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I currently work in Information Security, mainly in the areas of Vulnerability Management and Penetration Testing. This is the process of making sure that your company’s network and computer systems are free from flaws that might allow an attacker to gain unauthorised access. This usually involves hacking into your own systems and securing them, before someone else with bad intent does it for you.

Don’t leave yourself wondering what-if. Whether it’s applying for a particular graduate program, doing a certain module, asking someone out, or going to a particular event. From experience, you don’t want to wake up in ten years wondering what might have happened if you’d just been brave enough to try something. I look back now and wish I’d taken it all a little less seriously and gone out a bit more. A good quote for this is “Fear of failure kills more dreams than failure ever will”

How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?
I always had my mind set on being a Software Engineer after Uni. I got my dream job as a Graduate Software Engineer, then spent the first six months working as a software tester, which wasn’t exactly what I was after. For me it was all about writing code, so I left that job shortly after, to go to a job where I was promised more coding. When I got there, I was a system admin for various Unix systems. I stuck to my guns though and eventually got into a coding role, mostly writing Unix shell scripts, which at the time I didn’t consider to be real coding. When I look back on it, it never really worked out for me writing software. I ended up leaving that job to go to a Software support role, analysing problems people were having with a software product, but soon realised that this wasn’t technical enough for me. 

From a very early age (since I first saw the movie Wargames), I’d always had an interest in hacking and computer security, probably before it was even a widely known thing. So when the opportunity came to work in this area, I had to take it. That was several years ago now and was easily the best thing I ever did. Although it wasn’t anything I studied in my degree, my degree laid the foundational knowledge and enables me to understand a lot of the concepts in detail.

The two things I take from my career history are to not turn your nose up at a particular role because it doesn’t necessarily fit your goals, as you never know when it might be useful in the future. My days as a system admin gave me a lot of knowledge that is useful in my current role. My days writing software enabled me to understand how it all fits together. My days in software support helped me to understand how to analyse problems. I’d be a much poorer hacker without those experiences.

That said, if you have an interest in something, try to follow it and be on the lookout for opportunities involving it. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
Hacking and computer security is currently quite sexy to the media and definitely a growth area. There aren’t many people who really understand it. It’s often said that there is a massive infosec skills shortage. Not only does that mean you’ll be in demand if you choose a career in infosec, but it also gives you a lot of leverage in salary negotiations.

I love finding vulnerabilities and helping system owners to understand and fix them. There is an element of feeling like you’re fighting a good fight against the undesirable elements or computer crime, which is massively rewarding when you know you’ve potentially helped to stop a breach.

What motivates you?
My simplistic answer to this is always: making things better. Knowing that you’ve helped something to be more efficient and saved someone some time, or made something more secure and saved someone their money, time or dignity is extremely rewarding and helps to get you out of bed in the morning.

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
I suppose it’s all online these days, but in my time it was all through printed prospectuses for each University. I remember I had a pile of them in the lounge and would look through them regularly. My Mum wanted me to stay close to home, so looking at Universities in other parts of the country was bottom of my list.

Then one day I picked up the Birmingham prospectus and saw the red brick buildings, which reminded me of all the cheesy, romantic images you see of Universities in films, so I decided that I would at least like to see what it was like.

Actually choosing Birmingham at my interview made me feel very guilty, partly for the cost of living away and partly for the idea of moving away from my family. I remember discussing it with my parents at the time and although they were sad about it, they recognised that it was what I wanted and would ultimately be good for me.

What are your fondest memories of the University?
Perhaps strangely, some of my fondest memories from Uni are of being in the third year labs during the small hours of the morning working on my final year project. There was a group of us who would all be there together. Although there was a lot of stress about impending deadlines, the atmosphere was great and we had a great laugh and pulled each other through.

Beyond that, times with friends. I can recall (hazily) lots of nights in the Guild or the Gun Barrells with my flatmate or friends from my course. Not to mention the hours upon hours spent playing Warcraft III over the Tennis Courts local network.

I’m happy to say that all these years on, I’m still in contact with lots of the people I met at Uni and still see them regularly, especially my ex-flatmate, who’s been with me through thick and thin and was best man at my wedding. I met my wife through Uni friends and spent several years coming back to Birmingham after I’d graduated, so it was definitely a defining period in my life.

How did you grow as a person by coming to University?
I was very dependent upon my parents before University. I remember in my first week my Mum had to come to the launderette and show me how to use the machines. Being away helped me to gain some independence and develop basic household skills, even if my cooking still isn’t very good.

Beyond the practicalities, I always had this belief that you had to take University completely seriously and that failure was terrible.

I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong on both counts. I now see that there are plenty of people that go to Uni, go to all the parties, are out every night and yet somehow still manage to get a first. I was petrified of failing my first year and shut myself away to study. I know plenty of people who failed key modules in first year, worked hard at a resit and came out four years later with a first.

Ultimately it’s whatever you make it and what works best for you, there is no set path and that’s something only experience can teach.

What did you think of the learning experience within the University?
I always had this feeling that studying Computer Science was different from other courses. I don’t know if it’s still the same, but in my time, we didn’t need to use the main library as much as other students, we didn’t get reading weeks, we had to do a more difficult final year project. We were pretty much encapsulated in the Computer Science bubble and never needed to leave.

I think that developed a great sense of camaraderie and great working environment. It was brilliant to have everything we needed in one building.

What inspired you most during your time as a student?
Thinking about the future. I knew that if I did well, it would define the rest of my life, so this was always in the back of my mind during lectures, exams and revision periods.

What advice would you give to current students studying on your degree programme?
Don’t leave yourself wondering what-if. Whether it’s applying for a particular graduate program, doing a certain module, asking someone out, or going to a particular event. From experience, you don’t want to wake up in ten years wondering what might have happened if you’d just been brave enough to try something. I look back now and wish I’d taken it all a little less seriously and gone out a bit more. A good quote for this is “Fear of failure kills more dreams than failure ever will”