SANS Work-Study experience

This topic contains 35 replies, has 12 voices, and was last updated by  ChooseLife 6 years, 9 months ago.

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  • #7835
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    Hi everyone,

    First post from a long-time lurker. Figured this would be a good opportunity to start contributing to the awesome EH forum. Note that the following is cross-posted at TechExams.net



    I was recently selected as a facilitator for a SANS conference through their Work-Study program. I was chosen as a room facilitator for SEC401 (GSEC), it will be my first SANS event, and this thread is intended to document my experience.

    Program overview

    Work-Study program page provides a decent overview. In a nutshell, it is a program that allows individuals attend a SANS conference and a specific course at a discounted rate (~20%, $850 as of now) in exchange for their assistance during the event. Other perks include complimentary OnDemand for the course, access to other talks at the conference, and complimentary GIAC exam attempt (conditions apply).

    Application

    The application process is easy, one needs to fill out a form on the SANS web site, choose a specific event and list classes in the order of personal preference. I applied 5 times, received no feedback for 2 of the applications, 2 rejection letters, and finally 1 acceptance letter. In the cases where I did receive feedback, it was 4-8 weeks before the event start date.

    I was chosen for SEC401 (GSEC). This course was not my first choice, and I did hesitate for some time, but decided to take it, mainly to solidify chances of getting accepted to a 500-level course in the future. Besides, from what I gather, it is a very solid and broad course that will compliment my CISSP studies.

    Registration

    Again, a straightforward process. SANS sends a contract to sign, and requires the person to return it by a certain date. At this point I solicited my employer’s approval and financial support to attend the conference, and once the training reimbursement paperwork has gone through the internal process, sent signed contract back to SANS and paid the fees. Once payment was processed, I received access to OnDemand materials as well as a detailed brochure on what to expect and plan for in this role. As I understand, GIAC attempt will be provided after the conference.

    Conference

    TBA 🙂

    Resources

    Reviews that helped me a lot in deciding whether I want to do it:

    GIAC Certified Penetration Tester (GPEN)
    SANS Workstudy, a day by day breakdown =)
    SANS Canberra 2009 Wrap up

  • #49283
     Dark_Knight 
    Participant

    Welcome to eh.net 🙂

    I tried for that program in the past without success. I will probably try again in the future. Looking forward to your review.

  • #49284
     dynamik 
    Participant

    Yes, welcome. Great first post!

    Work study is a great option if you’re on a budget. I’ve been accepted to a couple before, but I’ve declined because they weren’t the courses I had my sights set on.

  • #49285
     azmatt 
    Participant

    I’ve been applying as well and finally got selected. I’ll be sure to share my thoughts as well.

  • #49286
     tturner 
    Participant

    I achieved 3 of my GIAC certs this way and just got back today from doing the new SEC575 Mobile Pentest course in VA Beach (no cert available yet). I’d be happy to provide any feedback on the process. By the way, I’ll be posting a course review of SEC575 shortly. It was a great course and I have some thoughts on it and future mobile pentesting courses I’d like to share but don’t want to derail this thread.

    As far as selection, SANS STI students always get first dibs, even if they don’t need the course for graduation. While I am currently in STI, I just started so that did not impact the 4 times I’ve been selected to facilitate.

    The next thing they look at, is if you’ve facilitated before and what kind of reviews the instructor gave you. We have had some really bad facilitators that were not asked back a second time. It’s hard work and SANS puts a lot of trust in the volunteers so laziness, evidence of untrustworthiness or general douchebaggery are good ways to ensure you don’t get asked to return. I’ve seen facilitators do really stupid things for minimal gain that jeopardize what I think is the best deal for training on the market today.

    They typically don’t like to pair up 2 newbies if they can help it and for the larger classes will often pair a veteran with a first timer. If they can run with all veterans and have enough to fill the seats I’m sure they would but that generally does not happen. For instance in VA Beach week 1, we had 2 veterans, myself and a guy who’s done it 8 or so times and 2 first timers. At big events like Orlando it seems more like 25% first timers. Typically veterans wind up in the newer more popular courses and first timers wind up in courses the veterans have all taken, 401 being a good example of that. That’s not always the case, but is a common scenario.

