Cyber Security Bootcamp: Meet James Holman



8 May 2019




9 minute read

White hats may not be the most fashionable accessory, but they’re one thing many aspire to be when it comes to Cyber Security. What is a white hat, you ask? A white hat hacker is an ethical computer security specialist who breaks into protected systems and networks to test and asses their security. Pretty cool, huh?

To better understand what the life of a white hat actually looks like, we sat down with Coder Academy’s very own Ethical Hacker, James Holman, to hear all about how he started his career in Cyber Security, and why he chooses to continue pursuing this exciting and lucrative area of technology.

Q: Hi there James! Can you tell us who you are and what you were up to before Coder Academy?

My name is James. Not only am I currently teaching at Coder Academy, I’m also in the final year of my Information Technology Masters program at UNSW.

Before pursuing technology full time, I had brief stints as a pharmacologist, a researcher, and even a chocolate shop supervisor.

Q: What brought you to teaching at Coder Academy?

I always really enjoyed learning new things, and strove to explain them to others in a way that was both accessible and practical. When I found Coder Academy, I saw people who shared like-minded ideas, and also genuinely understood their craft and what it takes to successfully upskill professionals coming from a range of previous careers. Coder Academy, for me, opened an opportunity to teach others in the way I would’ve liked to have been taught years ago.

Q: How would you describe the education model here at CA?

The way we do things here at Coder Academy is far more practical than a lot of tertiary alternatives. A big part of learning anything is actually doing itenough times for it to make sense — learning can’t just be a stream of ‘truths’ or ‘facts’. Why exhaust the details before the fundamentals are grasped? In all of my years as both a student and now a teacher, I have never found an educational institution so incredible at getting its students’ hands dirty with code, as effectively as possible.

Q: Cyber Security is big news right now, but what actually is it?

Cyber Security — for me — is an arms race between programmers. It’s a race between those with systems, services, and data, and those trying to obtain access or control over them. As people and companies continue to become more reliant and integrated with technology, they’re also becoming more and more exposed to various forms of cyber crime — from stealing data to hacking systems or services. The issue is that as we become more exposed, it’s also becoming easier and easier for people to learn how to ‘break-in’ and breach online security.

Q: What drew you to Cyber Security?

I took a course under Prof. Richard Buckland at UNSW on cyber security, and it had me hooked. I liked cyber security because it not only required a broad understanding of a system, but also encouraged regular deep dives into the grey area of human behavior to accurately assess risks. You really need to know the rules in order to break them. I enjoyed knowing the nitty gritty of a system and network, before I hacked it.

From a personal and non-technological point of view: I love the 80’s futurism revival and 90’s cyber punk subcultures that are embraced by many within the cyber security community. The culture of this area of tech is filled with interesting ethical and philosophical questions, which means you build a network of people that are super interesting and engaged.

Q: Why should more people get involved in Cyber Security?

It’s exciting, it’s current, and it’s constantly evolving. If you’re someone who enjoys being challenged by the ongoing process of learning, then it’s a great area of technology to get involved in. If you approach Cyber Security critically and analytically, you’ll not only be rewarded with a rapidly growing number of opportunities in Australia and globally — you’ll also have a lot of fun and be part of creating a culture that could really change the world.

Q: What do career options look like for Ethical Hackers?

Ethical Hackers are needed everywhere. Businesses are losing more and more money to data breaches and cyber attacks — and the talent to help prevent this simply is not there. Training workforces in Cyber Security is crucial because it is more important now than ever to be able to sniff out vulnerabilities in order to provide ways of mitigating these risks.

Q: Who would make a good Cyber Security professional?

A curious individual — both in terms of tech and human behaviour — who is willing to build strong technical ability and maintain a great attention to detail. When you work in Cyber Security, you need the patience to exhaust every possible ‘way in’, whilst also staying one step ahead of the game and independently searching, breaking and learning all the ever-changing ways that systems can be broken.

Q: Why is coding valuable when pursuing Cyber Security roles?

Even though there are a few non-technical streams in Cyber Security, the majority of problems will always come down to issues surrounding code, whether they’re mistakes or nuances in it. You don’t need to always be a complete expert, but you have to be capable of understanding the vulnerabilities, and even better, attempting to resolve them.

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering learning more about this area of tech?

Not to be a complete fan boy, but this introduction to cyber security by Prof. Richard Buckland is awesome. Afterwards, you can start small with some games, and when your confidence builds up, try and work your way through some of these free online exercises. If these free online materials inspire you, then I recommend looking into bootcamps like Coder Academy’s very own Cyber Security program!

Any last pearls of wisdom you’d like to share?

Cyber is incredibly interesting, but to be good at it you will have to keep up with a rapidly-evolving area. If you like the sound of following the latest breaches, vulnerabilities, and exploits, and are excited by the prospect of being part of an ever-changing community filled with ongoing discussions, then go for it! If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Thanks James!

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