How a graduate apprenticeship in cyber attracted this engineer to Leidos
Cyber Scotland Week runs from February 17-23 and aims to raise cyber awareness, promote cyber careers, and highlight innovation in cybersecurity. In recognition, here are some insights from Michael O'Neill, an aspiring Leidos UK cyber professional.
What is your job title and how long have you been with the Leidos Early Careers Programme?
My job title is Cybersecurity Engineer (apprentice) and I have been on the Graduate Apprenticeship scheme for a year and four months. (Joined Sept. 2018)
Which university did you attend/are you attending, and what did you study/are you studying?
For my first year of the apprenticeship, I attended Strathclyde University where I studied software development. However, going into second year I didn’t feel that this was the course I wanted to gain a degree in, so I approached my manager at the time to swap. Currently I am working towards a BEng (Hons) cybersecurity degree at Edinburgh Napier University.
What kind of work have you been involved in at Leidos?
I have been involved in different kinds of work, ranging from web application security testing and security tool deployments, to assessing the physical security of a building.
When and why did you start thinking about a career in cyber?
I’ve wanted to work in IT since I was old enough to reach a keyboard as my dad is a computing teacher, but I really wanted to delve into cyber in around 3rd year. I had seen a video of a group of people known as a Red Team, carry out a security test on a company. They utilised various different tools such as a Raspberry Pi (pocket sized computer), lockpicks and many more to identify weaknesses in the company being tested. Plus, watching James Bond growing up – all the computer people are the best characters.
I had been at a few talks by other companies running the Graduate Apprenticeship scheme and none really offered what I was looking for. The majority were very development based without much cyber. When I noticed that Leidos were offering a GA specifically in cyber, I instantly took the opportunity.
What is your working environment like?
Coming straight from leaving school at the end of my 6th year and into an office environment was a scary thing to think about. I was not sure what to expect. The environment I work in is very different to the one I imagined an office would be like. For example, not everyone is in full three-piece suits. The part of the office that I work in is more shirt and smart trousers, however, the developers are in casual clothes. There is also a breakout area which has a pool table for those times where you need to take a few minutes to clear your head. The best part about the environment I work in is the fact that I have so many SMEs who are approachable if I have a question on anything. This is invaluable for both university work and my overall personal development.
What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in cyber or joining an Early Careers programme?
For those wanting to join an EC programme, do it and do not look back. If there is one thing that would separate, you and another candidate going for a job is the fact that you have both a degree and four years work experience. By the time, you graduate university, you already have a lot of the knowledge that many normal graduates would only get in their first two years of the job.
What does the future hold for you?
Thanks to this apprenticeship, my opportunities both now and later in life are endless. I have the chance at Leidos to work with some of the newest technology on the scene, something that many normal undergraduates would be jealous of.
How is Michael doing? Here's what his manager had to say:
"Michael supports the shift rotas for the Cyber Security Operations Centre and Cyber Security Incident Response processes which protect a new solution provided by Leidos for one of our customers. He has gained experience securing AWS and Azure Cloud platforms and traditional on-premise solutions. He has been exposed to numerous cybersecurity tools such as Splunk, AWS Security Centre, Symantec Endpoint Protection Manager, and Palo Alto Firewalls. He uses Ethical Hacking tools to support web application pen tests. He has performed Cyber Essentials Plus Audits for clients. Although Michael’s preference right now is to focus on information security assurance physical security, as an Apprentice Cybersecurity Engineer he has proven himself to be a multi-faceted asset for the Leidos Cybersecurity Engineering Team." -- John McGuinness, Information Assurance and Cyber Security Manager