I see a lot of self-study and going to college advice for those looking to get into information security. I would like to recommend another option. Join the military. People joining the military get training, real world experience, and money for continued education.
Now, the military isn’t for everyone. Yes, there is a chain of command filled with people who give out orders. And yes, those orders need to be complied with. The thing about that is that most people know what they’re doing in the military. It's usually not an issue. And that's because the quality of people in the military is top notch.
Joining the military is no small decision and it shows in the people that serve. I had several really good mentors in the military that helped shape who I am as a person. Not only did I enjoy the benefits below, but I learned a lot from those mentors. I gained a strong work ethic. Learned communication and leadership skills. And I had a lot of fun doing it.
The lifestyle is a lot different. The first couple of years involved moving around quite a bit. Moving from a barracks to a dorm to another dorm to a different base. Then off-base to an apartment. I spent a year in the midwest, three years one the west coast. Then two years on the east coast. If you like traveling there’s plenty to be had in the military.
Then there's the uniform. Sure, I couldn't pick my close, but that made things easier. Each day I woke up and new what I had to wear. I also saved quite a bit of money on doing laundry, because I could wear the same uniform for a few days. Usually, I was just changing my undergarments.
My first military contract had me set to be a paralegal in the Army. That fell through and I ended up joining the Navy as an electronics technician. That contract came with a $7,000 signing bonus. I had two months of basic training. Two months of basic electronics training. Four months of communication electronics training. Three weeks of miniature/microminiature board repair training (2M). All that in my first year. I was also sent to radio, aircraft load out, instructor, Humvee driver and forklift operator training. When it comes to training the military is one of the best.
I joined in early 2001 and IT (let alone infosec) positions weren't as well defined. Now that the digital age has matured, there's a much stronger focus on information security. That means the programs are much more prominent in today's military.
Real world experience
During my time in the Navy I did a little bit of everything. I pulled cable. Moved phone lines. Setup computers. Troubleshooted computer issues. Setup communications for field exercises. Inventoried and maintained radio equipment. Setup switches. Created user accounts. And that was all at my first command.
My second command involved a lot more IT work. I learned how to rebuild a server after it crashed and no backups were available. I trained personnel on email usage. Took part in my first workstation refresh, swapping out old computers with new ones. Patched systems. Updated anti-virus. Troubleshooted more computer issues. I leaned on a lot of that experience when I got out and started looking for a job.
I also got the opportunity to do a lot of fun stuff. Train with Navy SEALS. Face-off against the Canadian Army in multi-nation exercise. Jump waves on the Pacific Ocean in a Zodiac Hurricane. Just to name a few.
Money for continuing education
The GI Bill is one of the best benefits received from joining the military. I paid for school and a Network+ certification with it. Last year I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in media arts. All paid for by the GI Bill. I knew coming out of high school that if I went to college I would be wasting my time and my parents money. I wanted to get some real experience and get college paid for when I was ready to go.
The GI-Bill is even better now then when I first started going to school. A year or two after I started taking classes, the GI-Bill changed. Not only was school paid for, but I was making a little money on the side. As long as I was taking more than half a load of classes I got basic allowance for housing (BAH). Which is a significant amount of money. This really helped when we started expanding our family.
The military is a great option for people looking to start a career. The military does a great job of training and giving it’s members real world experience. A lot of that training and experience translates to the real world. For those looking to get into information security, the military has some good programs. When I joined, I had no idea of the career I wanted to be in. That was okay, because when I knew what I wanted to do I could lean on a lot of my experience.
Serving the military is a massive commitment. Again, it’s not for everyone. It is a viable option though and one that I recommend exploring.