    They also look at things like if you are a community SANS instructor, a local mentor (SANS Mentor program), a GIAC cert holder, and several other areas. You can see what I mean when you fill out the application. A yes in most of those areas will certainly help your application but I’d suggest being honest there.

    It’s a ton of work at the big conferences, you will be working 14 to 16 hour days frequently. Smaller conferences you might have 1 or 2 12 to 14 hour days and the rest it’s closer to 10. I don’t mind the work and the value from meeting all the other facilitators and getting more facetime with the instructors is invaluable. It’s a great networking opportunity in addition to being an amazing discount on training. A SEC560 course (Network Pentest) with GPEN certification attempt and 4 months of OnDemand would normally be over $5,000 but you are getting it for $850. That’s insane. Personally, even if my employer wanted to pay the full amount I’d probably facilitate anyway. It’s certainly a lot of fun. Good luck on your 401 course.

  • #49287
     Seen 
    Participant

    tturner (or anyone else), could you please elaborate on the type of work you have to do as a facilitator?  I’d like to be sure I can do the work before I try and sign up.

    Thanks.

  • #49288
     tturner 
    Participant

    Arrive day before conference for setup which includes:

    • Moving and unboxing books, shirts, merchandise. May be manual labor intensive. Don’t be a wuss, I’ve seen 90 lb women handle this just fine.
    • Creating registration kits (folder with materials) and putting name badges together
    • Inventory courseware
    • Putting course bags with books together
    • Staffing registration desk
    • Setting up table with marketing materials
    • Signage

    Day 1 of conference and beyond:

    • Setting up and staffing bookstore
    • Handing out evaluations for nighttime sessions
    • Monitoring door to room to ensure all students are wearing their badge and are authorized to be in that class
    • Providing general assistance for questions like “where are the bathrooms?” or “Where is my class?”
    • Assisting instructor as needed – usually just entails bringing them their beverage of choice and handing out the eval forms, and extra course materials like handouts and CD’s. Some instructors may ask for more, but you are NOT a teaching Assistant. I usually wind up helping people with VMware setups but some instructors may prefer you not to help at all.
    • Entering evaluation scores into SANS laptop every night
    • Other duties as assigned
    • Have fun
    • Profit
    • Tear down conference and box up to be shipped – Usually leave around 6 PM on last day, sometimes slightly later
  • #49289
     Jamie.R 
    Participant

    This sounds pretty good does anyway know if its only in the USA or can people in the UK sign up to it ?

  • #49290
     UNIX 
    Participant

    You can also apply for/from UK. 😉

  • #49291
     Jamie.R 
    Participant

    Thanks for the info I have to look into this sounds like really good way to learn and get certs.

  • #49292
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    Thanks for welcomes and all the great feedback, nice to see that EH is so active!

    dynamik, I know what you mean, I originally had no intention to take SEC401, but when the opportunity presented itself, it was too tempting to resist.

    tturner, really appreciate your detailed posts. You mentioned volunteer pairing – is that two facilitators in one class? As a newbie, is it possible that I would be the only facilitator for the class? It’s a smaller event.

    @tturner wrote:

    Personally, even if my employer wanted to pay the full amount I’d probably facilitate anyway. It’s certainly a lot of fun. Good luck on your 401 course.

    Thank you much! The way I look at it – if my employer was willing to pay the full price for a single SANS course, I’d rather take that money and faciliate at several events to maximize the ROI.

  • #49293
     ziggy_567 
    Participant

    I facilitated SANS Sec East a couple years back. I was placed in SEC401 as the only facilitator. I think we had around 40 students in the class. As my first time to ever facilitate it was a little nerve wracking at first, but after the first day, you’ll realize you have everything in control.

    Just be attentive to the needs of the class and you’ll do fine.

  • #49294
     tturner 
    Participant

    @chooselife wrote:

    tturner, really appreciate your detailed posts. You mentioned volunteer pairing – is that two facilitators in one class? As a newbie, is it possible that I would be the only facilitator for the class? It’s a smaller event.

    At smaller events or for less popular classes you will most likely be facilitating the class by yourself. It’s not too bad though, most of the work is done with a team before classes even start and there will be plenty of veterans there to answer any questions.

  • #49295
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    I see, thanks a lot, guys!

