When Ian Driscoll, a Lieutenant for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, was promoted into an IT role, he knew he needed to learn a whole new skill set. To gain a foundation in the cyber field, Ian chose to attend the 24-week, part-time Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin, powered by Trilogy Education Services, a 2U, Inc. brand. As a total tech newbie, Ian shares how The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin curriculum and mentorship helped him quickly advance his career and grow into his new cyber/IT role.
What inspired you to pivot from law enforcement to cybersecurity?
I'm a Lieutenant in the Travis County Sheriff's office that serves Austin, Texas. When I accepted the Lieutenant of Technology Services position I had no IT experience whatsoever. To be able to understand what people were talking about in the Technology Services department, I knew I needed to upskill with a cybersecurity program.
Why did you choose a boot camp over pursuing a college degree?
I looked at a few college degree programs, but they required courses like English Composition 101 and basic math and I already have a bachelor's and a Master’s degree. In my search for a cybersecurity-specific program, I discovered The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin. The cybersecurity boot camp was the longest boot camp program offered, covered more areas of IT, and I found it to be intellectually interesting. Because the boot camp was associated with UT Austin, I expected a certain level of expertise in the teaching, labs, and classwork. I felt reassured that UT would partner up with Trilogy to supply quality curriculum and instruction.
What was The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin application and interview process like?
I didn’t know how to code when I applied to the boot camp, so I went into the application process completely blind. Overall, the application process was a little like an IT help desk. The boot camp provided me with real-life scenarios and asked what I would do. They also asked about my previous tech experience, and even though I didn't have any at the time, I told them that I am good with people and comfortable managing large teams. Once I was accepted into the program, I completed the pre-work [materials designed to help get students up-to-speed with the technical subject matter prior to the first day of class].
How did you balance working full-time and simultaneously taking the part-time cybersecurity boot camp?
With great difficulty! A typical week at the boot camp is 25 hours of class and easily 20 hours of homework on top of that. My girlfriend was recently speaking of how hard it was for her when I was in the boot camp. I was oblivious to her distress because I had been so busy! The boot camp schedule is demanding and affects your day job as well as your personal relationships.
What did you learn in the cybersecurity boot camp?
The curriculum included an introduction to Pearl and Bash, but we spent more time with Python. One of my classmates told me about a Python for Kids tutorial, and that was an extremely helpful tool when I was just learning it.
Halfway through the class, I was assigned to lead a demo and instruct the class on cracking hashes with a free password cracking tool called John the Ripper. It took about 12 hours for me to reach a level of proficiency where I could lead the demo. After that day, my classmates were asking me their questions!
As someone with no previous tech experience, what sort of challenges did you face in the boot camp?
Many times in the course, I felt like I was drowning, but I always felt comfortable asking questions of my instructors and TAs. Many in my cohort had IT backgrounds. When I was struggling with the curriculum, I was matched with a mentor, Jeff Wade, who helped me tremendously. Once I began to understand the curriculum materials, the sense of achievement was phenomenal. Getting those wins kept me going.
What was your boot camp instructional team like?
Our cohort had two instructors throughout the program, and then there were teaching assistants. The teaching style really depended on the individual instructor. I also found that I learned as much from my peers as I did the instructors and TAs.
What kinds of projects did you work on while at The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin?
I worked on a malware report group project with two fellow students. There was also a capstone project which was done in small groups.
Did The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin prepare you for the CompTIA+ exams?
To a degree, the boot camp does prepare you. Our instructors were clear about which areas the course does not cover. For example, the curriculum didn't cover wireless or cloud security*, so I had to learn those on my own. After I graduated, I took a few months to self-teach and study, and I passed the CompTIA+ exams on the first sitting. Studying at my own speed for the exam helped me to fill comprehension gaps from the boot camp.
*Based on market demand, the cybersecurity program curriculum was updated in 2020 to feature cloud security.
How did The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin prepare your cohort for the job hunt?
The boot camp offers career services, but they aren't required in order to graduate from the boot camp. I didn't take advantage of them because my goal was to build my skills for my current job. I was trying to keep up with my class load, and I'm very conscious of my grades. If I do need help with a technical interview for a future job, I can reach out to my mentor from [the] UT Austin Boot Camp to prepare.
Has the cybersecurity boot camp opened up new avenues for you in your current job at Travis County?
I'm using my current job as an opportunity to seek out projects where I can apply my new cybersecurity and IT skill set. I was the Sheriff's Office representative for our Threat Mitigation/Response Team on the BlueLeaks data hack; I worked with regional and local government agencies to sort through and assess our exposure. It was a very worthwhile experience with a high-level/global view of incidents and how organizations respond. Since I had completed my cybersecurity training with the UT Austin boot camp, I was invited to join a high-level meeting where I was able to jump in to verify that files were free of malware. In another project, we have tablets that prison inmates are hacking, so I’ve been doing vulnerability assessments. I'm trying to put my nose into every corner I can!
As a military veteran, do you recommend the cybersecurity field to other veterans returning to civilian life?
I do recommend it! Cybersecurity can definitely appeal to military service folks. They just have to get their heads around the technical stuff.
What is your advice for people who are making a career change into tech after years of being in another field entirely?
Your age doesn’t matter. To make a career change at any age, you just need to be intellectually curious, determined, and driven.
What has been the biggest challenge in this journey to becoming a cybersecurity professional?
Lack of technical experience was initially a big challenge for me. If I was to do this all over again, I would give myself a firm foundation of understanding in code before applying to the boot camp. I found The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin exceedingly valuable, but if I had known basic Python, I think I would have been more prepared and gotten even more from the program.
Looking back, was The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin worth it?
Yes! The knowledge the boot camp offers sets a foundation that you can use to dive in deeper on your own or add to the path that speaks to you. People need to be aware that day one is not the start nor is the last day of the boot camp the end. The cybersecurity boot camp is the beginning of a journey to equip yourself with necessary skills. Some of the frustrations I saw my peers going through stemmed from the erroneous belief that the boot camp was an endpoint. The program lends a minimum level of comprehension in a wide variety of areas within cybersecurity. What you do with it after you graduate is your choice.
Find out more and read student reviews for The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with The Cybersecurity Boot Camp at UT Austin.
How Eleven Fifty Academy Propels Michael’s Tech Career
Elana and Fro from Telegraph Track share their advice to get the most out of a mentorship!
From Music to Machine Learning at Bloomberg