The words “Secure Your Future” displayed prominently across the homepage banner of Centre For Cybersecurity (CFC), a Singapore-based cybersecurity training provider with a goal that’s as unassuming as their name: Making cybersecurity more accessible to businesses and individuals.
As we would soon find out through our conversation with CEO Ethan Seow, every part of this 15-16 member operation is meticulously thought out — from the way courses are structured to how the organisation functions — to ensure that the benefits of both cybersecurity careers and technology are accessible to a broader audience.
Seow: “CFC was established after we realised that there was very little intro-level training to get people started from scratch. To fill this market gap, we formulated a six month training programme that trains individuals up to become competent security operations centre analysts or junior penetration testers.”
The CFC team has also taken into consideration how daunting the cybersecurity field can look from the outside with its confusing labyrinth of certifications and at times contradictory advice found online. To help prospective students sift through the noise and make more informed decisions, CFC also provides free webinars where they provide clear instructions on how one can enter the industry — even if they don’t eventually sign up with the school.
In Seow’s own words, CFC is not here to push a particular product. Those who walk through their doors want a career change, and the CFC team is ready to support them in any way possible.
Seow: “Up until very recently, only one local university offered an undergraduate degree specific to cybersecurity. Other institutions have followed suit as demand increased, but at their core, computer science and other related courses are still highly theoretical. This is diametrically opposed to the reality of cybersecurity jobs where you hit the ground running. The result is that many people hold certificates but do not have the technical know-how to do the job.
At CFC, every student is immediately exposed to hands-on technical training from day one. We also have an introductory workshop where we get students to try out what it’s like to work as a cybersecurity practitioner for a day and understand if its highly technical nature is truly what they’re looking for.”
Seow: “All our courses are part time, which means that no one is required to quit their jobs in order to learn from us. Lessons are held on weekday evenings at 7 pm and 1 pm on weekends, three times a week on either Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays or Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
Seow: “I would say that mid-career switchers who are looking to enter the cybersecurity field form the bulk of our cohorts. They come from everywhere between F&B, science, accounting, and nursing. We also have a couple of software developers and network engineers who are looking to specialise in cybersecurity as their next career move. Specialising is important in a field as competitive as software engineering, where everyone is still trying to find their footing unless you’re working for Apple or Google.
Right now, the most highly requested topics are data analytics and cybersecurity. The former is expected, given the current AI trend, while the latter is understood to be a more evergreen field. Having worked with so many students, we’ve observed that some individuals are more attuned to cybersecurity’s structural nature than others. The main difference between cybersecurity and computer science is that software engineers spend a lot of time looking at code and making sure that something works. Cybersecurity, on the other hand, focus on reading computer locks and formulating incident responses, which are processes that come after software has been written.”
Seow: “Students are not obligated to enter the cybersecurity industry immediately after graduation, which means they can continue to work at their day jobs as they look out for roles that fit. Some apply their newfound skills where they’re at, while others take an extra year before diving fully into the field.
We only started two years ago, but we’ve already got additional support plans in the pipeline. All students who sign up with CFC are already assigned a dedicated career coach who will assist them in their hunt for cybersecurity jobs. We’re also planning to release an advanced level, four-month course for people looking to specialise in red team or blue team.”
Seow: “The CFC culture is very much a startup one, where we allow every member to move in their own space and time. We don’t expect everyone to be at the office every single day. Instead, we maintain constant communication so that everyone can stay on track while having their own space to flourish.
Some of our colleagues joke that their family members do not see them ‘suffering’, and this is something that we’re very much proud of. We’re very much in the next phase of furthering our targets within Singapore and even developing our training operations offshore.”
Seow: “We provide our staff with the same level of support that we offer our students. Our sales and marketing teams, for example, receive a lot of internal training to learn about cybersecurity. Not necessarily to do technical work, but to understand processes within context so that they can unlearn old habits of selling and work with the sales process in mind.
We also encourage people to look into different paths that interest them. For example, one of our staff actually wishes to start her own game design company. We’re actually giving her opportunities and clientele that she can work with to upskill herself and build up her confidence.”
Seow: “Highly motivated staff means less worries about people leaving. Good people are hard to find, so we do our best to provide job fulfilment for the ones who join us. The lady whose family is complaining, she actually works long hours, but has the freedom to choose when and how. She leaves her laptop in the office, but she works on her iPad at home. If she prefers to work at night, we provide that adjustment. We view each other as teammates most of the time.
Many ‘shiong’ (tiring) parts of the company are taken up by the founders because we don’t expect people to follow us everywhere, and we want to give them space to thrive. If any of our employees venture out on their own, who knows, we might even invest in their company or become business partners. For now, our team members are motivated and constantly coming up with solutions for us. That’s the alignment. We build things together instead of competing.”
To be clear, Seow stresses that CFC is not a utopia, and that the business and culture that they’ve built up today was one that was painstakingly built up. Being a progressive company requires a lot of work, more so than trying to control everything. But CFC is proud of the progress they’ve made through hard work, heartache, and tears, and we’d say that the local cybersecurity ecosystem is better thanks to their efforts, too.
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