  • #49296
     Seen 
    Participant

    Looks like no GWAPT or even GPEN at my nearest conference this year, guess I won’t have to try to be a volunteer until next year!

  • #49297
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    @seen, would your employer foot the bill? If so, why not combine it with the opportunity to travel? 😉

  • #49298
     Seen 
    Participant

    @chooselife wrote:

    @seen, would your employer foot the bill? If so, why not combine it with the opportunity to travel? 😉

    I’m unemployed, so no, he won’t  🙂

  • #49299
     azmatt 
    Participant

    I said I would share my thoughts so here goes:

    Cons:

    • Slightly degrades your learning experience due to obligations of a facilitator
    • An extra day of setup and long hours the other days
    • Can’t attend night functions as you wish due to responsibilities

    Pros:

    • MUCH cheaper price
    • Meet some great people which I otherwise would have never met

    The people were great and while there were frustrating moments, overall the experience was worth it. I had to pay out of pocket and use vacation time to attend so while it was still pricey (after you factor in hotel, etc.) it was far cheaper than paying full price.

    If I had the choice of going as normal student or facilitating, I would choose normal so I could focus on learning more. That said, it was an overall very positive experience and I would (and hopefully will) do it again.

  • #49300
     tturner 
    Participant

    @azmatt wrote:

    Cons:

    • Degrades your learning experience due to obligations of a facilitator

    Really? I’ve found the opposite to be true. Sure you may miss a few minutes here or there but the extra face time with instructors and other facilitators more than made up for the few lost minutes handing out eval forms and course CD’s.

  • #49301
     azmatt 
    Participant

    It wasn’t a huge deal and I imagine that it varies a great deal from class to class. Overall the experience was very positive, I was just trying to list out all factors for people.

    I didn’t have any extra face time with the instructor. That is in no way a knock on the instructor at all, he did an amazing job and I would facilitate for him again at the drop of a hat. He’s honestly the best instructor I’ve experienced. It was just a large class (over 50) and there was a lot going on.

    The passing out of the evals and materials was a non-issue but two bookstore shifts and some other small errands did cost a bit of class time. Once again, not much and overall it’s not a huge issue I was just trying to be thorough.  🙂

    I also added the word slightly to my original post to let people know that I was just trying to list some minor points on an overall very positive experience.

  • #49302
     tturner 
    Participant

    Yeah not all instructors make the effort to get to know their facilitators and interact with them. I’m thinking I know who your instructor was now, having heard that. I will pull bookstore shifts as well (only an issue at the large conferences, no bookstore at smaller regional events) but I typically confined those to only during the breaks and of course initial setup activities. The random errands are just a fact of life at these types of events and is one reason they include OnDemand in the package.

  • #49303
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    I’m back with the promised update!

    Conference

    This was my first SANS conference. It ran for a week and was on the smaller side (< 10 courses). All in all it was awesome. Great instructors (all very knowledgeable, passionate presenters and excellent speakers), high-quality course content, outstanding night talks, tons of networking with like-minded people… It was interesting to see the backtage of the event as well – having participated in organizing/supporting conferences in the past, this time I was definitely impressed by the smoothness, promptness, and efficiency of the work done by the team running the event. And as a witness I can also say SANS team is indeed dedicated to ensuring that the attendees get the best experience out of the event.

    Night talks were definitely the hightlight of the event for me. I facilitated SEC401 (GSEC) class and was not learning much in the daytime, but the the evening 45-minute talks would often make up for the entire day – so much information of the highest quality was packed into those sessions.

    Facilitation duties

    Day 0. All facilitators have to report at 9am the day before the conference starts and assist with setting up the venue. This was a pretty busy day, we unpacked boxes, prepared course materials, brochures, and handouts (LOADS of paper), set up signage and classrooms, and so on. The day was filled with a million of small tasks, but the work was not too physically demanding. We managed to finish by 6pm, meaning that I had just enough time to have a dinner and prepare for the exhausting day that lied ahead.

    Day 1. The longest and most difficult day. My workshift started at 6am and finished around 9pm. The day started with welcoming and registering attendees, then moving into classrooms and helping people settle in, answering questions, attending to the instructors’ needs, and so on. The tasks throughout the day included
    *) relaying messages between instructor/students on one side and SANS/hotel staff on the other
    *) handing out miscellaneous paperwork to students
    *) responding to arising needs – it could be anything from replacing batteries in equipment to moving furniture to finding a certain hotel staff person. I was in and out of the classroom a lot on the first day.

