Let me tell a story about the National Cyber League and me:
At the end of my Accounting 1 course in Junior College (my close brush with death), my professor announced that he would be available for the next half hour for any questions on any topic, “After this, it’ll cost you $400/hr!”. On my way out, I overhead a student ask him what the best class on campus to take would be, regardless of major. He responded instantly with “Ethical Hacking”, but I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. Later, on a whim, I decided to enroll in the course since it sounded interesting, and as a new course that was being screened, had no prerequisites.
The course trained for the Ethical Hacker certification and the professor decided to use the National Cyber League (NCL) as a vehicle to engage the students. He made it more or less optional but required participating in the preseason for some class credit. At the time it seemed like a chore, but I bit the bullet and logged into the NCL.
First, I completed the OSINT Category…then I hit Password Cracking…and couldn’t complete it. Huh, that’s weird, I thought. I tried Steganography. Couldn’t get a single point. The rest of the class was easy, so why was I struggling with this? Figured I’d try Log Analysis.
I died a fiery death.
Whelp. This didn’t go as planned. I wasn’t going to spend more than two minutes on this, get a few points, and quit. Why am I still working on this two days in? Why do I have 50 browser tabs open on how to use Wireshark? Am I seriously downloading Kali Linux right now?
For me, the National Cyber League represents an awakening to Cybersecurity as a career in a concrete way. It lays out in front of you the hard skills required and points out your knowledge gaps with this nice little difficulty gradient. For the length of the competition, I was obsessed with bridging these gaps in the time I had. My first time competing, I had around 90% completion…and 40% accuracy.
I went on to periodically participate in the NCL when I had the chance, even after the class had ended. In my most recent season, I finally did well enough to feel content with my performance in the competition and call it quits…but for some reason, the competition didn’t end there. Suddenly, I had an interview with NCL Commissioner Dr. Dan Manson, and he encouraged me to apply for the NCL Player Ambassador position.
And just when I thought I was finished, too.
To be clear, I didn’t have to take the position by any means. But there were so many parts of the competition that were difficult to say goodbye to. I had fond memories of roping my friends into playing the NCL, I could remember how much I enjoyed explaining how to complete each challenge, and I missed the rush of overcoming puzzles together! It all made me realize that giving back to other players and mentoring people was what I was truly passionate about. The NCL had gone from being a means to an end, to the goal in and of itself.
So I joined the ranks of these incredible people and, using what the NCL has taught me about myself, I have turned around and become a cybersecurity mentor in countless ways. From teaching a cybersecurity bootcamp at a college campus to being the founding president of my own Cybersecurity organization on campus, I owe the NCL a lot and I’m excited for the opportunity to give back.