What to Expect Your First National Cyber League Season

Maps show us where we are going, but they don’t show us where we have been. In this case, the destination is all that matters. We all arrive at the destination from different points on the map. Cybersecurity is much like this. Some have backgrounds deep in Information Technology (IT) or networking; others have backgrounds in political science, music, medical, math, legal, business, or sales. We all have different entry points, and none of them are “more correct” than others.

This is what I love about cybersecurity: it’s just so… huge. Not only is there room for everyone in this great big tent, but the tent is very empty. Cybersecurity is so large that not a single person could fill every role. My first exposure to this idea was through the National Cyber League (NCL) Games. Here, there are many diverse categories, and each person has their favorite. They have their frustrating category. They have an intimidating category. They have the one that they just don’t seem to get any better at, no matter how hard they try.

You can expect to be challenged!

You will need to do a lot of research and try things that you have never seen before. You will be against the clock, against both veterans and new recruits. With the ranking system, however, you will go up against people in your own bracket.

I once was asked to sum up the NCL in five words or less. After much thought, I decided on:

Learned it? Prove it!

And I had one word to spare. This is what the NCL Games are all about to me.

Everything you have learned in textbooks meets practical application. You will have the opportunity to train at your own pace. You will have the chance to work all on your own, leaning only on your own talents. You will have the opportunity to be part of a team, and both learn from and teach things to others; someday you may even lead a team of your own.

You can expect to find your strength.

In the course of the challenges, you will find some things that make more sense to you than others. Like a key turning in a lock, you can almost feel the ‘click’ inside you as you experience a moment of clarity and find the answer to a challenge. Some challenges are hard-won, like a vault that finally opens after hours at the hands of a safe-cracker. Some challenges will have you thinking about solutions long after the game has passed. Some will have you researching and preparing… for the next competition. There is something amazing about finding an area in which you are really good, really passionate, or both. It makes you want to come back again!

You will be confronted by your weakness.

Time management is key. Organization, documentation, and avoiding distractions are challenges to us all. Frustration, or “the art of learning to walk away,” was one of the hardest things for me to do. Work-life balance was non-existent for me my first NCL. I poured myself into the challenges, neglecting the world around me. I also neglected the world inside me and forgot to eat decently, sleep enough, or, as CryptoKait shouts from the rooftops, stay hydrated. After the competition, I felt my first competition “hangover.” I am not talking about alcohol (I didn’t drink at all), but I did feel tired, drained, irritable, nauseated, and dehydrated. Take our advice: take care of your body’s needs.

You can expect that you will find your voice.

One of the greatest things I learned from the NCL was that we are alike, you and me. We come from different backgrounds – we may have been brought up differently, pursued different paths in life, or taken different classes in college or high school. We may not look similar, be the same age, or have the same beliefs. But when that passion sparks, and you want to tell someone about how excited you are – we are here, we are listening, and we speak the same language.

Speaking of voice, this is just my perspective. To hear JeanaByte‘s version, check it out here!

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