At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, many companies implemented a hiring freeze due to economic uncertainty. As a result, many students faced unprecedented difficulties in securing jobs or internships. James Cook University (JCU) Bachelor of Information Technology undergraduate Leonard Sim was one of them.
Mr Sim was in his final semester at the Australian university’s Singapore campus. He wanted to do an internship to get some real-world job experience, but suitable roles were far and few in between.
Fortunately, one of his JCU lecturers referred him to a role as a security engineer intern at Tindo, a leading system integrator in South-east Asia. The local company specialises in providing cyber security solutions and services, with public sector organisations and major local banks being some of its biggest clients.
The seven-month-long stint turned out to be his launchpad into the in-demand cyber security field.
“The internship provided me with the necessary experience and knowledge, which appealed to organisations that were hiring for such a role,” Mr Sim says.
After graduating in 2021, he secured a job as a Cyber Access Management consultant at NCS, a leading technology services firm headquartered in Singapore.
The 27-year-old now works with his team to configure and deliver identity and data security technologies according to different client requirements. These technologies help to secure the clients’ systems, as well as the users accessing them, through encryption and vulnerability identification. After integration, Mr Sim and his team provide support and maintenance throughout the project’s lifecycle as well.
While Mr Sim enjoys his job, he admits that he faces a steep learning curve as a fresh graduate working in such a complex field. There is such a wide array of tools and technologies to pick up, even for companies in the same industry.
“I need time to familiarise myself with the systems in place. Many problems require experience to solve, so I try to seek help from my colleagues whenever I encounter issues. Afterwards, I keep detailed documentation and notes, which I can refer to in case similar issues reoccur,” Mr Sim says.
He is grateful that his JCU experience has provided him with the necessary skills and knowledge to better handle his day-to-day tasks.
The JCU IT programme encompasses different specialisations within the industry, such as programming, analytics, web design, and more. This wide exposure provides graduates with fundamental knowledge and experience in a variety of fields, making them highly adaptable in learning new skills and contributing to different sectors.
In addition to technical training and knowledge, the IT programme also places an emphasis on project work. Many modules have graded components that emphasise working on individual or group projects, which Mr Sim personally believes are just as important as written tests. The hands-on projects help students better understand the content taught during class and its applications, as well as hone their softer skills like communication, teamwork, and organisation, he notes.
“Though my role as a cybersecurity consultant largely involves working with network and security systems, project management is also a key aspect of my responsibilities,” Mr Sim adds.
Key programme modules, as well as collaborating with a diverse group at JCU, helped to sharpen his communication and organisational skills. In particular, the Design Thinking and Project Management module went through real world workflow methodologies, such as Scrum, to show how companies in the technology sector work on projects and come up with solutions. At the end of the module, Mr Sim and his classmates got the chance to apply the concepts they learnt in a group project.
“Presenting and marketing our ideas to the class and judges helped us better understand the lessons and also promoted the sharing of ideas as well,” Mr Sim says.
Mr Sim says one of the biggest reasons why he chose JCU was the Australian-accredited university’s diverse student body. JCU has a large foreign student body from different cultures and backgrounds. Mr Sim believes this has helped him develop better communication and collaboration skills with people who have different working styles.
These students often share ideas and experiences that are unique to the countries they are from. Once, Mr Sim worked on a project with two Indonesian students, and they showed him an errand-running app that was only available in Indonesia at the time. It was used as a reference to come up with a similar product for their project.
Another highlight was when his team – made up of students who were strangers prior to this project – went on to win the Sprint Challenge for a Design Thinking module. The topic was healthcare accessibility and the newly formed team only had three days to come up with a solution for a given problem.
“This experience was impactful as I enjoyed the project management process. It was enlightening to see a group of people who, prior to the Sprint, had not interacted with each other before, but came together in such a short period of time to work on a project and succeed in presenting a viable solution,” Mr Sim says.
The memorable experience inspired him to work on pursuing a career that offered the same aspects in the IT industry.
His advice to incoming IT students? “Though certifications are important and help to get a foot in the door, hands-on experience is a key factor to growth and personal value in the industry. The cyber landscape is ever changing, so it is important to be adaptable and open to learning,” he says.
Mr Sim is walking the talk himself. His immediate plans are to continue expanding his technical knowledge and skill sets by earning certifications like the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Project Management Professional (PMP), or PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
Visit this website for more information on the Bachelor of Cybersecurity programme offered at James Cook University.