class on a Monday and Tuesday, I wouldn't have a lab for it until Friday, which required me to go back and re-learn the content. The curriculum structure at Divergence Academy is more similar to how I was taught in the military, which mirrored the immediate application of the content.
Since this was an online bootcamp, did you feel connected to your cohort?
Every one of my classmates at Divergence Academy is a fellow military vet! This made it easy to connect with each other, since we've all dealt with similar experiences. Several of my instructors at Divergence were also military vets.
The instructors also connected with us by having less structured days on Fridays, which they call DEL days, where we could ask instructors questions about anything: certifications, work they've done in the field, resumes, and general Q&As. It was a great way to connect with other students since we all have the same questions.
How has Divergence Academy prepared you for the job hunt?
Divergence Academy's main metric is job placement, so they take it very seriously and implement job readiness into the curriculum. We had 2-3 weekly workshops on topics including resume writing, targeting resumes for specific jobs, how to optimize your LinkedIn profile, how to navigate job search engines, and more. I hated writing resumes before this experience, but now I feel like I can write one pretty well.
Divergence has career workshops for anything you can think of – if there's one that you can think of that they don't have, you can reach out to your Student Success Advisor so they can pull it together. I feel confident enough to start looking for jobs because of these workshops.
Divergence Academy also hosts Lunch & Learns, where different companies from their Preferred Employer Network come in and talk to us about recruiting. Divergence offers all the support you could possibly need in your job search. I didn't believe it until I started the course.
What kinds of tech jobs do you feel qualified to apply for?
I'm very early into my job search, but I'm hoping to either get a job as a Junior Network Administrator or a Junior Pentester, and maybe even start going after some bug bounties.
Where are you in the job search process?
I graduate this week! When I started the program, I knew what a computer was and how to use one, but I had zero experience in cybersecurity and IT, so I've just been trying to absorb the material. Now I'm feeling confident enough to start applying for my certification and start putting my applications out there.
What is your advice for making the most out of the Divergence Academy experience?
My biggest piece of advice would be just to get ready, because this bootcamp is definitely challenging. “Come correct” every day, and ask questions. I also recommend having a basic understanding of how to maneuver through files using the command line interface on both Linux and Windows.
Looking back on this experience, was enrolling at Divergence Academy worth it for you?
I'm more confident in my ability to work any job now. If for some reason I wake up one day and decide cybersecurity is not for me, I still learned a lot about resume writing and applying for jobs in general, so it's already worth it for me. Now that I’m on the job hunt, I'm hoping Divergence Academy will be even more worth it when I get my first cybersecurity job.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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