Luke Spencer, 29 a former Corporal with the Royal Tank Regiment left the British Army after a decade of service. He set his target on pursuing a career in tech and cyber security, via a brief stint as a truck driver he’s secured his dream job as a Web App Security Consultant with PenTest People and hasn’t looked back.
Here’s his story . . .
When did you join the military?
My first day of basic training was 19/01/2009, I joined straight after school shortly after turning 17.
Who did you serve with?
I was a tank crewman of the Royal Tank Regiment, finishing as a full corporal and Instructor of Gunnery after 10 years service.
Why did you decide to leave?
I always wanted a little more from my life, not that the military isn’t a challenging job, I just knew I was more technically minded. I’d had a great career, lots of great postings and memories. My future there was looking good but it just wasn’t for me anymore. I wanted something which offered more challenge and took me out of my comfort zone.
Once you’d signed off, how did you feel?
Initially it was quite a scare, I hadn’t figured out a direction of what I wanted to do. It was a bit impulsive almost, I knew I just had to do it or I would never figure it out. I was worried and kept asking myself, “What will I do?”, “How will I support children?”, “What if I fail and have to come back?”. However I was also excited as to what I could build my future to be, I’d never had a civilian job, so everything would be a new experience!
How did you tackle the resettlement process? What was your plan?
Honestly, I didn’t have much of a plan. Only that I had my truck licenses to fall back on and my NVQ in engineering and maintenance, although I knew I wouldn’t be happy pursuing these for long. I had no plan but endless questions. To make things even easier, I took a 7 month posting to Canada as my last post which seemed at first like running away, but it actually got me started on tech and I learned a lot of lessons there to prepare for my future career.
My friend and I got interested in how websites are built after having chats one night about how great remote working would be. From there we enrolled on a HTML5 and CSS fundamentals course and that started the process (he continued on and now works remote as a freelance web developer) I however took a different path after the course. When I returned to the UK I had just 1 month until my last working day and one evening my 2IC told me how cyber security is a booming industry and that I should go for it! I’d always been fascinated by hacking and the idea of it, but didn’t think myself capable. I did some research that night, contacted some ELCAS providers the next day and got started with CompTIA courses. Starting from the STRATA then to A+, Network+ and Security+. I later attended Crucial Academy on their offensive security course and passed my Crest Practitioner Security Analyst.
While undergoing all this and working through my studies over the course of 2 years, I worked as an agency truck driver which helped keep my finances going. I didn’t particularly enjoy it but it had it’s moments and enabled me some flexibility in my life. Although the shifts were excessively long (often three 15 hour and two 13 hours shifts per week) I kept my studying going and kept myself in the gym.
Did you always want to pursue a tech career?
I always wanted a tech career and lifestyle; however, coming from a non tech background it looked very daunting and I always thought I couldn’t do it. It was in the back of my head as a bit of a pipe dream.
What did you enjoy about the military?
For a time, I loved the life. Very simple living as a junior NCO and even the responsibilities didn’t particularly feel difficult. It was comfortable and I really enjoyed being an instructor. One day I plan to teach or mentor in cyber security too. I also loved the traveling, I was very lucky to get around to many places which I would not have seen had I not joined.
What qualities did it give you to survive in the outside world?
Determination to see something through and get the job done, this alongside being able to cope with pressure and being out of my depth meant when things got hard I was able to keep my cool and keep pushing. I found it’s not until you leave that you see what qualities and skills you picked up.
Do you regret leaving the military?
I don’t. Not that I hated it, I had a good career but I outgrew the lifestyle and after leaving I was able to experience being a civilian and standing on my own feet so to say. I like being responsible and having more freedom to plan my life. Even at my lowest I didn’t regret leaving.
What were your main concerns when you were leaving the military?
