Security Certification 3/3 – Doing and Teaching
So you’ve learned something. Congratulations. Knowing is half the battle. Sadly, the other half involves actual fighting. This post is on how to fight… or, in this case, demonstrate that you know stuff. (Which is a lot like fighting if you leave all that tedious stuff about hitting people.)
I like to follow the old cliche “Learn One, Do One, Teach One”. So you’ve learned something. The next step is how do you do something with it? Since we’re talking about security, the best option would probably be to stop a bad guy. Sadly, that’s not always feasible. Fortunately, you have some options.
One thing I strongly suggest is joining an open source project. I used to suggest starting one, but it seems that whenever I said that, someone would run off and make a new network scanner. We have enough of those.
Join a project that uses modules. Metasploit is good. So are SET and NMap. If you’re webby, take a crack at extending w3af. This will force you to understand a system, improve a system and work with others to get your change accepted. In short, it demonstrates everything that a prospective employer wants.
Suppose you’re not a programmer. That’s OK. You can use the tools above to run assessments. Assess your home network to learn how everything works then start calling local non-profit groups. Offer them scan in return for the ability to post a summary of the results online (after they approve the anonymization of the data). Now, there is a bit of risk here, so you might want to investigate error and omissions insurance before hand. At the very least, consider one of the “approval” forms so that you’re protected. Learning the ins and outs of these sorts of assessments demonstrates that you not only have the technical skills, but that you can also use them in a meaningful way.
(Note: Never give anything away for free. This is a scan in exchange for publicly-viewable experience. If you offer to work for free, all you’ll do is get a lot of clients… who also want you to work for free.)
Now, those two paths are all well and good if you’re technical. However, we have some people in this field that aren’t technical at all. There’s nothing wrong with that… but be aware that to be truly successful you have to understand both technology and people. Try to branch out.
If you’re not going to branch out, you can still help an open source project. Documentation on many projects is… well to call it “lacking” would be like calling the Titanic “a boat that encountered a spot of bother”. There’s a lot of need there and a lot of wikis that are fully editable, so get cracking. You might also be able to help with project management, with resolving disputes on mailing lists, or by prioritizing bugs based on user impact. You know, basically doing all the tasks that stereotypical geeks aren’t very good at.
The next step is to promote the fact that you’ve done something. The best way to do this is teaching, and the Internet makes this easy.
Teaching is all about sharing knowledge. While the traditional teaching option of holding a class is still viable, it doesn’t give you the same range of exposure as techniques like blogging and vidding. You certainly get a more personal connection by teaching a class and the people consuming your content might absorb it better, but if you’re wanting to build a brand and try to jump into a better job, you have to cast wide. Here are some options:
Basic blogging is much like you’re reading now. Just grab yourself a domain, link it to WordPress and go. The difficulty with blogging is the tendency to lose time to “research”. If you’re new to blogging, give yourself two days (20 hours) of research time on how to blog. A good place to start are the Converstation Archives. Once you’ve done that, build a list of topics and give yourself one hour for each topic. Give yourself 20 minutes to write the content, 20 minutes to edit the content (after waiting a day or so), and 20 minutes to publish the content on WordPress (this includes adding links and images). You can spend more time than that on posts that matter strongly to you (as I did on this series), but be careful not to spend too much time. If you keep trying to make it “perfetc”, it’ll never get published.
Micro-blogging is a lot like blogging, but you say more with less. In the US, Twitter is the most popular micro-blogging platform, but Facebook and Google+ are challenging it. Personally, I find this a very difficult medium. What works for me is to write a blog and then excerpt key phrases from it for micro-blogging purposes. If you’re gifted in this medium, feel free to start here. However, if you use it for professional purposes, please try to avoid the shorthand that’s common in the medium. U wont get jobz talking lik this.
Vidding and podcasting are other techniques that I’m not personally comfortable with, but which work for a whole lot of people. This is as simple as sitting in front of a web camera and talking to an audience that you hope will emerge over time. My attempts at podcasting were all aborted because the editing took too much time. Perfectionism and linear editing do not mix well. I hope to give this a shot again later this year, but we’ll see. It’s very hard for me.
One friend suggests that these techniques are made easier if you have a script. Granted, you have to practice to make sure it doesn’t sound scripted, but this is very good advice. I’ll have to try it the next time I give this technique a whirl.
Graphically-intensive content such as infographics and comics is another way to get the message out. I’ve done tons of infographics (few are public) and a fairly large graphic novel that has been “in progress” for the last five years. The trick here is not biting off more than you can chew. If you are skilled graphically, take a shot at illustrating what you’ve done and sharing it with others. This can be a very powerful technique.
There are tons of other methods. If you think I’ve missed something important, please let me know in the comments.
This has been a lot of text… but hopefully this has answered your certification questions at a very high level and explained how to extend your learning. If you do this, you should gain something more directly useful to you than tacking a few letters to your name. Of course, it’s a bit more complex than this in “real life”.
In addition to what I described here, each certification comes with it’s own community which may or may not mesh with your needs. Personally, I mesh well with the SANS community and not very well with the ISC(2) community… but this is extremely personal. There’s no way to know where you’ll mesh without giving it a try, so pick the certification based on what you need to learn and figure out the social aspects once your certification grants you access to a community.
Similarly, the “doing” and “teaching” phases only work if you dedicate enough time to them. Your journey doesn’t end when you get the certification, so if you can’t devote the time from your life to complete the process, you should seriously reconsider whether to even get a certification in the first place.
However, if you can afford the time to learn, do and teach, you should see your professional life advance extremely quickly.