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Future-proofing the security industry with CyberFirst graduates

Illuminate has been a proud supporter of the NCSC’s CyberFirst programme for several years, hosting some of the brightest minds and helping them on their way to being the cyber security experts of tomorrow.  Launched in 2016, CyberFirst develops the cyber skills of students from all over the UK and aims to address the skills gap in the industry. Students on the program range in age from 11 years to those studying at university and apprentices getting real-life experience in cyber security jobs. 

Illuminate provides advanced telecom monitoring systems to address the cyber security requirements for 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G physical and virtual networks  infrastructure.  Graduate hiring is important to us because it allows us to support the next generation of talent.   

We’re now in our third year of engaging with CyberFirst and we appreciate the access that it gives us to a very high calibre of Summer students and graduates, as well as being able to lend support to the goals of the NCSC’s CyberFirst programme itself. 

Getting a graduate job in this industry is hugely competitive and challenging in regular times, as Roy Macnaughton, VP of Engineering explains, ‘The industry is undergoing massive leaps in technology and the demand for cyber security expertise has never been higher.  With next generation technologies like 5G on the horizon, we need talented, ambitious and young developers to join us. Our graduates and Summer students learn by doing hands-on work. Because the students skills have already been honed through their CyberFirst activities, we know that we can confidently put them on technically challenging activities right from the outset, while they’re being mentored by our senior engineers.  And from the graduate perspective, this means they’re able to hit the ground running on live projects and be productive very quickly. It really is a win-win for Illuminate, the students and the CyberFirst programme’.

As well as hosting a number of interns, we were especially excited to welcome CyberFirst graduate students into the company . We (virtually) sat down with three of our new graduates  to discuss their new roles and their time on the CyberFirst program. 

Tell us a bit about your experiences as a CyberFirst intern.

S: “I got involved with CyberFirst before my time at university, attending a short course that introduced me to computer networking but more specifically cyber security. Now, just recently completing a degree in Computer Science, I’m really excited to graduate and join Illuminate to apply the skills I’ve learned in an industry setting. 
Through the CyberFirst program I’ve held multiple internships that have allowed me to deepen my technical knowledge while contributing to real-life projects. These have ranged from consulting on cloud computing to developing and researching high-performance networking capabilities for customers.” 

B: “I am a recent graduate of Computer Science, prior to higher education I completed an apprenticeship in telecoms and IT. I went in to higher education because I found a passion for programming and through the scheme I discovered an interest in all things cyber. 

Thanks to CyberFirst I also did a great summer internship working in threat intelligence, this involved tracking, assessing and reporting cyber threats to our clients. One cool thing about this was working in a SOC (Security Operations Centre) and getting to witness the first line response to cyber security incidents.” 

R: “I’m a Computer Science graduate and I joined the first cohort of CyberFirst students back before I even knew which Uni I was going to be attending! The transition from school to university was pretty stressful, so knowing I was part of a larger scheme of like-minded students with a strong industry backing was incredibly valuable. 

Through CyberFirst I’ve had the opportunity to work in three locations, a UK telecoms company for two summers, helping their security team with solutions for analysing telemetry from their network. My final summer was spent here at Illuminate, working with the support team to develop tools that help the team maintain the high level of support our customers have come to expect.” 

Why did you choose Illuminate for a graduate role? 

S: “The people and culture struck me as being open to innovation and caring about your work. There’s no strict hierarchy imposed when brainstorming solutions to customer problems, the best idea in the room is the one that is run with, which is a really refreshing perspective. From a technological perspective the problems we’re solving are challenging, which for someone who loves problem solving, is great. We’re constantly pushing the boundaries on what we can do to bolster our client’s networks which is something I find really satisfying in a job.” 

B: “Illuminate presented a really unique opportunity, enabling me to combine my passions for software engineering and cyber. During the interview process I was encouraged to meet up with and talk to some of the recent graduates at the company, I was impressed with how friendly and talented everyone was and could see Illuminate was clearly invested in supporting their graduates.” 

