Working from the Ground Up

Every Climber Starts at the Bottom

Rock Climber at the bottom

Imagine walking into a climbing gym for the first time. All around you, super fit athletes race up walls like Spiderman; people with Herculean muscles pull themselves up dozens of feet in the air using handholds you can’t even see… It's all a bit intimidating. You've never climbed more than some long flights of stairs before; how on Earth would you be able to do that?!

The answer's simple. You're not. No one expects you to climb a giant wall your first time in a gym. Someone would probably stop you from trying it: if you don't know what you're doing, you could get seriously hurt.

Cybersecurity analysis is the same way.

Every expert started somewhere: at the beginning. In ESCALATE®, challenges are organized by foundational category and difficulty level-- just like in a climbing gym. Starting small may sound boring, but building a solid foundation is the only way to achieve thorough expertise. Jumping ahead may get you further initially (especially if you have a knack for something), but eventually you'll get stuck: you can't brute force your way through everything. Learning the fundamentals first will equip you for all the mega-super-cyber stuff that will come your way as a top-tier analyst.

At a certain point, banging your head against the wall will only get you one thing: a bruise. If something isn't clicking right away, take a few steps back. Rework an old challenge for a confidence boost, or try focusing on something else. The next time you come back, you’ll have a different perspective, maybe some better tools, and you'll solve it in one go. In ESCALATE, just like with climbing, every time you leave a challenge, you have to start all over; you can’t just start back where you left off. But just like with climbing, the steps you'll take to solve it are the same: don't think of it as losing progress, it's really gaining practice.

Climbing and Coding

It's intimidating when there's someone next to you climbing something super difficult, and downright embarrassing when you're struggling with something basic. But because everyone started somewhere (aka at the beginning), they'll be sympathetic. It was hard for them, once, too. If you're stuck on something, don't be afraid to ask for help. ESCALATE was built for the community first so that everyone could learn from each other. Find a mentor in your organization, or use the in-platform chat function, or reach out to welcoming community groups. In climbing, watching how another person solves a problem – getting their "beta," as it's known – can give you some clues as to how you can solve it, too. You'll still have to do the challenge yourself – you can't copy one user's flag into another user's challenge! – but asking questions and learning by watching is how the pros started, too.

At the end of the day, there is no magic pill that gets you 30 pounds lighter, crushing freeclimbs in Yosemite, or catching all the cyber bad guys. Reaching goals takes commitment, persistence, and, yes, a little bit of fearlessness. You're going to come across novel things that you don't know how to do – and that's okay! Start small, come at the hard stuff fresh, and learn from others.