Rory Quenneville Thorpe had an undergraduate degree in criminology, but hit a wall when it came to finding work he felt passionate about, so he ended up working in retail. When COVID hit, Rory reassessed his career goals and decided to make a career change into cybersecurity by enrolling at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies (UofT SCS) Boot Camps. Rory shares how he was able to give himself an edge in the hiring pool with cybersecurity certifications, and how he landed a Junior Security Operations Specialist at Gamesys just six months after boot camp graduation!
What inspired you to pivot into a tech career by enrolling at a boot camp?
After earning an undergrad degree in criminology, my boyfriend and I moved to British Columbia so he could join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). I fell into retail for three years, where I worked up from a minimum-wage Sales Associate to an Assistant Store Manager. While I enjoyed the work, I knew I wasn't fulfilling my deeper passions and I frequently wondered about my next steps. I got out of retail and worked for over a year as a civilian in the records department at The City of Surrey in conjunction with the RCMP. While I was comfortable, I wasn’t happy with my life trajectory.
When COVID hit, my boyfriend had joined the Toronto Police Force and I was looking for new work but kept getting rejected from roles I thought I was qualified for. It was depressing and I knew I needed to find something that would get me up in the morning and fulfill a sense of purpose. When I asked myself what I enjoy doing on a daily basis, I realized I spend 90% of my downtime in front of a computer, so I explored coding. An Intro to Python course through Udemy got me excited because it was challenging and I was having fun! I wondered where else this could take me, so I started researching boot camps.
When you were researching boot camps, what stood out about UofT SCS Boot Camps?
I had completed my undergrad at University of Toronto, so I could attest to their excellent reputation. Seeing that they sponsored a boot camp made me confident that I could expect high quality teaching. Plus, when I looked at the Cybersecurity Boot Camp curriculum, I was so inspired! Finally, I found my path into an interesting, motivating, and evolving tech field.
Was there an application challenge to get into the Cybersecurity Boot Camp?
While there was a pre-assessment quiz on math, the application challenge was not overly complicated and had nothing particularly about code. You can start the cybersecurity boot camp as a total beginner!
Did you have to complete any prework?
The prework focused on helping us set up our computers and ensure we had the right system requirements to run virtual machines on top of it. It covered some fundamental Linux commands, too.
About a month before applying to the boot camp, I actually supplemented my cybersecurity knowledge with sites like StationX and ITU Online, and from various YouTube channels, such as Professor Messer, dev/central, and Destination Certification just so I was more prepared for the program. These resources also came in handy when it came to getting my certifications as well!
What was a typical week like in the online cybersecurity boot camp?
It’s a part-time boot camp, held for three hours every Tuesday and Thursday evening and four hours every Saturday morning. Altogether, there are 10 hours of weekly classes, plus homework, for six months. I liked this part-time, 6-month format because I had time to let the material sink in and ask questions. If I had enrolled at a shorter and more accelerated boot camp, I was worried that I would rush through the process and have no one to ask questions when I finished.
What did the cybersecurity boot camp curriculum cover?
We learned about penetration testing, Splunk, how to monitor and defend a network, and how to script using Linux. Scripting in Linux ended up being the most useful insight because I interact with those commands now daily on the job. We also spent one week on content about forensic investigation, and did some fun activities like Capture the Flag.
Which cybersecurity certifications did the boot camp prepare you for?
I knew I wanted to hit the ground running, and getting my certifications was important to me. I noticed one of the recommended readings for the boot camp was the CompTIA Security+ study guide by Glen E. Clarke, so I started reading that before the boot camp officially began. By the time I finished the boot camp, I had my CompTIA Security+ and Network+ certifications and was working towards the CompTIA CYSA+ certification, which I completed just recently.
During the boot camp, there was some debate on which certifications each of us wanted to pursue. Most of us wanted to obtain the Security+, but I was the first to achieve this amongst my cohort. I wanted to have a competitive edge so I put in the work to get these certifications to stand out in the hiring pool.
Who were the instructors for the boot camp?
Our instructors were cybersecurity professionals that integrated their incredible stories into the curriculum so we could understand how the material applied in relevant real-world scenarios. It was so inspiring to hear about their lives and what was possible in the world of cybersecurity. I took advantage of their office hours before and after class to get to know them and ask questions, which got me so excited and passionate about cybersecurity.
The teaching style was similar to my undergrad experience. Our boot camp instructors were great at explaining concepts and ensuring we all had what we needed to understand and stay engaged.
