Many people are turning to bootcamps as an alternative to college after high school, but is it worth it? We talked to Zach Wilcher about his experience taking an online cybersecurity bootcamp at Eleven Fifty Academy right after high school instead of going to college. Zach shares how his summer cohort gave him the support and knowledge base he needed to feel confident as a SOC Analyst at a cybersecurity company. Plus, Zach lists his top two tips for current bootcamp grads now on the hunt for their first cybersecurity job.
Why did you choose to learn cybersecurity at a bootcamp instead of college?
College is great, but things change quickly in the tech industry. I think cybersecurity bootcamps, self-study, and certifications are the best route to take if you want to adapt and get on-the-job experience. In my senior year of high school, I took an early college course called Area 31. It was a cybersecurity and networking program, which gave me foundational knowledge. Since I didn’t think college was necessary to launch a cybersecurity career, I started looking for alternatives which led me to Eleven Fifty Academy.
There are so many cybersecurity bootcamps — Why did you choose Eleven Fifty Academy?
It was the cost of the bootcamp, and I was able to get CARES Act funding, which reduced my tuition significantly. With that funding, my tuition went from almost $18,000 to $3,000! This meant that I could use the bootcamp as an opportunity to see if I liked cybersecurity as a career.
Why did you decide to enroll in a summer bootcamp cohort?
I was trying to get my career started right away, so I didn’t really take a summer break after high school graduation. I finished high school and two weeks later I started the summer cohort. I graduated from Eleven Fifty Academy in September.
In your experience, do you need a college degree to work in cybersecurity today?
I’ve thought about it and I don’t think I would go back to college to continue down this career path unless I was going to make a career change. I’ve broken into the industry now and gathered experience, and I think I can comfortably make my way up the career ladder if I want a new job.
What was the Eleven Fifty Academy application process like for you?
We had to do a short assessment to test our knowledge and we also had to do pre-work. In order to get fully enrolled into a program at Eleven Fifty Academy, incoming students typically have pre-work to complete.
Would you recommend that someone has a little bit of cybersecurity or networking knowledge before day one of the bootcamp?
Both as a bootcamp student and later a TA, I’ve seen a lot of people succeed in the cybersecurity bootcamp with no background. As long as you have drive and passion, you’ll do well.
What was a typical day like in Eleven Fifty Academy’s Cybersecurity bootcamp?
The full-time bootcamp met from 9-5, Monday through Friday, and was basically a full-time job. In the morning we had practice and did things like Kahoots to get our brains flowing. Next, we took a quiz on the chapter we had done the day before going through our lessons throughout the day. We’d take lunch and then come back and finish up anything remaining in our lesson. The rest of the day was spent in labs, taking what we just learned and trying to apply it.
What’s the difference between learning at Eleven Fifty Academy versus traditional school?
Cybersecurity courses in traditional school environments are mostly theoretical and students don’t get much hands-on experience, especially with the security tools that we use every day on the job. Eleven Fifty Academy is great at giving students a good foundation in the seven layers of cybersecurity. You can have problems at each layer and we cover troubleshooting for all of them. The bootcamp covers CompTIA Security+, which gives you good insight into how security works as a whole going from process to process.
What kinds of labs did you work on at Eleven Fifty Academy?
The labs depend on which part of the program you’re in. For the CompTIA Security+ sectiion, there are CompTIA labs for each chapter that we do. There’s also TryHackMe labs, which is a great platform for new students that breaks down labs into a user-friendly approach. TryHackMe labs walk you step-by-step through things like penetration testing, cyber defense, and blue team/red team dynamics. It allows users to learn cybersecurity at an easier pace than other platforms like Hack The Box would. It’s more user-friendly and it has a lot of different programs to offer.
Which cybersecurity certifications did Eleven Fifty Academy prepare you for?
I got CompTIA Security+ and Network+ at Eleven Fifty Academy, but the bootcamp prepared me to do pretty much any of those certifications. The next certification for bootcampers would probably be CYSA+, which Eleven Fifty now covers. The bootcamp is extending their security professional courses, which I think has helped the students out. Plus, Eleven Fifty works with CompTIA so students get discounts on certification exams.
Did you take your certification exams during the bootcamp?
The bootcamp was structured so that we all studied together with an instructor that taught the certification material to us. Eleven Fifty Academy had 50-70 students in a class, but it was nice because they had breakout rooms where you could have one-on-ones with instructors. It allows students to take a deep dive into the material and expand their knowledge.
