How to Become a Cyber Warrior: Thoughts from MITRE, Raytheon Officials

Steve Hawkins

With the rising need for cybersecurity comes the increasing need for cyber professionals to protect the nation’s smart grid from adversaries.

But how to become one? There are several options, from traditional four-year degrees to shorter programs.

“We are all increasingly vulnerable,” said Gary Cluff, manager of corporate recruiting for MITRE Corporation. He added that the government in particular is very concerned about cyber threats. To address that effort, government contractors are looking for talent “ethical hackers, if you will,” Cluff said.

According to the Department of Labor, demand for computer security experts will grow as businesses and government invest more in cybersecurity.

“We need people who can keep cyber enemies from infiltrating the many operating systems that are now out there,” Cluff said. “This is as great a threat as nuclear warfare when it comes to ensuring our national security.”

Steve Hawkins, Raytheon Company’s vice president of Information Security Solutions said his company in the past several years had added 500 “cyber warriors,” with an additional 200 being hired this year.

“There’s a significant need for people who can understand both computer operating systems and those systems’ interactions with computer hardware,” Hawkins said. “You have to get into both to be able to detect vulnerabilities. We need the best, most responsive people to help our customers ensure we’re the most ready and capable nation on the new frontier of warfare. We want them to be able to analyze and design, not just operate and hack.”

So how to become a cyber warrior? Experts suggest first getting a degree in either electrical or computer engineering degree. In addition, software or computer hardware design experience is good, too. Not to forget: Cyber-warrior hopefuls must be able to pass rigorous security checks.

There are several training options, including Department of Justice’s Federal Cyber Corps Program. College juniors or first-year graduate students are eligible to apply. Participants receive a monthly stipend of about $1,000 per month and full tuition payment, room and board and a travel allowance for two years.

After a year of training, students have to partake in a summer internship in a federal agency, giving them a first-hand look at cybersecurity issues. Upon completing their second year of training, students receive either an undergraduate or graduate degree in computer science, plus they earn multiple federal-level computer security certificates, endorsed by the Committee on National Security Systems.

Hawkins said while current hiring needs are a priority, expectations are there will be even more job opportunities in the future. According to an estimate by labor forecasters, colleges and universities will need to graduate at least 450,000 students annually with technology degrees to meet the demand.

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