The next big step – Tom Cope

Hello, Its me Tom.C back with another blog post. So you may be wondering where I’ve been since my last blog post? You maybe sitting there in your arm-chair asking yourself “Cave what kind of tests are theses? am I in danger?” well let me answer that question with a question: “Why am I now talking about Portal 2?” No. No, back on topic. The reason why I’ve not written a blog post for so long is because I’ve been at Oxford. Or to me more precisely, Oxford university. Let me explain:

About a year ago I finished my apprenticeship here at IBM. After a month I was encouraged to pursue further education to develop my skills in Security. After looking through various courses my Dad suggested that I should try a part-time Uni course. After some research I found Oxford do a Part time Master Degree course in Software and Systems Security. It covers all sort of topics such as agile software development, embedded systems, ethical hacking, social engineering. The full nine yards and the best part is it’s all part-time. In order to complete the masters you have to do ten modules. Four in software and six in security, then a dissertation at the best. So I applied!

So how does it work? Well first you book the courses you want to do from a calendar. Each course takes place at Oxford University in the Computer Science building, so I tend to stay at Oxford for the week I am taking a module. There are lots of places you can stay and Oxford is a great place with lots to do. A month before you a due to start you are sent a care package with various details of the prerequisites to the course. In the case of the Java module it was a Book on “OOP Design” and I had to read the first six captures.

Then you move on to the courses themselves. Each course is five days where you get to learn about your chosen topic. The classes are really interesting and quite practical. Everyone in the class is also working part-time so you are all working on the same level. The classes are quite relaxed, if you have to take a phone call you can dip out of the class and there are regular tea breaks. At 12:00 everyone goes for lunch which is a cooked meal at the college. The food is amazing!

The class increases in difficulty over the week. On the Friday everything comes to a close and you are handed the assignment. The assignments can be anything; make an application, write an essay or both! You have some time to read it through and ask any questions you may have. Then its back home to start the assignment. You have six weeks, which may sound like a long time but when you are working full-time it goes by quite quickly.

Hows it going so far? Quite well. It’s a lot of work. There have been many long nights in order to keep up but I find it really enjoyable. You learn so much and at the end of the assignment you can look back and be proud of what you have achieved. So far I have completed three modules. Java OOP which is a prereq for the Software side of the course. Embedded software systems which was very interesting since I did electronics at A level. Embedded systems are everywhere. Writing software for them is a whole different world. To think that a millisecond delay could cost a life in an air bag system really makes you think about how reliable and safe your code is. Most recently I have completed the “Concurrent System” course which was all about “Erlang”. A really cool language with a “Let it crash approach” (it’s better than it sounds) and was by far the hardest module so far.

How does this work with IBM? Well IBM requires each employee to complete 40 hours of training a year (which is quite cool). My Oxford work equates to about three weeks a year. So I end up taking one as education leave and two as holiday. My project is great because they are very flexible and they don’t mind me taking the time off.

I have completed three courses so far all in software engineering. Now I am moving into the more security related ones. Next up is; Security Principles, Trusted Computer Infrastructure, Secure Programming and Cloud Security. All of which I am really looking forward too.

The big question that remains is would I recommend it? The answer would be YES! It is definitely hard work, lots of hard work and it can be hard juggling work, Oxford and a social life but at the end of it I will have a Master’s degree and that’s something to write home about.

-That was me Tom.C see you in the next one.

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