The Cybersecurity Policy & Research Institute (CPRI) introduced students to the opportunities and realities of working in cybersecurity by hosting a private panel discussion during ICS 90 — the seminar class for new students in UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). For the Nov. 14 seminar, Informatics Professor Hadar Ziv handed the course over to CPRI Executive Director Bryan Cunningham, who moderated the Cybersecurity Workforce 2020 discussion featuring cybersecurity leaders from three Orange County companies. Even students not interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity might have reconsidered after Cunningham mentioned projections for the field. “In about three years,” he said, “there will be 500,000 open jobs in cybersecurity just in the United States.”
On hand to discuss these job opportunities and how best to pursue them were Eric Cornelius, chief product officer of the software security company Cylance; Mike Krueger, senior director of information security at First American Financial; and Ben Johnson, chief technology officer of the cybersecurity startup Obsidian.
Getting the Inside Scoop
As Cunningham noted during his introduction, the panelists were invited to provide “inside tales of what it’s like to be a cybersecurity engineer in OC.” They discussed their roles as “stewards of data” and also shared skills they look for in entry-level applicants.
At the top of Krueger’s list were “problem-solving skills and the ability to work in a team and build consensus.” Johnson and Cornelius said they look for those same skills by focusing on “passion, capacity and humility” and “aptitude and attitude,” respectively. Johnson emphasized that “it’s not what you’ve done but how quickly you can pick things up.”
As Cornelius further explained, “there will be jobs in five years that don’t exist today, so focus on the fundamentals.”
Fighting a Never-Ending Battle
In addition to discussing required technical and soft skills and providing practical advice on interviewing, the panelists gave students a dose of reality when Cunningham asked about current events. “If you look at the reporting on cybersecurity, you get the sense that at any minute, somebody in Moscow or Beijing can flip a switch and shut down our power grid and make all of our airplanes crash and steal all of our data.” Referencing a recent report about wargames targeting Google, he then asked the panel, “What is the hype versus the reality?”
Krueger admitted that “there’s a lot of reality to the news,” and Cornelius and Johnson both agreed. “The Internet is a combat zone,” said Johnson. “A tiny little nation can be as strong as the United States in terms of cyberwarfare…. It’s a never-ending battle.”
Given this constant struggle against cybercrime and cyberwarfare, he then added that “once you get in cyber, you’ll have a job for life.” Stressing the importance getting that first foot in the door, all three panelists noted that their companies offer internship opportunities. They pressed students to do their research prior to job or internship interviews, and to articulate why they want not just “any” job but “that particular” job.
Networking Your Way In
Just as the panel discussion came to a close, Krueger noted the key role of networking: “Make contact with people and say, ‘I met you at this event.’” His comment seemed an open invitation to students who had attended the earlier networking session to keep in touch.
According to Ziv, quite a few students did take the chance to meet the panelists and ask questions prior to the evening seminar, which might help open doors for them in the future. “I thought the event went well and was run well by Cunningham,” he said. “I hope the students appreciated the caliber rank and experience of the panelists.”
Johnson also thought the event went well. “I really enjoy providing real-world perspective to students and offering some of my lessons learned to help guide their journey.” He enjoyed the pre-panel reception as well. “Despite how much we might say networking is important, most people still don’t network enough,” he said. “I’m a relentless networker, always looking to meet interesting people and learn from them, whether they are students, industry veterans or anywhere in between.” He looks forward to future opportunities to partner with UCI. “I really like how serious UCI is taking innovation and technology and how much of a leadership role it is taking in Southern California.”
— Shani Murray