My journey is not the usual one, to this date I have never ‘competed’ in the National Cyber League (NCL). I have used the Cyber Skyline professional subscription to learn the ropes but my experience comes solely as a coach.
The high school where I teach has had an active cybersecurity team for a while now. We compete in just about anything we can, Cyber Patriot, PicoCTF, and, since it’s an all-girls school, GirlsGoCyberStart, so we are always looking for new competitions to get involved in which leads me to how I came across the NCL.
Teaching a penetration testing class at a local university, I noticed one of the students was staring at his screen somewhat overly intently and thus not paying attention to me. Taking a quick look at what he was doing, which in the end turned out to be a Wireshark pcap analysis, I found myself getting sucked into this tech ‘puzzle’. During the break in the class, I asked the student what he was doing and he went on to explain what the NCL was. I even went as far as getting him to send me the pcap so I could take a look at it at home. At that point, I was pretty much hooked and jealous that I couldn’t get into this as a player.
After digging around some more, I soon discovered what I was looking at was a practical application of the theory I was talking about in the classroom, something students are constantly asking for. I also found what I could only describe as a wealth of assessment work for students, allowing them to gain real world experience with tools and techniques in a fun but challenging environment. This would allow me to not only expand the range of topics and tools taught in my classroom, but also instill a culture of friendly competition. I reached out to the NCL to see if high school students (my primary teaching audience) were allowed in the competition, at that time they said no.
Fast forward 2 years and I find that NCL is now allowing high school students to compete (note: thanks Kait for making that happen) and I start to roll the competition out to my students. At first, it was viewed with some concern since the students knew they were competing at essentially a collegiate level, but they soon got over that. Like all first-timers in NCL, the first run-through was not a towering success, but since the early growing pains, our participation has gone from strength to strength, with students now attempting to achieve high tier status in each season. The variety of challenges allowed a wider audience than Cyber Patriot, the slightly more ‘red team’ nature of the competition appealed to students who found other competitions very repetitive. The competition was such a success that some seniors were picking specific majors based on the challenges within the challenges.
So that was my journey. Now to answer the burning question of why I became a NCL Ambassador – well, for the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve worked in isolation, no resources and definitely no support. So when I saw the application for the position I thought to myself: this game has given me and my students so much enjoyment of the past seasons how can I help others on this journey? There must be coaches out there who have gone through the same experiences I have, that could do with someone to reach out to and bounce ideas off, new strategies to help students to succeed and more marketing tips for upper level buy in to this fantastic resource we have.
So here I am. To see more of my work as a Player Ambassador, visit my page here.