At least week’s Microsoft Ignite virtual conference, panelists from CyberWarrior.com and Laramie County Community College shared perspectives on how to help a wide range of potential hires reskill and pursue new career opportunities in cybersecurity.
The discussion, moderated by Naria Santa Lucia, general manager for digital inclusion and US community engagement with Microsoft Philanthropies, examined potential barriers such as inspiration gaps, as well as the need to start early in the education pipeline by leveraging programs that bring computer science to more schools that do not offer it. “There is an urgency now for talent but also the diversity angle,” she said.
Workers who stepped away from retail jobs after the start of the pandemic might wonder what comes next, Santa Lucia said. Cybersecurity training might be a starting place for the next phase of their journey.
Potential hires can come from a multitude of backgrounds, not just the prepackaged, “finished products” that hiring managers tend to seek, said Troy Amick, program director for information technology with Laramie County Community College. His programs see some 70% nontraditional students who are looking to change trajectories. “They’ve had careers in retail or in food service or general careers that don’t have a solid future for them,” Amick said. Returning to school is an effort to change their lives, he said, with nontraditional students building on their experiences tending to see higher rates of success.
Amick said LCCC’s IT programs offers an education model that differs from what students may be used to. “Everything that we’ve done is geared towards industry and our alignment to industry,” he said. That includes partnerships with industry for mentorships, internships, mock interviews, recruiting channels, Amick said, with industry guiding curriculum decisions. “Our entire faculty staff are industry professionals,” he said. “We are not professional teachers. We are people who worked in the field.”
The programs offer single-course options for select certification, Amick said, as well as semester-long courses for a credit diploma. Students might also combine three credit diplomas with additional general education courses to attain an associates degree. “If they’re interested in cybersecurity, network administration, and virtualization in cloud they can combine those concepts together into their own degree,” he said.
All of the curriculum ties to industry certifications, Amick said, and have practical applications, so students will have portfolios of work examples they can show recruiters.
Students cannot do all the heavy lifting when it comes to building a more inclusive, diverse pool of cybersecurity talent. “Industry professionals need to take a hard look at themselves and what they’re doing to actively engage and promote not just people they have hand chosen,” Amick said. For example, a technician with some desired skills might already work within an organization and they just need some investment from the organization to further their growth.
Job changers who are veterans of the military are well-positioned to bring their mindset and skills to cybersecurity, said Reinier Moquete, founder and CEO of CyberWarrior.com. “They have discipline, leadership skills, and obviously can work extremely well under pressure.” He also said nonveterans who are eager and willing to put in the time and effort can learn cybersecurity skills. CyberWarrior.com is a combination of an elearning platform, an 800-hour boot camp, and a consulting services company, he said.
Moquete says diversity should be at the forefront for leaders who want to ensure an adequate talent pipeline exists as their security teams grow. “It’s not sufficient to simply put a job post online,” he said. “You’re really going to have to, particularly for security talent, go out there and proactively recruit.”
Many leaders today, however, often do not have a good grasp on how to permeate diversity throughout their organizations, Moquete said, or how to motivate the work structure to embrace a more inclusive workforce. “It does need to start at the top,” he said. “The management team needs to engage the other leaders, directors, and managers to help them understand that diversity is a priority.”
That includes ensuring job candidates are properly evaluated based on the merits of their skills rather than being screened out by unconscious biases that may stem from differences in background. “Those things sometimes hinder the opportunity for leaders to recruit top talent,” Moquete said.