Marymount University’s Cybersecurity Society hosted its second Annual Cybersecurity Career Panel on February 27th, featuring experts who fielded questions on all things related to the cyber field, including career opportunities. The panelists represented government and private organizations; some have extensive experience in information security, while others have come to the field more recently.
The session was moderated by Kinnaird McQuade, a junior majoring in Information Technology with concentrations in Computer Science and Cybersecurity. Questions were submitted in advance, and the first posed inquired why so few women are in the cyber field; one statistic cited that women make up only 17 percent of the cyber workforce.
Both women panelists, Renee Forney, executive director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyberskills Management Support Initiative, and Catherine Hogendobler, representing ISSA-NOVA, acknowledged that it’s currently a male-dominated field, but any perceived roadblocks can be overcome with qualifications that trump gender. Director Forney said, “My advice is to go for it! Make yourself heard; learn the craft; and do a good job. You may be the only female seated at a table of men, so make sure you’ve done your homework and you understand what’s going on.” She also advised students to seek out mentors.
Another question concerned the constant advances in technology and the need to keep current in order to succeed professionally. Carl Willis-Ford, a senior technical advisor at SRA, and Cragin Shelton, an information security engineer at a not-for-profit engineering firm, have spent their careers in IT. Willis-Ford advised, “Learn, unlearn, and relearn so you don’t get left behind.” Shelton added specifics, saying, “Take advantage of continuing education opportunities and join professional groups for cross-talk. You can learn a lot by attending chapter meetings of your professional groups."
Panelists Jona Okoth and Neil Bahadur, both application security consultants with Cigital, are fairly new to the profession and questions for them were more about entry into the field. Marymount students asked which college courses are most relevant for a cybersecurity career, specifically with regard to application security.
As the forum opened up for questions from the floor, students especially wanted to know where the jobs are. Several panel members recommended going the private route because many organizations have outdated systems that are vulnerable to attack, so cybersecurity specialists are in demand. Director Forney put in a pitch for a federal career, noting that most agencies within the federal government also require cyber teams.
While there’s a perception that cyber workers toil away alone behind closed doors, the panel was quick to debunk that myth. Willis-Ford said that when he interviews, he’s looking for someone who will be a team player, willing to share information and work collaboratively. As for professional qualifications, several panel members said that certifications were a consideration when looking at a résumé, but not the only deciding factor.
A final question on how cybersercurity efforts have changed in a “post-Snowden” world evoked an unexpected answer from Carl Willis-Ford. He said that Snowden had succeeded in gaining access to highly classified materials not because he was the greatest hacker ever, but because he asked for and got his co-workers to provide their password information. He pointed out, “Snowden’s co-workers were not trying to betray their country. They thought they were helping a fellow worker do his job.” Even in the complex world of cybersecurity, there’s always the human variable.
After the forum ended, the panelists graciously continued to share their knowledge, answering students’ questions and offering advice about embarking on a cybersecurity career.
Suggested Photo Captions:
1. Jona Okoth responds to question. Left to Right: Director Renee Forney, Jona Okoth, Catherine Hogendobler, and Carl Willis- Ford - photo by Marymount junior Bob Brown
2. Director Forney at Marymount University. L to R: Cragin Shelton, Director Renee Forney, Neil Bahadur, and Jona Okoth - photo by Marymount junior Bob Brown