My main concerns were almost everything. I didn’t have anywhere to live and decided I needed to be within close distance to my children back where I grew up in Portsmouth. I ended up on my mate’s couch for a couple of months and then another friend’s shed at the end of his garden for a few months until late 2019 before finding a more permanent solution.
Alongside this was the worry of work and money, I knew I could do trucking but didn’t enjoy it all too much. I was always asking myself if I have made a good decision to pursue cyber and not something else and if the trucks would pay enough to support my children and the fees of my exams.
Who’s been your main role model or mentor?
Most of my mentors are actually bodybuilders, however the main role model for me is Dorian Yates. I am a bodybuilder myself and although at first glance people would think it’s all lifting advice, the lessons apply to all walks of life to just keep going and it doesn’t matter if you came from nothing and for me, that gave me a lot of hope when I felt like I was at the bottom, getting up in the night in my shed and walking through torrential rain to get some water from the house.
How has TechVets and the community supported you?
TechVets has always been there behind me and whenever I have needed advice, be it for studying, job listings or even free access to courses with constant support usually at any time of day.
Last year during lockdown when all my work dried up, I got stuck into immersive labs and there were plenty of times that I was stuck but I always had a forum to check and someone always got back to me to help and then explain why or how something works.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to win a raffle with 2 months free of TryHackMe which I rate as the best platform I have used for learning. Everything is explained and again, anything struggled with, the TechVets members had the answers I needed. This platform was the best in terms of having things to talk about to an interviewer. When it came to the interview which landed me a job, we spoke more about the things I had been doing over me being asked technical questions or asking about exams.
Aside to this I attended Crucial academy where I met a number of the TechVets in person and since then we’ve kept in contact through the channel. One of which dropped a job ad to me over LinkedIn, It was a local one so was ideal, it didn’t work out unfortunately due to Covid, but it went really well and that gave me a lot of confidence and lined me up to get my job in the next interview. Most of the parts of my journey have been made possible or been helped in some way or another by the TechVets community.
What advice would you give to people in the military who are considering leaving but are too scared to go through the seven clicks to freedom?
Just do it. It’s not until you do the clicks and throw yourself into it that you find your way. Treat leaving the military as plan A and the only plan so as you don’t feel too comfortable thinking you can just sign back on. As soon as the initial interviews are done, go off on your own to find the information you need, don’t trust your chain of command to do what’s best for you, you have to take the first steps of being a civilian and go do it yourself. Speak to resettlement, get on ELCAS, join TechVets (if you are going for tech) the earlier, the better.
What are you doing now?
I am now a Web Application Security Consultant for Pentest People. I love my new job, I work from home and the team have all been great with getting me started after driving trucks for the past 2 years. I often think about where I’ve came from and feel very content. I had a bit of a “training” period which consisted of shadowing my colleagues for a few weeks, but I’m now a few tests in and handling customers alone. It’s quite a learning curve and often daunting when chatting to experts in the industry. Much like my studies, in every test I face something else I haven’t seen before, but I love the lifestyle and already trying things outside of web application testing. Alongside this I am currently studying in preparation to sit the Crest Registered Tester exam.
What training or advice would you offer to others embarking on a similar resettlement journey?
If you’re going into Cyber, keep going, don’t give up, don’t let people place their limitations on you and don’t be disheartened. One of the hardest parts to deal with was trying these things like Hack The Box and Try Hack Me, where every machine I did I needed help or to read parts of a tutorial or walkthrough even after passing numerous exams, It really forces you to feel like you don’t know anything, but that is all part of the process and the subject matter is as vast as the ocean. I used to do a box in the evening with help from walkthroughs at the points where I needed it, took my notes etc and then when I sat down the next evening to do another box I would run through yesterdays box first without the help and just using notes and that helped me deal with the self doubt. There’s also plenty of people out there in different parts of the industry who will say you cannot become a penetration tester without first having experience in a network admin role, or experience in defensive security. Don’t listen, pick what you want to do, look at what employers are asking for and put your time into that.