Experience is invaluable, paid or not

At a younger age, it will be harder to get paid experience, especially in such a competitive industry. Although, in an industry of this nature, experience is essential. Knowing how to manoeuvre in a professional environment is a skill that you do not get taught in any school.

Even if you feel an interview will go nowhere, the experience of talking to an interviewer, seeing what questions come up, and what the interviewer responds best to, is all extremely valuable.

This doesn't just extend to interviews, if a company approaches you, and offers for you to shadow one of their testers, or play with one of their private labs, or help develop content for said labs, making the contacts and talking to people at this company, could come in useful for future engagements and plans. You may feel like you are at a loss for not being paid for your time, but the money will come, just focus on growing your network and knowledge.

What you use your time for now is an essential component

No matter what other people your age tell you, now is not the time to relax. You may feel like it is, after years of sixth form after years of secondary school... etc., this is not the case. Life moves fast, what you do now, you will not have to do later, and making an effort to pursue what you enjoy now, will give you the ability to later turn that into a career.

This being said, the most important thing is your mental health, please be safe, look after yourself. I used to get extremely bad anxiety about how fast I felt my life was moving, I stopped seeing friends, stopped playing video-games, stopped giving myself breaks, and stopped doing anything that possibly came close to "wasting time".

This was extremely damaging, I lost my ability to enjoy the small things, which consequently led to a lack of happiness, regardless of how much work I got done in one day.

Communicate with everyone (network)

The stereotype for our industry is that hackers cannot communicate or socialize. Prove people wrong, work on your people skills and make sure you can maintain a proper, engaged conversation.

The job is not just finding vulnerabilities and writing reports, at some point you will need to network with new people, or even have to explain how a technical piece of work functions to someone who may not specialize in a technical area.

Keeping up your social skills, being happy with your character, and feeling confident with your ideals / opinions is extremely important.

Take part in competitions

The best experiences are the ones that come from outside of your comfort zone. NEVER give up an experience just because of the fear of what people may say, or because you are scared you might not do too good in the final leaderboards.

Even if you go to a competition, you play, learn things, meet people, experience something that most people will miss out on, but you end up coming last, you still win that transaction. I can not stress enough how much more you gain than you lose from live events.

At the end of the day, you are the only person you should be concerned about when it comes to events. It'll do your skills, career and everything else an insane amount of good.

Find a hacking partner

Everything is better in good company, especially if it means that company can also contribute to your knowledge, at the same time as they grow from your knowledge.

Not only that, but you may find that having a passion in common, something both you and your friend can explore and develop upon together is something that allows you to depend on eachother for things that are external to hacking.