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Building Bridges in Scotland’s Cybersecurity Community

Harry McLaren

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Harry McLaren ECS

Harry McLaren, Managing Consultant at ECS, discusses the value of community and how we can establish a better support network across Scotland’s cyber security sector.

 

Community means different things to different people. For me, the first time I experienced a sense of a community within the IT sector was when I was at college.

I studied a two-year course to become an ICT Practitioner alongside working part-time in a small computer repair centre in Hoylake, Wirral. During my time at college, I began organising small ‘LAN Parties’ which encouraged friends and other peers to come together for a weekend to play, share and get to know each other.

Then when I became the assistant manager at the computer repair centre, I encouraged after-hours meetups at our shop. These were available to staff and customers alike; usually there were beers on offer, and we had an informal policy that anyone could simply come in and ask us for tech advice – or even have a brief one-to-one and be taught how to do something specific.

Building Communities

When I initially moved to Edinburgh in 2010, I wasn’t involved with a specific IT community. Generally, there appeared to be little activity in this area and the activity that was around didn’t really appeal.

But then upon graduating in 2013, I began working for ECS Security as a senior analyst. And it was at this point that I found myself attending meetups and local conferences. In fact, I believe some of my first were those hosted by OWASP and Edinburgh Napier University. Many of these involved myself and colleagues sharing and discussing ideas, eating pizza and getting to know each other in a relaxed, informal environment.

Fast forward to 2014 and things appeared to be gaining momentum. I noticed a new meetup that was launched by Stu Hirst and hosted in Skyscanner’s awesome new offices. Attending the first one was great and I rapidly met people who were passionate about the community as well as the industry as a whole.

The first thing that stood out to me was how open and welcoming these events were; people around the room tried hard to interact with those who were less socially outgoing and really encouraged people to get involved and engage.

This helped with my own development, and as I grew more confident and gained the support of peers within the community, I started a User Group focusing on Splunk technology, which still meets every two months.

Plugging the Gaps

While there was this positive grass-roots meetup scene, I noticed that there were still significant gaps in the current ‘community’ in Edinburgh. And from speaking to people from across the country, it transpires that this issue is not isolated to Edinburgh but applies to the rest of Scotland as well.

I had spoken with a number of students and found many awesome projects and people with something valuable to share. There were also several colleagues of mine who wanted to get involved and start publicly sharing their knowledge. But often they didn’t know where to start; they were apprehensive about approaching established groups, or nervous about the prospect of speaking in front of hundreds of people when they didn’t have much experience.

This was really the catalyst for starting the Cyber Scotland Connect: Open Sessions. And together with Stuart Turner – who also believed in the need for different types of safe spaces for those looking to share – we got started and have already held four meetups this year.

As this initiative started taking shape, I started talking with Stu Hirst about the lack of communication and engagement between different community leaders. After a few coffees, we decided to start building a concept for a leadership group to enable, support and coordinate efforts across several specific joint objectives.

This has now grown into Cyber Scotland Connect. To help kick off the initiative, Stu Hirst and I will be hosting a panel session at DIGIT Expo at the EICC in Edinburgh on November 14th. The panel will explore the importance of community and discuss how we can start working towards some specific long and short term objectives. We are keen to be as inclusive as possible and will encourage people to contribute their ideas and input on how we move the community forward together.

The full event is free to attend – For more information and our latest news follow us on Twitter.

Harry McLaren ECS Cybersecurity

Harry McLaren

Managing Consultant at ECS

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