Why I Became an NCL Player Ambassador – Jacob Corley

I became a National Cyber League (NCL) Player Ambassador to inspire others to learn by doing and participate in the skill-building opportunities NCL provides.

In my junior year of college at Middle Georgia State University (MGA), I was taking a cybersecurity course which offered extra credit for participating in a school-run capture-the-flag (CTF), called the MGACTF. This competition served as an introduction to skill-based learning through competition I would later experience in the NCL. At the conference accompanying the MGACTF, I met the student president and the facility adviser for my school’s cyber competition club, the MGA Cyberknights. Both became instrumental in helping me learn cybersecurity. I quickly joined my school’s cyber club, where I was introduced to NCL.

In my first season playing in NCL Games, I fell in love with the hands-on, interactive learning it provides. From then on, I was enthralled with the concept of learning ethical hacking by doing and by getting my fingers on the keyboard and hacking. Through the teaching and leadership of the club’s president, I was able to place in the top 100 and our team placed top 30.

Having the opportunity to exercise the skills and concepts I had learned in the classroom gave me a new perspective on cybersecurity. Cybersecurity changed from being an “academic” concept to having real-world applications. Prior to participating in the NCL, I have never used many of the tools and techniques that are central to success in the competition. NCL was my first introduction to nmap, wireshark, hashcat, and more, all of which are now mainstays in my cyber toolbox. More importantly, I have been able to translate the lessons learned from competition to practical applications on the job as a cyber engineer.

Soon after joining my school’s club, I was promoted to president. In that position, I was able to help my follow students learn more about cybersecurity through creating and explaining cyber CTF challenges. By teaching ethical hacking and cyber skills, I not only helped others learn, but I also learned a great deal myself. As I continued to lead and compete, my confidence grew, and I became comfortable speaking to groups of people about cybersecurity and ethical hacking.

As president of MGA’s Cyberknights, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to train and lead an NCL team for several seasons. As the club president, I was able to grow both my technical and leadership skills. During my time as team leader, the team went from placing top 30 to peaking at 12th on the leader board and our school rose to 9th in the NCL Power Rankings.

During that time, I also experienced tremendous growth as an individual player. After placing in the top 100 my first season, I spent the off-season learning as much as possible about the categories that stumped me. The next season I climbed to the top 25 on the individual leader board. As I developed my skills, I saw my competitors improving as well. In my third season, I placed top 30, a small step down from my previous ranking. This fueled me to learn even more and push myself further for the next season. In my final season as a collegiate player, I creaked the top 10, placing 8th overall.  

Taking inspiration from the hands-on learning of NCL, I helped create a free, open-source cyber curriculum for my senior capstone project at MGA. The project is titled Cyber Training Force Academy, or CTF Academy for short. The curriculum is designed to provide an introduction to a few key cybersecurity concepts in a fun and interactive experience. True to its name, CTF Academy takes the capture-the-flag format and builds it into a curriculum, complete with step-by-step answers for each question. Because of this project, I was encouraged to apply to become a Play Ambassador.

Through my collegiate career, I was fortunate to have several mentors who helped me get started and succeed in cybersecurity and CTFs. Now that I have graduated, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to serve as a Player Ambassador for NCL. As a Player Ambassador, I hope to continue to teach and inspire others as I was taught and inspired.

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