Since this is an online boot camp, what was your cohort like? Could you collaborate with them?
Our cohort consisted of a variety of backgrounds. Some people already had tech experience and were switching careers or pivoting to another department. Some were also enrolled in a computer science undergrad program. And then there were people like me with no IT background who were freshly breaking into this field.
Because of the COVID lockdown, there wasn't an opportunity to connect in-person, but I did communicate with my peers during the boot camp. Once the boot camp finished, those that lived in the Toronto area met up at a restaurant, which was an awesome opportunity to get to know each other face-to-face.
What kinds of projects did you work on in the boot camp?
One project was setting up a Virtual network on Azure and deploying our own ELK stack. We then attacked that network and monitored the resulting web traffic in order to get a better understanding of what malicious traffic should look like.
Another project was focused on penetration testing. We learned how to operate Kali Linux and use tools like nmap, metasploit, and password cracking tools in order to obtain access to another system and its various accounts. It was really insightful.
How did the boot camp prepare you for the job hunt?
The career services offered by the boot camp were as important as the curriculum itself. Having someone dedicated to helping me revamp my resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn was a huge advantage. I wouldn't have done that on my own and I would have been held back by my old ways if it weren't for the professional guidance and feedback I received from my absolutely amazing career services advisor.
What roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from the boot camp?
I gravitated towards job titles like SOC Analyst or Cyber Analyst, which is very close to where I ended up!
Congrats on your Junior Security Operations Specialist role at Gamesys! What does a Junior Security Operations Specialist do?
Gamesys is an online gambling corporation, so cybersecurity is incredibly important in this industry! I work on the defensive side of things, like monitoring and potentially responding to threats on our devices or websites. I also play a role in aiding with the certificate management of our web infrastructure. This has really cultivated a personal interest towards furthering my understanding of how cryptography and various protocols come together in making the internet a more secure place.
What was your interview process like? How did you do in the technical interview?
I was definitely intimidated when I had to interview for this role, but since I had asked questions throughout my boot camp experience, I felt more confident in my abilities. The Gamesys role required a few different interviews, which was an emotional rollercoaster — After each interview, I walked away each time thinking I blew it and wouldn't hear back. I regretted answering a couple of questions incorrectly because I knew better. What I believe stood out in my interviews, though, was my passion for the material and eagerness to learn. These qualities made the Gamesys team feel confident that I was what they were looking for.
Since you’re new to the cybersecurity industry, how is Gamesys supporting you?
My team is so helpful and knowledgeable. When I have questions, they always take the time to explain it to me in depth, often more than I expect when asking. There's a great, supportive culture here that I feel grateful to be a part of.
Are you using all of the concepts and tools that you learned at the boot camp?
Yes, definitely. The work I do now is very relevant to what I learned at the boot camp. The only thing that I'm not using is Penetration Testing, since I'm working more on the defensive side of things. But I see how people would try and use those tools on us. Other than that, I definitely use the skills and insights I gained from boot camp on the job.
What skills from your time spent in retail do you now rely on in your new cybersecurity career?
Having a good sense of humility, putting your ego aside, and making sure that you're able to listen and understand other people. Communication itself is a really valuable skill in tech because it can help you articulate where you're struggling or when you're trying to bridge those knowledge gaps with someone else on the other side. Working well with others is also as important in cybersecurity as in retail. Retail is very team-based, so I always felt like a career with that mindset is a good fit for me.
Looking back on this career change, was University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Cybersecurity Boot Camp worth it for you?
100%! My only regret is not doing it sooner! It feels like I'm finally on a path toward an actual career. I feel more in line with what I enjoy doing.
So far, is this the career that you expected? Are you happy that you got into cybersecurity?
It's definitely what I expected it to be and then more! There are always new things that are being introduced and there's always new concepts to learn, so it really keeps you on your feet. I enjoy it!
What is your advice for people who are trying to launch a career in cybersecurity?
First, you should know that it's completely natural to feel unsure about making this career change. You're going to go through the motions of questioning whether this is the right fit and whether you’ll get a job. But if you can get your certifications, use the resources from the boot camp, really learn the material, and work with your career services advisor, you will get to that place where you are job-ready and competitive.
For those who haven't worked in the cybersecurity industry before, don't underestimate how transferable your skills may be! Your skills from your previous career are more relevant than you realize.
Find out more and read University of Toronto SCS Boot Camps reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies (UofT SCS) Boot Camps.
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