Ch - ch - ch - changes. Those of you of a certain age might recognise the lyric immediately, although I’m sure Gen Z-ers will be able to look it up in the blink of an eye on ChatGPT or some other cool tool I have never even heard of. As a teacher, I was always conscious of the cultural reference points I used. In my twenties, they were similar to those of the pupils I taught but as I got older, they moved further away to the point where I realised a lot of the children hadn’t even been born when a film or album (remember those?) had been released.
Time moves on and in a long career, it’s easy to get stale, but what can be done about it? It could become a tortuous Catch-22 of dreading being in a comfort zone of uninspired familiarity but being too scared to make a break into the unknown. Enter lockdown, where the calendar stood still, the noise of routine daily life ceased and there were weeks in which to stop and reflect. Having spent a good part of my life telling young people that they could do anything or be anything they wanted as long as they dared to dream, it was time for me to put this to the test.
Computers have always fascinated me. As a teenage boy I had seen the arrival of home computers like the ZX81 and Spectrum and had saved up for four years in order to buy an Amstrad with its own green screen monitor and built-in cassette player. I had always tried to engage pupils with technology in my lessons and had become a competent user of IT but had always wondered how it worked. During lockdown, I decided to dedicate myself to finding out.
Those first few months involved a lot of head scratching as I watched videos and read books that seemed to make little sense. It was at this point that I took a real leap of faith and signed up to do a part-time MSc in Computer Science with Cybersecurity. Cue two more years of head scratching, hard work and long hours of reading and writing. Much to my surprise (and relief), I got through the course and so was ready to launch into my new and exciting career.
I started with an internship at a charity in their IT Operations Department which was a mixture of wonderment and my now trademark bafflement. However, it’s surprising how quickly you learn when you’re immersed in something you’re really interested in. People were always willing to help, explain or demonstrate and I continued to acquire and devour books (not literally, obviously) in order to further my knowledge. It was a great start to my new life because I was expected to ask questions, learn and make mistakes - which, as it turned out, was something I seemed to have a knack for.
My journey has led me to my dream job as a graduate security consultant at Pentest People in Leeds. I’m on familiar territory with the mixture of excitement, learning and miscomprehension but, just a few weeks in, I can sense the progress already. This is partly down to hard work but more because of a lot of great colleagues who are happy to explain what to do. And then explain it again. And again.
So, if you’re considering a mid-life career change, what conclusions can you draw from my tale? Firstly, It’s a life-affirming, re-vitalising experience. I like coming to work because, like teaching used to be for me, it doesn’t feel like work. Secondly, learning new skills is awesome: not easy, but awesome nevertheless. Thirdly, it’s a long journey that isn’t straightforward - think going for a long walk with an uncertain destination but no map (twentysomethings, it’s an early form of satnav) - and it involves a big commitment of time and money, so resilience is important. A spouse who is willing to support you is decidedly helpful, too.
Finally, I feel so lucky to be working at Pentest People. Fortune and circumstance have played their part in getting me where I am. If it hadn’t been for lockdown, I might never have got started (not that I’m wishing another global pandemic on everyone) but then, as Gary Player might have commented “the harder I practise, the luckier I get”. Youngsters, look him up. Oh, and David Bowie while you’re at it.