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Cyber security expert Junade Ali, talks about his non-academic route to a PhD. He was recently elected as a fellow of the IET
Computer expert Junade Ali is known publicly for developing what is believed to be the first compromised credential checking protocol, which checks if a password has been used following a data breach.
He admits his career in IT and cybersecurity has been somewhat non-traditional. After leaving school with no formal qualifications, Ali began his working life as a software developer. At the age of 17, Ali managed to get onto a master's degree programme. He recently completed a PhD and in June 2023 he was elected as a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). At the age of 27, he is believed to be the youngest person ever to gain this prestigious IET membership level.
While young people can follow an academic route to a degree course, some people, like Ali, find that they are better suited to starting out in work and then study part time. Discussing his early career, He says: “I was eventually head-hunted by a well known cyber security company based in San Francisco.” Ali began working for this company while he finished his master’s degree. This proved to be extremely fortuitous for Ali. “I was basically being supervised by someone who was working on lots of interesting projects around critical national infrastructure and embedded systems and operational research problems. He eventually became my PhD supervisor as well.”
While working on his PhD, Ali also set up a cyber security firm. As he recalls, there were two types of clients: those involved in digital transformation and software developer experience, and those, which he says, were really focused on cyber security, national security and international risk.
Working on a university degree while juggling work commitments can be time-consuming and challenging. Ali says while doing evening classes for his masters, he was also working as a high-reliability software engineer. “I’d be driving 100 miles to work, setting off around 6am. I’d finish at about four, then drive to university and come back home past midnight. I was also writing a book at the same time.”