RI was already aware of Illuminate and its graduate roles before I learnt that it was a member of the CyberFirst scheme, as it transpired that one of the projects I worked on during university included an alumnus from my university who was now working for them. My summer placement made it very obvious that the culture within Illuminate made it somewhere I would like to be – the combination of a long-standing product heritage and huge pool of experienced engineers  with the energy and dynamism of a brand new start-up makes Illuminate a very fun place to work. It’s also fantastic to be part of a company that is growing so fast.” 

What are you working on?  

S: “Currently I’m looking at how threats that arise in the 5G rollout will affect our customers, how our existing solutions can solve some of these problems and where we need to build more capabilities. It’s a super exciting project as 5G is a hot topic and being able to contribute to how we as a business prepare for that is a lot of fun. 

B: “I am developing Java for the backend services of our Data Management Platform, in plain English I am working on the glue that sits between the front-end and the actual hardware that customers will use to gather data, this is a small part of a larger project that allows our customer to analyse and gain insights from the huge amounts of data they have on their networks. The key challenge on this project is writing software that is multi-threaded and very performant which has been a learning experience for me!” 

R“I’ve already been working on scripts and utilities that our field engineers need to diagnose and troubleshoot customers’ equipment. I’m also working on tooling and documentation for other chunks of our support toolkit, including extending our automated lab provisioning scripts to work on new backends. As well as working through a few bugs that people have spotted as they’ve been using the tool I wrote last summer! As an added bonus, I’m getting to see bits of all of our products from the customers’ perspective through the support calls we’re receiving, and I’m looking forward to getting thrown into some tickets once I’m up to speed. The fact that you’re given the freedom to just get cracking on your jobs while being trusted to manage your workload is very refreshing, and if I’ve ever got any queries I always know I can drop someone a message and they can run a second pair of eyes over what I’m doing.” 

How has the CyberFirst experience developed you? 

S: “My experiences with CyberFirst have allowed me to develop both my professional and technical skills thanks to the internship opportunities and training that it has offered over the years. Prior to the CyberFirst program I hadn’t considered a job in cyber security but the roles that I have held have shaped my career into something that I find extremely fulfilling and enjoyable.” 

B: “My first few weeks at Illuminate have already driven forwards my technical skills and taught me a lot about writing software professionally. I have also benefited from having daily stand-ups by being able to see how other people communicate clearly has helped me to develop my own inter-personal skills. Being surrounded by talented people has enabled me to not be hesitant if I am struggling with an issue by always being able to reach out and get things sorted.” 

R“The most important thing I’ve gotten from my placements has been real-world perspective when it comes to the technology sector. University is very different to working in a commercial organisation, and I think that experience has made a huge difference in my employability. Another unique opportunity CyberFirst has offered me was the chance to attend the NCSC CyberUK conference where we got to attend talks by leading infosec researchers and professionals, while also getting the chance to see the range of products being worked on within the cybersecurity space.” 

Working with the CyberFirst program has  been beneficial not just for the students who we’ve hosted but also for us as an organisation. They’ve brought with them new ideas and critical thinking, thanks to their diverse range of experience and backgrounds.

At Illuminate, we have enjoyed seeing the students that we host grow, both professionally and technically. It’s great to see their drive and willingness to learn as well as their ability to take a task and run with it.  We’re very pleased to be welcoming back previous interns as well as new CyberFirst graduates into the organisation. 

CyberFirst will continue to be part of our organisation’s mission to play a part in developing the cyber security professionals of the nation’s future. If you’re interested in learning more about what it means to be part of CyberFirst, the programs they offer or even applying then you can find out more on the NCSC’s website here. If you’re not on CyberFirst but would be interested in joining Illuminate you can check our careers page for new opportunities. 

About Illuminate:  

Illuminate provides advanced telecom monitoring systems to address the cyber security requirements for 5G physical and virtual network infrastructure, as well as existing 2G/3G and 4G mobile infrastructure. 

The capabilities we provide are used for cyber threat detection, legal compliance for critical communications infrastructure, and for public safety. Our intelligence-led insights into mobile and data networks help pinpoint and monitor key data in the mass of network traffic, to identify and manage threats at their source. 

About Illuminate

Illuminate provides government agencies, commercial enterprises, and network operators with the data, services, and technology that helps them protect the information that surrounds us all and extract real value from it.

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