Breaking Through: A Cybersecurity Boot Camp Helped Faissal Islambouli Secure a New Role

When Faissal Islambouli first immigrated from Lebanon to Canada, he was most excited about the opportunity to expand his career choices. This meant pursuing technology, a field he’d always been fascinated with but didn’t have the ability to pursue back home. 

The only problem was that Faissal wanted to explore it all. He needed to gain new skills through education, but first, he had to narrow his scope of interest. Looking through UofT SCS Boot Camps helped him weigh the different options.

“On my own, I played around with highly technical projects,” said Faissal. “I knew I didn’t want to go into business analytics, but I wanted to pursue something beyond standard coding. The UofT SCS Cybersecurity Boot Camp curriculum appealed to me — it was a field I felt I could get accustomed to pretty quickly.”

He enrolled in the boot camp — a six-month journey that would culminate in a career change that made the international move worthwhile. 

Getting focused — and getting to work

The first step Faissal took was to assess his time commitments. His full-time job had him spending 45 hours a week at work, and he also took cybersecurity classes three to four nights a week. He devoted himself to succeeding, mentally preparing himself by saying (a temporary) goodbye to his social life and hunkering down for the half-year-long endeavor of completing the course, studying for certification exams, and (hopefully) landing a new role.

“I was managing 70- to 80-hour weeks,” said Faissal. “I knew that to get the most out of the boot camp, I had to fully dedicate myself to the course so that I could ace additional cybersecurity certification exams. These certifications would show employers that I could successfully apply my skills before jumping into a new role. It was challenging, but it paid off very quickly.”

Finding the path forward — and following it

For Faissal, the boot camp provided a guiding light; after he completed the course, he had a much better idea of what he wanted to pursue and where he wanted to end up. 

“The people and support systems were just as important as the actual material,” he said. “That was the biggest draw for me. I could learn topics on my own time if I wanted, but I wouldn’t know the right questions to ask or the right direction to take — the boot camp offered that guidance.” 

Faissal worked with his career director, Nathalie Semaan, throughout his job search — which extended several months after the boot camp officially ended while he completed his certifications. Natalie helped him structure the search, provided contacts and resources, and offered constructive advice until the very end. “She never faltered,” said Faissal. “The guidance was amazing.”

Pursuing passion projects — and reaping the rewards

One of the first things Faissal noticed was the unique atmosphere of the cybersecurity classroom. His class spent a lot of time not only on programming and technical work, but also brainstorming and engaging in class discussions. “It was a great dynamic, and our teaching assistant was an absolute legend,” said Faissal. “For me, the entire course was a passion project.” 

Early on, Faissal and one of his peers came together to start a blog documenting the boot camp, sharing ideas, and describing their projects. This process yielded a valuable insight for Faissal and his friend: in the cybersecurity field, it’s not about the end result — it’s about the methods you use to get there. 

“So often, the result in cybersecurity work is intangible,” he said. “It could be gaining access to a system, achieving certain privileges, or some form of data theft in a raw form. What employers really want to see are your methods, and our blog provided a perfect place to share those.”

Approaching remote work — and remaining dedicated

For their final project, the class was assigned to break into their own computers. Faissal found more complicated, expert-level systems to break into — and built that experience into his online portfolio. In the end, his willingness to push the boundaries of each assignment helped him stand out to employers.

“My current boss actually mentioned during my interview that he was impressed by my projects,” said Faissal. “He saw things in our work he’d never seen before — that’s what really drew him to my application.”

Now, Faissal is in his fifth month as a Junior Security Analyst at Pivotree, a web hosting company. He’s applying the skills he learned at the boot camp every day, and his boss is pleased with his progress. “Nothing can prepare you for every skill you’ll need on the job, but the boot camp helped me learn quite a lot,” said Faissal. “My job has been a blast. I’ve never met my co-workers in person due to COVID-19, but it’s been such a smooth transition to remote work. I feel lucky to have gotten this role — the timing was perfect.”

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