By Heather Engel, Executive Vice President, Sera-Brynn
This week, Sera-Brynn was invited to participate in a round table discussion with Vice President Joe Biden and the Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. The focus of this discussion was cyber security training, and followed the announcement of a $25 million dollar grant to support cyber security education.
I was very fortunate to spend the day sitting next to other political and industry leaders in this market as the only Hampton Roads-based business on the panel.
What did we talk about in that closed-door session? There were a few things that stood out for me during the discussion.
- Change the Conversation. We need to change the conversation around cyber security training. We need a cyber security army to protect our nation’s businesses, our citizens, and our infrastructure, but not all of those soldiers have to be hackers. There is a widely accepted misconception that cyber security experts are all programmers or network architects. Those jobs are critical, but just as important are the people who monitor systems, understand risk management, practice continuity planning, develop crisis communications plans, and even those who provide the right cyber insurance coverage. To change the conversation, we need to start early and diversify the talent pipeline. STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) programs in middle and even elementary school are critical to teaching kids that you can pursue careers in cyber no matter their interest. Companies need a plan for communicating to clients, employees, vendors, and the government after a breach. They need business experts that can understand, explain and respond to the financial impacts of data loss. A holistic understanding of the effects of a cyber event is necessary to drive spending decisions, so even financial professionals are part of the future cyber army.
- Improve Agility in Education. Having worked in this industry for more than 15 years, I can say firsthand that by the time a four-year degree is complete, the courses one took as a freshman are already outdated. We aren’t training kids for factory jobs or middle management anymore, this industry requires critical thinking, questioning, and experimentation. When I look at computer science programs, even the names of the courses look intimidating. Here’s the good news – many of those courses are unnecessary for working in the field. Because while a student is slogging through an assignment for Advanced Theoretical Computational Analysis, a 16-year-old hacker in an Eastern Bloc country just exfiltrated 10,000 credit card numbers using free downloads and a laptop. This is where industry comes in – partnerships with educational institutions, internship programs, work study, and mentoring will shape the workforce that’s needed, give hands-on experience, and help students build connections that are vital for securing a job. If they can earn credits through internships and graduate with less debt, so much the better.
As the only Hampton Roads based business on the panel, I was reminded again what a diverse talent pool we have in this area. World class educational institutions, a military savvy workforce, a strong business community, and a reasonable cost of living all contribute to the Hampton Roads ecosystem primed to become a national cyber powerhouse. Let’s seize the opportunity.