Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: Lessons Learned from the First Year of a New Cybersecurity Club

If I were to take a survey of our first-year club members, and asked them what they had learned that year, I am sure that every list would be different. That is the great thing about pioneering something new! Each person’s journey is different, even if we are on the same path.

There are some things I would have done differently, in hindsight. There are some things that we did very well. However, these are a few lessons that we learned collectively that I think are important to highlight, in the hopes that other cybersecurity clubs might be able to learn from them.

We are all strangers, until we aren’t.

When we all gathered for the first time, we were unsure about our purpose. We spent a few meetings just trying to figure out what that was. In the process, we lost a few people. From our first meeting to our last, we lost at least ten. In a lot of cases, we never really heard from them again. I can only imagine what might have happened. Regretfully, I never got to hear from them why they decided not to be a part of the club. Time? Sure. Other commitments? Probably. School demands? Likely. But these are just guesses.

As president, I became so focused on what we were doing that I didn’t take the time to know people more. I didn’t follow up with them, didn’t show them that their voice was important, or that their attendance was appreciated. I would love to know if it was my leadership, the direction the club was going in, or some other dissatisfaction so that we could have fixed it.

Perhaps I should have tried to be friends first, and a leader second. If you are like me, and this doesn’t come naturally, then having a membership chairperson might be a good idea. You need someone that can keep track of when people show up, and to follow up when they don’t.

Not everyone likes administration as much as I do.

I really don’t mind the minutiae that goes into planning. I don’t mind the meetings, the motions and voting on items of business, or discussing strategies or finances. I don’t mind spending an entire meeting hammering out the details of a wordy constitution or charter. Not everyone does.

What we learned, and maybe too late, was that there are some items that need to be brought up at the meetings for everyone, and some that can happen as part of a small group that is interested in that kind of thing. We learned to have a business meeting separate from the activities of the club, to allow more time for the members that just want to hear great speakers, learn new things, and work on their own projects.

Faculty is there to support leadership.

A student club should be student run, and I had a very good faculty advisor that insisted on it. For many, this is their first involvement with organizing or running anything. They are still developing leadership skills, organizational talents, and learning to find balance between their school and after-school lives. These new leaders are going to need faculty to guide them and offer advice one-on-one.

When it works, it seems like the faculty are doing nothing to the majority of the club, but their help is invaluable to the minority that are in leadership positions. In retrospect, there is a lot of advice that I should have listened to more intently. It would have made it easier on my adviser.

As the club moves forward, each new trail will eventually be forged, and processes will be built. A lot of research is going to need to be done for an activity as simple as catering an event, for example. We found out (too late) that our school had a list of preferred vendors that we were supposed to use; the entire catering order nearly had to be cancelled.

Pick one thing and do it well.

Okay, I stole this one. But it is much better to do one thing well than have five things done half-well. I didn’t learn this at first, and as the philosophers say, history repeats itself. I have managed to avoid getting burned by this by surrounding myself with amazing people that step in and help me clean up and salvage what started out as a great idea, but was never fully developed before I moved on to something else.

Most people are great starters, but few are great finishers. As a club, if you only do one thing all year, but you excel at it, you ensure the survival of the club for at least one more year.

And that is what it is all about in the end; that is why I call this a survival guide. Your goal is to make sure that there is another year to learn, grow, make mistakes, make friends, find inspiration, and explore. They will make their own mistakes. Our legacy is like a map and compass, so that those that follow will not make the same mistakes we made.

If you have made it all the way through this series, I am indeed grateful. I appreciate your desire to make a difference and create something exciting and new.

Thanks for following this series! If you missed a post, here are the links to the other posts:

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Create and Run an Effective Cybersecurity Club

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Create a Statement of Purpose and Draft a Charter for a New Cybersecurity Club

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: Leadership Methodologies for Running an Effective Cybersecurity Club

Cybersecurity Club Survival Guide: How to Organize Events and Meetings, Invite Speakers, and Attract Sponsors

‘Mako’ McGill

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