I applied to join GCHQ because I met people at university who work here and they told me positive things. I was also interested in computer security, so I thought this would be the place to further that.
I actually enjoyed parts of the recruitment process – for instance, in the interviews I was able to talk about projects I’d worked on at university, and the technical challenges I’d solved both independently and in teams. Everybody was friendly and happy to answer any questions, and even the vetting process was surprisingly simple. I didn’t have to dedicate a lot of time to it and, although it did take quite a long time behind the scenes, it made sense when I arrived.
After a year working here, it’s certainly met my expectations. I get to work on projects that you simply can’t do anywhere else – for example, we can see what’s happening on the Internet and react accordingly to protect the national interest. I enjoy researching and developing techniques that could enable us to influence real world outcomes and improve our understanding of the threats that are out there. It’s satisfying to see the impact of our research when GCHQ operational teams talk about successful operations we’ve conducted.
I suppose the most interesting challenge is working in a classified environment – it’s something I wouldn’t have experienced in another organisation. For example, I have to carefully plan how I use the internet and tailor the software I write for our custom internal systems. It helps that my colleagues are so supportive – when I’m designing new systems or processes to work in this unique environment, they’re always availableto help me brainstorm new solutions.
As well as my colleagues’ support, I’ve also had lots of training and development opportunities – everything from courses, videos of information security conferences, to talks from external speakers.
One of the things that surprised me was that only a small fraction of our researchers studied Computer Science at university. You don’t necessarily need deep subject knowledge, because it’s such a specialist field. Instead, you need the ability to learn new things and come up with new ideas, along with the perseverance to keep working at aproblem, even if it’s difficult.