    Days 2-5. Much quieter than Day 1, but essentially the same duties as above. Starting the day around 8am, finishing anywhere between 8 and 10pm.

    Day 6. The conference finished some time in the afternoon. We then proceeded to packing things and preparing them for shipping – this was the most physically challenging part of the event. I believe we were done some time after 6pm, at which point we saluted each other for surviving through this great and exhausting experience, and went on our ways.

    Course materials

    As stated on the site, Facilitators receive books, on-demand version, and audio recordings of one of the previous iterations of the class. Books are pretty much the presentation slides with additional notes and the class follows book content pretty closely. Audio recordings cover the entire class duration, and are valuable as an additional form of learning the material. OnDemand is essentially the presentation slides synced up with audio recordings + quizes for every topic.

    Final thoughts

    While I did not quite get the “firehose learning experience” this time, it still got me hooked, and I want to attend more of their classes. SANS course material does have high quality and is packed pretty densely.

    Would I do the work-study again? Absolutely! All of the perks and especially the price overweigh the extra work, besides I really enjoyed being on the staff side of the event.

    I hope that gives some insight into the faciliation program and helps someone deciding whether or not to try it!

  • #49304
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    GIAC exam

    Facilitators receive a complimentary certification attempt for the course they are on, so I was bound to take the exam.

    My preparation consisted of:

    – listening to the audio recordings prior to the conference – I did this once over a 6-week period, while commuting to/from work.
    – creating bookmarks with post-it notes – this one I did in the classroom as the instructor went over material
    – flipping through the books and creating index at the same time – after the conference, took me probably a couple of weeks
    – taking two practice exams – I scored 92% in 2 hours on both, dangerously close to the 90% line that I set as the bar for myself

    Then life and work got in the way and I had to put GSEC away for several weeks.

    Finally, I took the exam last week and was happy to pass it with a 96% result  ;D

  • #49305
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    @azmatt wrote:

    I said I would share my thoughts so here goes:

    Cons:

    • Slightly degrades your learning experience due to obligations of a facilitator
    • An extra day of setup and long hours the other days
    • Can’t attend night functions as you wish due to responsibilities

    Pros:

    • MUCH cheaper price
    • Meet some great people which I otherwise would have never met

    The people were great and while there were frustrating moments, overall the experience was worth it. I had to pay out of pocket and use vacation time to attend so while it was still pricey (after you factor in hotel, etc.) it was far cheaper than paying full price.

    If I had the choice of going as normal student or facilitating, I would choose normal so I could focus on learning more. That said, it was an overall very positive experience and I would (and hopefully will) do it again.

    Thanks for your review – I agree on all points

  • #49306
     azmatt 
    Participant

    Congrats on the great score!

  • #49307
     caissyd 
    Participant

    Thanks to both ChooseLife and tturner for this great review.

    I am re-opening this thread because I just learned I got accepted to be a facilitator at SANS 2013. I was trilled when I saw that they picked me in my first choice!

    **BUT**

    When I started reading the small prints and reviews here and there, I noticed many little things that I don’t really like. I want to add that I pay everything myself and being a consultant, I don’t get paid while I am not working…

    So:

    – Flying from Ottawa, Canada to Orlando during the Spring break costs substancialy more than at other quite time. Airplane tickets are between $700 and $1000. That’s twice the regular price…

    – In order to get the “free” certification exam, we must stay at the conference’s hotel. That’s $200/night, for 7 nights. I usually rent a car and get an hotel 10 minutes away from the conference, same thing for half the price.

    – When I look at the course materials, I could probably study 3 weeks part time and pass the exam. This course, although interesting, will not teach me 100% of new materials…

    – On a personal note, I only took one week off last year to go to AppSecUSA (I make my daughters laugh when I tell them that I take my vacation time to go to school  :D). I really don’t feel like working from 6:00am to 9:00pm right now…

    So for me, this great deal is around $3500 (airplane, hotel, $850 for the SANS stuff) + 7 days off work. This becomes pretty expensive training…

    I figured that I could take a week off in an all-inclusive in Cuba (or whatever), study by myself, pay $1000 for the SANS exam and it will still be cheaper than being a facilitator at SANS 2013 !! And as a bonus, I will be fresh for OSCE…  ;D

    Last thing, I understand I would make new connections with knowledgeable people at SANS, but frankly, I am starting to know quite a lot of people already, so this isn’t huge for me…

    So what should I do??

