Home How to survive the SANS Women's Immersion Academy on top of a full-time job (and have a lot of fun while doing it)

How to survive the SANS Women's Immersion Academy on top of a full-time job (and have a lot of fun while doing it)

On December 31st, I took the certification exam for my last course in the SANS Women’s Immersion Academy and closed this amazing 6-month-long experience with a 99% score on the GREM test.

As a beginner in information security, and as someone with a full-time job and various other commitments, preparing three GIAC certification in roughly six months was certainly a challenge. But, if you’re considering taking this path, you should know that, if you have enough passion and drive, YOU WILL SUCCEED.

When it comes to the specific courses, a lot will depend on your skills, curiosities, and aptitude. Some topics might feel easier to you, whereas you might need to spend more time on others. Regardless, here’s some advice I would give to anyone starting their Academy journey.

Plan. And stick to your plan.

If you’re taking the classes on top of a full-time job, planning is going to be essential. I calculated the amount of hours that would take me to go watch the videos, read the books, and complete the labs. Then, I put aside 20-25 hours a week to study — two hours a day on weekdays, five to six a day over the weekend — and split up the material. This way, I had no gray areas: I already knew what I would do each day and would (mostly) be able to avoid procrastinating or giving myself undeserved “passes.”

On top of watching the videos and reading the books, you might want to allocate time to taking notes and indexing, which will impact your study time at different levels. So, try to build in some flexibility and add extra hours to make up for that.

The second (and equally important) part of that is sticking to the plans you made. Having everything in a spreadsheet (or on paper) definitely helps avoid going off track. But we are human and, at times, fatigue kicks in: cut yourself some slack if you feel like you really need it, but don’t fall too far behind. Try to find a balance, even if it’s tricky: I swear it will be worth it and you will be very proud of yourself.

Since I am no genius, pulling off these certifications meant putting on pause my whole life outside of work and study for six months. Sure, I missed a lot of people and things I love to do, but it was all worth it.

Everyone does it differently.

There are people who like to watch videos and listen to mp3s. Others who would rather read the books a number of times. Other people like to take notes on everything. Others who prefer to index while they are going through the material.

The moral of the story is that everyone has their own preferences and absorbs information in different ways, so what worked for me might not work for you. Keeping that in mind, for each exam I did:

  • A first pass where I watched the videos and read the corresponding part of the books, highlighting the most relevant concepts and marking them for indexing.

  • A second pass where I only read the books, and marked more terms for indexing. This is because the GIAC exams are 100% focused on the books.

  • A “third pass” where I just indexed the terms from the books.

  • Each lab at least twice.

Before taking the first practice test, I’ve always completed all of the above. After that, and based on my score, I reviewed specific sections and labs, at times adjusting the index, at times just going through the pages and reading the slide content to reinforce my knowledge.

SEC401 and GSEC

One word: index, index, index. As many people say, this course is an inch deep and a mile wide. There are so many topics and specifics that it’s almost impossible to memorize everything within the time frame you’re given. So, for this course and exam, indexing well and in-depth is key, and making multiple passes for indexing purposes is essential. The practice tests will be a great proving ground for your index and to understand how fast you can look things up.

SEC504 and GCIH

If I had to pick one word for this course/exam, it would be cheat sheets. In this class, there are a collection of tools you will have to learn, each of them with lots of options and flags. The best way to summarize that, at least for me, was to make custom cheat sheets with all the contents of books and workbooks. This spared me a lot of time during the exam, as I didn’t have to search through the books and had my quick reference handy.

I built an index as well, but it was way shorter than the GSEC one and I didn’t use it as much.

Should you have any questions on the SANS Women’s Immersion Academy, feel free to connect with me on Linkedin and ask away!

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