Woman typing on keyboard, woman in cyber

Tamzin Greenfield is a Cyber Security Apprentice at Cyber Security Associates (CSA). Here, Tamzin talks to us about National Apprenticeship Week, her experience of undertaking a degree apprenticeship and how it helped her get into the world of cyber.

National apprenticeship week has been one of the most interesting weeks in my career diary for the past few years.

I started my Degree Apprenticeship in Cyber Security in 2020. The apprenticeship takes around 3 years, and leaves you with a degree level certification at the end. I am due to complete my apprenticehip  this coming August.

Every time the week comes around, I think back to what got me into cyber security. I didn’t plan to work in Cyber, and I certainly hadn’t considered an apprenticeship before my employer Cyber Security Associates offered it to me a month after my sixth form closed due to the pandemic.

At the time, it just seemed like a perfect fit – I loved a challenge, and I was desperate to get hands-on experience in a frontline technical team.

The years have passed with trials and many successes, sleepless nights, the roots of a caffeine addiction, but most importantly a real appreciation for the apprenticeship scheme.

The best place to start when talking about apprenticeships is describing what they are, and who can do them, so let’s get started. An apprenticeship is an alternate pathway into hundreds of careers and certifications that are aimed at people aged sixteen and upwards.  They can be alternate pathways towards your GCSEs (intermediate apprenticeships), your A-Levels (advanced apprenticeships), your foundation degrees (higher apprenticeships) and your degree (degree apprenticeships).

Anyone in England can be an apprentice if they’re old enough. My cohort at university has an age range from those fresh out of sixth form like myself, to parents with children my age. For some of us, it’s a career starter, for others it’s retraining into a new sector, for some it’s upskilling to progress their established career.

There are many benefits for everyone undertaking any apprenticeship, but particularly for those working in technology is the ability to experience three years of work experience before you graduate. Most STEM based degrees will try and slide in a year’s placement for their full time students, and it makes sense – experience in this sector is a need, not a want. Technology, and particularly cyber security, are modern concepts in the grand scheme of things, and by their very nature are difficult to reconcile with the classic University education pathway that simply cannot keep up with the fast moving, explosively growing pace that cyber sets.

On a more personal level, an apprenticeship can really help someone gain confidence in themselves. My employers at Cyber Security Associates and colleagues have been supportive, patient, and most importantly have given me the space and challenges to become a completely different person than I was at 17 when I joined the company – I’m not sure if the same thing would’ve happened had I picked another pathway.

It can be difficult for young people and students to relate to people who are really established in their careers, but it can also be difficult for older students and people in their middle age and beyond to relate to us young people, with our new slang and strange sensibilities.

The cyber industry, whilst still young itself, is not without its older generation who built the foundations of household names today and played videogames back when polygon counts were in the hundreds, not hundred-thousands.

I imagine that there’s an added sense of this culture gap for women in the industry; most especially women who have stepped back from traditional career pathways to pursue parenting or are retraining from a non-STEM career. Cyber is a strange beast, trying at once to be modern, forward thinking, and alternative, yet still fulfilling the classic expectations of all industries – dominated by older men, closed off for those without degrees or connections, taking only the best thinkers.

An apprenticeship certainly won’t solve the cultural issues at play in cyber security, but I would recommend that any woman looking to enter the sector consider one. They’re hard work, of course, and have their own culture that rewards young people with free time, and particularly young people from well-off backgrounds that can afford the books and laptops and tech gadgets to be used in testing, and breaking, and rebuilding.

What an apprenticeship can guarantee you though, is a head start. Perhaps taking on such a role, designed to nurture and hone skills; to create professionals who can stand on their own, could help lessening the number of cyber professionals that struggle with imposter syndrome, the percentage of which tends to range from between fifty percent up to ninety precent of people, all struggling with the paralysing fear of not being good enough.

The word apprentice has a wide etymology, but most people would agree it means ‘someone learning’. We don’t expect students to be perfect, we understand that those who are learning are yet-to-be, ‘applying themselves’. I’m glad to be an apprentice, to have spent three years building my confidence and breaking down my imposter syndrome. I’m certainly glad for the opportunities that being an apprentice has granted me – to be taken underwing by many fantastic women in the industry who have come before, and to take under my own wing those young women who will follow me after.

About the author

Tamzin GreenfieldTamzin Greenfield is a Cyber Security Apprentice at Cyber Security Associates (CSA).

Tamzin is on a mission to inspire confidence in the next generation of tech users. Over the last few years, Tamzin has seized every opportunity open to her – getting involved in the wider tech community, pursuing her formal education, and learning the ropes of the industry through full-time employment.

As a woman in STEM, Tamzin is motivated to encourage confidence in the next generation of tech users – from experts to every-day users which is why she co-founded Cheltenham BSides: a platform which provides the cyber security community in the Southwest with space to share knowledge and collaborate on innovative projects.

Throughout her apprenticeship, she’s spoken at multiple events regarding diversity and entry pathways, hosted by groups such as Women in Cyber Security, CyNam, the UK Cyber Security Council, and the NCSC. Through mentoring students, Tamzin has enjoyed witnessing the distinctly bold cohort that will lead the future of STEM and, as a keen volunteer is always looking for opportunities to support the local community and broader sector across England and beyond.