Jim Perkins joined the military as a chef at 19 and left as a commissioned officer and intelligence analyst at 36.
“I genuinely enjoyed it so much…I thought I definitely want to stay here for as long as I can” he recalls of his time in the Royal Air Force. It took a couple of decades and a particularly tough pilot’s course to change his mind.
“I hit my capacity. It was just very, very difficult for me to progress any further.”
While he was on the fence about staying in, he got offered a funded place on the CAPSLOCK training course through TechVets that sealed the deal. It was an opportunity to take his career in an exciting direction- and it’s paid off! He recently landed a role with AMR Cybersecurity, a leading UK cyber risk consultancy firm.
“I’m institutionalised in many respects, so I’m entering a brand-new wide world where everything is completely different…but there’s a lot of transferable skills as well,” he says. “Time keeping, work ethic, understanding what your role is. All these skills you just take for granted because everyone else around you does them- they’re definitely appreciated.”
If you’re up for making the most of your own finely-tuned skill set as a veteran, service leaver, or reservist (or partner to one!), keep reading to learn from Jim’s journey.
Crushing It at Cyber Security Bootcamp
The CAPSLOCK programme has jumpstarted Jim’s IT career after military service. He says it’s the best of all the ‘bootcamp’ style courses he considered, designed to be done in 16 weeks, five hours per day.
“The course is really good, it’s structured in a way that’s broken down into all the main selling points for starting work in cyber,” he explains. “It’s focused toward the output instead of just loads of random stuff.”
Watch the full podcast recording with Jim Perkins:
Along with lessons, CAPSLOCK includes four key cyber security certification exams with two attempts at each, in case students don’t pass the first time around. He’s just wrapping up the 16 week training with the completion of his ISO 27001 exam/externally accredited practitioner exam from the British Standards Institute (BSI).
“So it’s 30 questions. You have an hour to do it. It’s two minutes per question and it’s a 70% pass mark,” Jim says of the BSI exam. “I felt as though I knew quite a lot of the stuff already.”
When we spoke, his next step in the course was earning his Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge and Certificate in Information Security Management Principles. After that he’ll get his CompTIA Security+ certification. He’s about to be armed to the teeth with quals.
“There’s a whole syllabus as part of the overall CAPSLOCK course with regards to best way of writing a CV as well, how to highlight skills, how to do interviewing techniques, salary negotiation, package negotiation and then also other aspects of getting into the employment area and what the actual tech industry looks like,” he adds.
(If you’d like this kind of job search guidance, you can also take advantage of TechVets and Forces Employment Charity’s own free resources for service leavers, veterans, reservists, and their spouses.)
Getting Direction from Veterans in Cyber Security
“When I started looking at TechVets, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Jim says. “I got in touch with Colin and Rachel who were brilliant because they said ‘right, okay, this is the sort of thing you need to look into to go down this avenue.’”
Until then, Jim had been an intelligence analyst keen on “solving problems, digging, and being quite investigatory.” His background is in intelligence, imagery, and intelligence management, and he’s previously worked with people with cyber jobs. He says that’s why cyber security strongly appealed to him.
“I spoke to some people on LinkedIn and I started looking for a new job. I put myself out to a lot of recruiters and I put my CV on a few CV libraries as well, but very thankfully, the job that I’ve been offered and subsequently accepted came up on the TechVets job board, so I was really grateful for that.”
He says asking for feedback was key to his progress.
“It can be quite raw because in many respects in the military, you get very comfortable in what you’re doing and when you’re doing it and you become well regarded for being good at what you do with your skill set,” he shares. “You don’t really want to get out of your comfort zone, rock the boat, or leave that little bubble…and you don’t want to come across as being quite a bit necky.”
Putting yourself out there is tough, but necessary, and there are lots of people who can help.
Coming to Terms with Life on the ‘Outside’
Many veterans and service leavers question themselves during their transitions out, and Jim’s just freshly out himself. He says he expects a lot of second-guessing in the weeks to come.
“You know you’ve got a regular wage, you’ve got a lot of things looked after for you [in the military]… Months away, I’ll be doing something innocuous like making a coffee or washing the dishes or walking the dog, and I’ll be like, ‘hold on a minute. What if it doesn’t work? What happens?’ And it’s difficult to not spiral when you’re doing that thing because a negative thought likes to grow legs.”
He believes coming up with a few contingency plans in case it all goes ‘pear shaped’ is a good idea, but you’ve got to keep the right mindset by listening to the supportive people around you. Jim’s wife, CAPSLOCK course mates, and the TechVets community have made a real difference.
“It’s nice to have someone who’s in a position that knows a bit more than you, to give you a hand, give you a talk, answer your questions, or, you know, just listen to you,” he says. “Doing a bootcamp was really helpful because I’m surrounded with other people who are changing careers as well, so we’re all reaffirming each other in that respect.”
Today, he’s on track for the kind of success that only comes to those who honestly enjoy their jobs.
“Cyber security is something I’m really, genuinely interested and excited about doing. So that’s what I’m pressing forward for now,” he says. “I’m looking forward to the future, right? I’ve had a really great opportunity the last few years and I really enjoyed it and I’m glad I’ve done it.”
Jim’s Advice for New Service Leavers in Cyber Security
We’ll leave you with five pieces of advice in Jim’s own words:
- Don’t doubt your background: “I’ve heard of people who were chefs, infanteers, drivers, people who’ve worked for all sorts of different backgrounds who have gone into cyber security…It can be done. It’s more of a mindset, not a background.”
- Take pride in your training: “You’ve joined an industry that most people will never, ever enter. It’s almost like sharing a bit of military mystery a lot of the time in interviews, most of them were interested.”
- Consider a bootcamp style course like CAPSLOCK: “If you can find the time, timing is everything…Condensed courses are nice for people who have lives going on, children, families, other commitments.”
- Try Immersive Labs, Hack the Box and TryHackMe: “Imagine the online training that you did with work in the military, but better, it’s gamified…You’re in a great position because you can try everything and see what fits you.”
- Explore the TechVets Discord: “There’s plenty of different rooms and different channels that you can look into and some of them will be daunting. You might be like ‘What the hell is red teaming? What’s pen testing? I don’t know. What?’ Go investigate and find out.”
If you want to find out more about cybersecurity and tech training with TechVets, you can register to join here. For more career insights from people who’ve done it before, check out the link below.