  • #49308
     ziggy_567 
    Participant

    The work-study program is a huge discount, but as you point out it can still be fairly expensive if you’re traveling across the country (and in your case a second country)!

    I’ve taken three SANS course. I’ve attended a conference as a regular attendee, I’ve taken a vLive course, and I’ve attended a conference as a facilitator. Of the three formats, I would recommend the facilitator route every time! The networking you get as a facilitator is very different than the networking as a regular attendee.

    I can understand where you’re coming from on the cost vs benefit, though. In the three classes I’ve taken, not one cent of the costs came out of my pocket.

  • #49309
     lorddicranius 
    Participant

    @H1t M0nk3y wrote:

    – When I look at the course materials, I could probably study 3 weeks part time and pass the exam. This course, although interesting, will not teach me 100% of new materials…

    Aside from the out of pocket costs (btw, wow :-), this would be the other deciding factor for me. That amount of money when I could benefit more from another course just wouldn’t be worth it for me. Maybe if it was a Community event and the travel/lodging costs weren’t so high (if you live close enough that you don’t need to stay in a hotel, you still get the free cert attempt).

  • #49310
     caissyd 
    Participant

    Thanks for you comments. I forgot to say that I studied all by myself for GSEC, GPEN and GWAPT. So I never had to take a SANS course to pass these certs.

    Honnestly, after CEH (studied a lot, I was a new to this), GSEC wasn’t too hard. And after my first two attempts at OSCP, GPEN and GWAPT were really easy.

    That’s why for me, a course like Cracking the Perimeter from Offensive Security is way better than a SANS course: I learn a ton of things for a fraction of the cost. And even if the OSCE certification is only recognized amongst those who really understands the penetration testing field, I already have 6 certs in security, so I am already more than ok for HR sreening…

    So I will keep focusing on the OSCE cert for now…

  • #49311
     Dark_Knight 
    Participant

    The new GXPN from what I have read is pretty solid. Seems to compliment the OSCE….

  • #49312
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    H1t M0nk3y, gratz on getting picked for the course you wanted.

    Regarding complimentary cert – if you have friends or relatives in Orlando you can stay with them and still get the complimentary cert.

    That’s the only suggestion I can provide, otherwise the decision is obviously yours. $3500 is a lot of money, but it would be another $4K on top of that for a regular attendee experience.

  • #49313
     caissyd 
    Participant

    You are right ChooseLife and that’s why I applied in the first place.

    But courses from Offensive Security like “Penetration Testing with Backtrack” ($750),  “Cracking the Perimeter” ($1200) and Wireless Attacks ($450) combined equals $2400. About cost vs value, this is unbeatable to my humble opinion.

    elearnsecurity and the hackingdojo also offer high quality courses for less than $1000.

    And when I factor the fact I can study for all these courses at home (no travel expenses) and that I don’t have to take time away from work, the choice becomes easy.

    So yes, in the SANS world, this is a pretty good deal, but compared to their competitors, I am not so sure about it.

    I just decline this offer. Maybe next time when they will come closer to my place…

  • #49314
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    Do you know that you can also volunteer for a SANS’ online course?

  • #49315
     Eleven 
    Participant

    @chooselife wrote:

    Do you know that you can also volunteer for a SANS’ online course?

    And you get the same discount?  What exactly are your obligations?

  • #49316
     Seen 
    Participant

    @eleven wrote:

    @chooselife wrote:

    Do you know that you can also volunteer for a SANS’ online course?

    And you get the same discount?  What exactly are your obligations?

    I’d be interested in learning about this as well.

  • #49317
     ChooseLife 
    Participant

    To the best of my knowledge – I haven’t done it yet but am considering:

    – it is the same discount and benefits as in the main work-study program

    – duties include providing support to students, uploading class materials into the webinar system, resolving technical issues should they arise, recording the sessions, etc

    hope this helps someone 🙂

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