From Bartender to Bug Hunter: Warren Dawson’s Epic Journey into CyberSecurity!

Switching to cybersecurity

In the dynamic world of tech, transitions can be as diverse as the digital landscape itself. Meet Warren Dawson, an Information Security Engineer at BET Software, whose remarkable journey unfolds like a tech-fuelled odyssey.

Warren’s story begins with an unconventional start, not as a tech enthusiast, but as a traveller seeking adventure. At 15 years old, he plunged into the workforce, saving for overseas escapades by working in bars and restaurants. His journey took him to London, gutting octopuses to fund his living, and later to Hermanus, immersing himself in the restaurant scene for four years.

The trajectory shifted when Warren ventured into earthmoving, driving tippers, but fate had different plans. A stint at an Internet Café catapulted him into the tech realm. Learning on the fly, Warren took charge when the tech lead resigned. This ignited his journey into web design, a skill he acquired through self-study and formal education at INTEC College.

After a move to Johannesburg, Warren delved into the world of multimedia agencies, crafting everything from flash presentations to websites. Co-founding his own agency, the business thrived until the recession hit. A strategic acquisition by Morris Jones, however, led to a period of success and several awards.

A pivotal moment arose when Warren identified security vulnerabilities in projects while working for an NGO, revealing an innate talent for cyber security. Armed with certifications like Certified Ethical Hacker and Certified Security Analyst, he founded his own company before eventually joining BET Software.

Warren’s journey also saw him donning the hat of a student police reservist as well as a tactical reaction officer to contribute to his community, and to assist in various law enforcement activities.

Warren’s Transformative Roles

Warren’s progression in his career showcases his versatility. From bar tendering, earthmoving, and police reservist duties to technical director, head of digital and eventually becoming an Information Security Engineer at BET Software. His story is testament to the power of passion, adaptability, and continuous learning.

Warren’s Insightful Advice and Future Aspirations

For those contemplating a leap into cyber security, Warren advocates starting now. With certifications and a penchant for self-learning, he emphasises the value of mentors, relevant channels, and a passion-driven approach.

“Do it now. The longest journey starts with the smallest step. Spend your time watching YouTube videos or visit websites like Try Hack Me, Hack the Box. From a security point of view, find all the right people on YouTube, follow what they do. Find some mentors who are very helpful, and get yourself on the relevant Telegram and WhatsApp channels that have people to guide you along the way,” he says.

Seeking out a career in Cyber Security – where do you start?

Q: For a person who knows nothing about cyber security, where do they start? Please elaborate on the basics that can lay a good foundation.

A: Cyber Security splits into many different paths, however, there’s a few basic skills that one should know to start off. Ensure you have a firm knowledge of networking and basic programming/scripting concepts. A good understanding of Linux and Active Directory will also fast track you along the way.

Q: What are the entry-level positions within Cyber Security?

A: Many cyber security specialists start off as developers or IT support specialists. Moving through to security would generally mean taking on a junior cyber security analyst or junior penetration tester role.

Q: How do you find your team ?

A: One of the initial decisions you’ll need to make in pursuing a career in cyber security is what path of cyber security you’d like to move into. Generally, the initial choice would be either Red (these are the attackers a.k.a. penetration testers and social engineers) or Blue (our defenders a.k.a. incident response, analysts and forensic examiners). Over time, one generally gains skill from both teams and becomes “Purple”.

Q: What are the most popular languages to learn?

A: Within cyber security, Python is a massively utilised language to create or enhance your own security tools. Other languages required would be bash scripting, PowerShell, common web development languages as well as some good old common regex.

Q: What are the most popular software programs/tools to learn, e.g. Linux?

A: Tools tend to come and go as tech changes, so it’s important to get a firm understanding of what your tools are doing to speed up your process. Right now, though, there have been a few timeless classics such as NMAP, Metasploit, OpenVAS or Nessus.

Q: What certifications do you recommend for beginners?

A: The common certifications that are widely accepted would be Security+, CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker), OSCP (Offensive Security Certified Professional), GSEC (GIAC Security Essentials Certification) or GCIH (GIAC Certified Incident Handler). Lately, there has been a newcomer to the pen-testing world named a PNPT which is a great certification to fast track yourself into the world of offensive cyber security. Though these should only be attempted once you’ve done some basic Linux and Networking courses/certifications.

Q: What is the most underrated field in Cyber Security that is urgently needed in South Africa?

A: As cyber security threats increase, the need for forensic increases as well. Organisations need to know what happened and how their defences were breached for both future references, as well as for any investigations which could lead to the arrest and conviction of cybercriminals. Currently there is a huge global skills shortage of good digital forensic investigators.

Q: How do you keep up to date with the latest cyber security trends to stay ahead of the game?

A: Being involved in cyber security needs to be a passion more than a paycheck. Honing your skills constantly is key in staying ahead of the game. This requires keeping an eye on Twitter (or X or whatever Mr. Musk is calling it these days) for the latest cyber threats, watching good cyber security YouTubers competing in hackathons or running through various rooms on Try Hack Me or Hack The Box. Also, find a mentor and spend time on security WhatsApp or Telegram groups – the community has a lot of knowledge that they’re happy to share.

Looking ahead, Warren envisions himself in a managerial role in five years, sharing his wealth of knowledge with the team.

His journey encapsulates the essence of transformation, demonstrating that an unconventional start can lead to extraordinary destinations in the ever-evolving tech landscape.

If you would like to make that transition into the tech space, check out our Careers Page for current vacancies.

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