We took quizzes after every chapter as well as midterms and final exams. There were also 10-12 practice exams we could take leading up to the certification exam. Two weeks prior to the certification exam, we could study, ask as many questions as possible, and go over practice tests in class. Going over why things were right and wrong helped us prepare more for the test. The instructors helped us understand CompTIA’s wording for questions because that’s where a lot of people get caught up. The technical writing in cybersecurity can be hard to interpret if you’re new to it.
What was your summer cohort like at Eleven Fifty? Were you learning with other college students?
There were people from many different walks of life at the bootcamp. I was probably the youngest person in my cohort, whereas someone in my cohort was around 65 years old. There were people transitioning from different careers which made learning fun since we saw that anyone could do it. We all studied together, worked as hard as we could, and we ended up passing the bootcamp.
How did working as a TA at Eleven Fifty Academy help your new career as a cybersecurity professional?
I was a TA for a year-and-a-half, working first as a learning assistant and then as a teaching assistant. Being a TA after bootcamp graduation helped a lot because I got to develop a lot of soft skills and presentation skills as well as re-learning a lot of the material to get a better grasp. I was able to mature more — being young comes with a lot of challenges and distractions. As a TA, I was able to hyper-focus and perform to the best of my ability which paid off for my career in the end. By the time I left Eleven Fifty, I was hired by a cybersecurity company in Tampa.
How did Eleven Fifty Academy prepare you for the cybersecurity job hunt?
Career Services is great! They were always eager about reaching out to see if I needed anything. They teach students how to market themselves and connect with different companies in the cybersecurity industry over LinkedIn. The company I now work for found me and messaged me on LinkedIn!
What kinds of tech jobs did you feel prepared to apply for after graduation?
I felt confident applying to SOC Analyst positions, which is more of a blue team job.
Now you’re a SOC Analyst – what was the interview process like for this job?
It was a five-round interview and the first rounds went over basic security protocols. We talked about security foundation protocols to see if I knew what I was talking about. Having been a student and a TA at Eleven Fifty helped me a lot in this part of the interview because it was essentially me talking about what I teach, which was easy for me.
The third round was my technical interview. What I learned at Eleven Fifty helped me out with this part because I was able to take the knowledge I built in Security+ and explain it like the individual chapters. It was an extensive interview at almost two hours long, but it was fun. There were some things I didn’t know well, but that was due to a lack of experience in the industry and it wasn’t held against me. Overall, I felt very prepared for the interview process.
Did you feel like the cybersecurity certifications helped you land this job?
They’re definitely helpful. I think Security+ is preferred in most security or SOC Analyst jobs. Having both the CompTIA Network+ and Security+ put me above other candidates who only had their A+.
What’s it like working at a company that specializes in cybersecurity?
I enjoy working for a cybersecurity company because I never go a day without having something exciting in my hands. I’m always busy and on my toes. There are some days when I’m sitting there asking as many questions as I can because it’s all so new.
What does a SOC Analyst do?
A SOC Analyst manages customer environments and investigates alerts or potential threats as they come in. This can be things like ransomware, internal port scans, phishing emails, or anything in between. On the job, I do a lot of investigating, log analysis, technical writing, and other hands-on tasks during the day.
Are you using everything that you learned at Eleven Fifty Academy on the job?
The theoretical approach and foundation I got in the bootcamp has been tremendously helpful when I am learning how to maneuver through investigations and use new security tools. I have been able to use that foundation to recognize firewalls, source IPs, and destination IPs. With my bootcamp experience, I can talk-the-talk and build off of my knowledge base.
Where are you going next in your cybersecurity career?
I recently got my eJPT which is an ethical hacking certificate. I’m thinking about doing threat hunting next and I’m getting some instant response certifications at the moment. I’m going into my review for a promotion shortly next month.
What is your advice for Eleven Fifty cybersecurity grads who are trying to land their first cybersecurity job?
The biggest tip is to be open to different avenues in your learning. I tell students that they should use TryHackMe since Eleven Fifty Academy gives students free access to the accounts. Students can see if they like ethical hacking or the blue side of things or even a different information security role. Information security is broad and you can always find a different avenue to go down.
Learn as much as you can and be open to new things, even if you’re in a completely new field. Networking is huge — It’s helpful to go to the Coffee & Connects that Eleven Fifty Academy offers where people from the industry come in to talk about cybersecurity.
At this point in your tech career, was Eleven Fifty Academy worth it for you?
Definitely. If I went back to when I was graduating high school, I would do it all over again. It helped me tremendously and I wouldn't be where I am now without Eleven Fifty Academy.
Jess is the Content Manager for Course Report as well as a writer and poet. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education, and loves learning and sharing content about tech bootcamps. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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