• Role: Senior Cyber Security Consulant
  • Location: Reading/Farnborough
  • University: De Montfort
  • Degree: Communications Systems, Security and Computing

Alexander Newman

I completed a government higher technical apprenticeship while studying for a foundation degree in science (Communications Systems, Security and Computing), graduating from De Montfort University. Since the very start of my career I have had a unique perspective into the vital work performed by organisations that maintain the UK’s national security and prevent and detect serious and organised crime. I moved to the private sector to accelerate my career progression and have since been exposure to technical challenges that are not just limited to the government.

From what I have learnt so far, it is impossible to know everything in cyber security. The best consultants are those who are willing and able to adapt and innovate at the speed of technology.

How did you get your job at Thales Cyber and Consulting?

My slightly abnormal career path was the main facilitator in securing my current role. As an apprentice at the cutting edge of technology, I had the demonstrable experience of delivery in a variety of technical disciplines, meeting the challenges of the current threat landscape and not constrained within an academic syllabus. Equally important was my foundation degree. Yes, it does not make me as distinguished as an individual with a higher qualification but it does consolidate my ability to interpret findings, perform an investigation and report on findings.

While attending the Farnborough International Airshow as a technology enthusiast I stumbled across the Watchkeeper Unmanned Air System (UAS). Lured into the rather flashy Thales stand hoping for a simulator to play with (which there was), I met a now colleague from Cyber and Consulting who quickly worked out my background. After a short technical conversation I was impressed at the diverse range of projects the team were working on, everything from banking to securing automotive platforms. This met my aspirations to diversify my career and experiences so I submitted my CV, and after a normal interview process I joined the technical team.

What are your main duties/roles?

My current full time role is the Assessment Lead/Liaison for a consortium of the best and brightest in the security industry. This consortium of security experts is focused on delivering the best solution to any problem posed, and we continuously and proactively look for innovative solutions across the security landscape. As the Assessment Lead, I not only have to determine these technical challenges and articulate these problems to my team, ensuring our response meets the requirement, but I must also scan the horizon for upcoming technical innovations and threats, proactively prototyping solutions.

I also assist Thales Research and Technology, Artificial Intelligence graduates to derive innovations that combine my expertise in cyber security with their bespoke knowledge to produce innovations that are applicable to our Security Operations Centre and wider business. Recently I have shifted the focus of these collaborative innovations to our CNI and Automotive customers.

As a consultant it is also important to circulate within the internal Thales teams, often my customer’s challenges need to be solved with more than just a technical solution so staying clued up on the activities of the Training, Human Factor, Business Analysis & Change and wider community enables me to provide holistic solutions. This prevents me from taking a narrow approach and forces me to remain innovative; it’s also a basic consultant skill to cross sell colleagues for the betterment of the organisation.

What skills are useful in this sector/profession?

  • Adaptability – unlike other industries where your skills can be applicable for a decade, you need to align your skillset to the fast changing environment around you. It is important to have the specialism that you’re known for while also being willing to self-teach new professional competencies.
  • Confidence/professionalism – it seems like an obvious skill for a consultant but you need to be a strong relationship builder. Eventually you will be asked for by name and not just supplied as a CV.
  • Technical ability – there are salesmen who can ‘talk the talk’ and there are grafters who can deliver, and then you have consultants who do both. As a graduate seeking a role in this industry it is vital that you can actually meet the deliverables of the project you are working on when you say it is possible. Therefore, you must also have the self-awareness to know what you cannot do and be willing to acknowledge your limits.
  • Motivations – it is important to love what you do. As an example I often find it difficult to determine the line between work and home, I think of it as getting paid to do my hobby. It is also great to work with people who share the passion I have for technology, and when you’re surrounded by like-minded people your performance and skills will also develop.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?

Apprenticeships and internships; there is a known skills gap between graduates who have just focused on academia and the professional ‘corporate’ skills required by industry to put you in front of a customer. The only way to address this and make your application stand out is to fill that gap, either by taking the initiative to gain those skills by taking every opportunity given to you by your university (I would attend leadership courses and lead societies), and/or actively seek the first step on the career ladder through opportunities such as apprenticeships and internships. An employer finds it easier (and cheaper) to bring an apprentice/intern into the consultancy as an analyst rather than seek an external applicant. Find out more about consultancy internships.

Where possible attend industry related events, meeting you in person and just discussing ‘all things cyber’ is the best way to be remembered and sought-after. It will also give you an idea of what opportunities there are in the industry. Everyone knows the big corporate names but is there a smaller organisation or start-up you could apply for to bridge your experience gap? Especially over those long student holidays!

Sound interesting? Find out more about IT Consulting here.

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