By Joyce E. A. Russell
Special to The Washington Post
— WASHINGTON -- This region is a hotbed for cybersecurity jobs, ripe for talented individuals, with numerous openings listed each month.
A recent report by the Abell Foundation found that the number of cyber job openings in the Baltimore metropolitan area alone put it just behind Palo Alto, Calif., and San Francisco as a cybersecurity powerhouse.
The demand for cyber know-how is only likely to grow. The World Economic Forum placed cybersecurity as one of the top five global risks in 2012, and it has been ranked as a top concern in federal chief information officer surveys. This past year, the White House released an executive order on improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity.
So what would it take to meet that demand?
The Maryland Cyber Jobs Report listed qualifications for these positions, which spanned educational levels and experience. Of the open job requisitions that specified a level of education, the majority (76 percent) required a bachelor's degree, 17 percent required only a high school diploma, and just 4 percent required a master's degree or doctorate.
Thirty-three percent required experience in the range of 10 to 15 years. Some 83 percent of Maryland's cybersecurity jobs were full-time positions. Fifteen Maryland colleges and universities — more than in any other state — have been designated by the National Security Agency as centers of academic excellence in information assurance.
Sandor Boyson, a research professor at the Smith School of Business and an expert in the field of cybersecuirty, said organizations are looking for more than just technical skills: "There is an emerging need for cyber expertise than can be applied to business, policy, and international issues."
Dave Cassano, IBM managing director at Altria Group, agreed, saying clients are looking for skilled professionals to design and implement comprehensive information security that covers a wide range of business security priorities.
There is concern that there are not enough people in the pipeline. While some millennials are interested in careers in cybersecurity, one study by Raytheon found that only 24 percent of them are interested in these fields, while 40 percent are interested in fields of entertainment. In fact, researchers found that 82 percent of the 1,000 participants ages 18-26 surveyed said that no high school teacher or guidance counselor even mentioned the idea of a career in cybersecurity. There was also a gender gap with more men interested in a cyber career than women.
Clearly, more education is needed to entice young people to pursue careers in the cybersecurity space. This is important because the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium reported this year that existing IT security professionals are feeling overwhelmed due to staffing shortages, leading to more data breaches.
While some students are nervous about the technical aspects of the career, they need to recognize that problem-solving skills, teamwork, and creativity are also important skills in order to be successful in a cyber career. "What seems desired by employers is someone with a science background with business training, education, and/or experience," said Michael Geppi, CEO of Integrata Security.
He also cautioned those thinking about a career in the sensitive field: "In terms of careers, applicants need to have the highest integrity, undergoing intense background checks with criminal and credit history, work history, known associates, etc. Young people, in particular may want to watch what they post on social media as it may come back to cause them difficulties in their background investigations."
Tips to help land a job in the field of cybersecurity include:
-- Get certified to show mastery of a body of knowledge (e.g., Certified Information Systems Security Professional).
-- Have experience in the military or law enforcement.
-- Get IT security experience through volunteer work and internships; offer to help IT professors at a local college or university to gain experience.
-- Read up on IT security topics.
-- Do your own background checks in advance of seeking employment to know what will be reported about you (in case there are things flagged that you would need to explain)
-- Be willing to work in fast-paced environments with some unpredictability in job hours.
Of course, in any field it is important to stay current with the latest thinking and practice. This is especially true in the field of cybersecurity, where things change rapidly. There are regular conferences and forums on this topic.
Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.