Looking for Cybersecurity Experts? Check the Jails and Art Schools (Updated)

By Stew Magnuson
Are cybersecurity experts born or made?

It’s a question that recruiters are asking more frequently as the nation faces a shortage of technically savvy network security operators.

Civilian agencies, the military, the intelligence community and corporations large and small are all after the same small pool of specialists who can face the nonstop hacking assaults on their enterprises.

Those hiring need to look beyond the traditional recruits with a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences, said a panel of corporate network security leaders.

“I can tell you from my experience running exploitation teams, that some of the best folks that I had were either non-college graduates, political science majors or art majors,” Chris Coleman, director of cybersecurity, U.S. public sector, at Cisco Systems Inc., said at the Milcom conference in Baltimore. Master’s degree holders in computer sciences and engineering are all good, but as far as the nontraditional members of his team, “The things that those individuals can do … Well, it’s good that they are on our side,” he added.   

Bryan Palma, vice president of security and information services at The Boeing Co., echoed Coleman’s comments. “Some of the most talented people who work for me in the cybersecurity space are art majors as well,” he said.

David Korn, chief technology officer SAP GSS (See Correction), said he would look in jail for convicted hackers. “Most of these folks are not college graduates. They are highly creative and motivated. And they’ve got the knowledge,” he said.

Michele Weslander-Quaid, chief technology officer of federal programs at Google, said the Internet giant is looking for personnel who have experience setting up large-scale security systems, but she didn’t rule out hiring those who have dabbled in the dark side of the Internet.

“If I can, I would like to bring in some of those hackers because it is good to know how they think,” she said.

“Cyber is very much an aptitude-focused discipline,” Coleman said. “Education can only help, but if you don’t have the aptitude, education alone will not get you there.”

Correction: David Korn's company was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.

Topics: Cybersecurity, Homeland Security

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