#WorkinginCSA: Making the Mid-Career Switch to Cybersecurity

15 Oct 2021

With a previous career in IT project management, Koh Siew Lee made the mid-career switch to cybersecurity through CSA’s Cybersecurity Development Programme (CSDP). Her interest in ethical hacking was sparked after attending a cybersecurity awareness course and she is now training to be a penetration tester.

1.What sparked your interest in cybersecurity?

Back in October 2020, I had attended a one-day “Introduction to Cybersecurity” course which was, interestingly, carried out from the perspective of a hacker. I learned that malware could be created using free software from the internet and then be delivered through a phishing email, allowing for screenshots of the user’s activities to be captured and sent back to the attacker. Learning that such malicious activities could be so easily carried out was shocking to a layman like me! That mind-blowing session immediately sparked my interest in cybersecurity. I wanted to know more about protecting myself and my family in the cyberspace, so I went on further to enrol myself in EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) course.

2. Tell us more about your experience when you made a career switch to cybersecurity.

I had previously been working in the Information & Communication Technology (ICT) sector, doing software and web development, before moving on to IT project management in the Healthcare sector. I took a career break in early 2020 and completed a bootcamp for an Artificial Intelligence (AI) course while also continuing to upgrade myself in areas of Machine Learning (ML), data analytics, and cloud technologies.

I’m quite a technical person at heart, so I guess I made the career switch due to my strong desire to be able to do technical stuff like programming, which I really enjoy. As I’m still young and adaptable to change, I’m open to learning about more technologies that can complement penetration testing and hope to become an expert someday.

3. What advice do you have for working professionals who want to make a career switch to cybersecurity?

For ease of transition to cybersecurity, ideally you should have some kind of general IT background, such as working in networking, IT infrastructure, database management or coding, in order to be able to get a sense of IT procedures and real-world business operations. However, even if you do not have an IT background, you can still accomplish a lot with self-directed learning and guided training.

Be adventurous and brave when you are exploring a career switch. Be committed in your decision and strive to excel in your chosen specialisation. Have a fall-back plan in case things don't work out.

Discuss with your spouse or family for their support. You can’t walk this path alone when you have a family to consider.

For my route, I had joined CSA through the Cybersecurity Development Program (CSDP), which provided me a good foundation in cybersecurity.

4. What are three qualities that are important for a person who want to work this industry?

I’m currently training to be a penetration tester with the Attack Simulation Group (ASG) under CSA’s Cybersecurity Engineering Centre (CSEC). I think to be a good penetration tester, ideally you should have qualities such as being passionate about penetration testing, adaptable to change and open-minded in learning new technologies quickly, especially when they are ever evolving. Within any technology stack, there are multiple attack surfaces that can be tested with various attack vectors in areas like thick client, web application, database, cloud, infrastructure, etc.

Cybersecurity is not a silo; you should also enjoy working with people, processes, and technologies. Here at ASG, we work as a team, learn from one another and we also have knowledgebases built by our seniors to refer to. All of us share a deep and enduring interest in how technology works, where the insecurities are and how we can protect them.

You should also be humble – when we start afresh, we need all the help that we can get. We could end up learning from anyone, including younger peers.

5. Any tips for balancing work with taking care of your family, which include three young children?

Having strong family support helps to smooth out the rough ride. Yes, it is tough, especially with three very young kids in tow. It takes a lot of grit and determination, and sacrificing things like sleep and weekends, to learn and complete assignments. Luckily for me, I have lots of family support and I can focus on my learning and development without worrying about home and kids.

I will usually wake up at 5am or earlier to do some learning for two to three hours, before getting the kids ready for pre-school. With work-from-home mode, my on-job-training continues throughout the day while the kids are at school. De-activating my social media accounts also helps me to focus on my development fully. If I am commuting, I will be reading or learning on the go. Time is precious, so I need to make the best of it!

During the weekends, the kids will be sent to their paternal grandparents’ house with their father, while I prepare for the various certifications.