Boot camps and certification worth it

Intensive immersion course was valuable, IT security manager says

I recently attended CCSP boot camp. I was there for two very specific purposes — like most people in attendance, I wanted to achieve the Cisco Certified Security Professional certification, but I also wanted in-depth training on the technologies that my staff deploy and I manage.

Technical boot camps are gruelling. We started at 7:30am, worked through lunch and finished after 8pm. At the end of the training, I was physically exhausted, but my mind felt invigorated.

On the flight home, I had time to think about boot camp versus self-study using textbooks or online programmes. I have always preferred self-study, which suits my particular learning style very well. I have an almost photographic memory, read very fast and grasp concepts quickly. I don’t necessarily need interaction with other students or an instructor — in fact, I find it distracting.

But just before I went to boot camp, I completed an online training programme to master the prerequisites for the CCSP, and distractions nearly derailed the process. I have no complaint about the quality of the online programme — I just found myself constantly interrupted.

For most people, blocking off the time you need for online training is the biggest obstacle and the same advice holds true for self-study offline.

Boot camp, however, is an immersion method. Distractions such as cellphones and pagers are discouraged. There isn’t much socialising. Most people went from hotel room to boot camp and back to hotel room again with very little in between — the schedule is physically draining.

Nonetheless, the training was excellent. The instructor was not only very capable, but also a security consultant in real life, with day-to-day experience in the technologies we studied. Far from being distracted by the other students, I found myself relieved that there were like-minded people around to discuss issues with.

I would have to say that boot camp did the job, but some people drown when they’re immersed. Your brain can easily get overloaded when you’re trying to cram technical information into it for 12-plus hours a day. I survived it, but boot camp isn’t my preference. Would I do it again? Yes, and in fact, I intend to soon.

Certification training raises another issue. There’s a lot of talk that certifications don’t deliver a lot of value. But in my mind, certification training is a way of making sure that every aspect of security has been covered.

Sure, certifications don’t guarantee you anything. But they do give you a high level of confidence that the person sitting in front of you knows the basics and can perform them well. I agree that experience trumps certifications any day of the week, but I look at certifications as a quality seal. And that’s good to have under any circumstances.

CJ Kelly is the psedonym of an IT security manager who prefers to remain anonymous

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