Stephanie Helm, director of the MassCyberCenter at MassTech, and Carol Leary, president of Bay Path University, co-authored a column in the Springfield Republican & MassLive.com on how a diverse workforce can bolster the Commonwealth's cybersecurity sector. The piece ran on Friday, November 15th, during National Cybersecurity Career Week. Read the full piece on MassLive.com and below.
Massachusetts benefits from diverse cybersecurity workforce
By Carol A. Leary and Stephanie Helm
There are 9,041 open cybersecurity jobs in Massachusetts, according to the national CyberSeek database, more than 25 jobs for every one of the Commonwealth’s 351 communities. By 2021, it is estimated that there will be 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings nationally, as our digital economy continues to expand and as threats such as identity theft, financial fraud, and other cybercrimes grow in line.
Our Commonwealth -- from individuals to local police stations to large corporations -- are all vulnerable because there are not enough cybersecurity professionals to fill these positions. So too are our municipalities, hospitals, public safety offices, and schools – institutions which make up the fabric of our communities.
Expanding opportunity and opening doors to the world of cybersecurity are vital. As the President of a university with women undergraduates and women and men graduate students, and as the Director of the Commonwealth’s MassCyberCenter, we share the perspective that a diverse, inclusive cybersecurity ecosystem will help to ensure a successful future in this arena. We, and many of our colleagues in academia and the cybersecurity industry, understand that attracting new workers to cybersecurity is a challenge all of us must take on.
Cybersecurity is a combination of three important factors: people, processes, and technology. Too often, we highlight the speed and ease of technology yet undervalue the importance of the people and processes. While good sound practices and cutting edge technologies go a long way to protect our information systems, the inquisitive and innovative cybersecurity professional is often at the heart of identifying and mitigating threats. As cyber adversaries improve their strategies, it has become an “all hands on deck” effort for cybersecurity teams to meet these new challenges. Our communities and businesses have an urgent need for a diverse, technically competent, and collaborative teams to identify and creatively solve problems. These cybersecurity professionals have an increasingly prominent role in data analytics, risk management, network architecture, and in the classroom.
Women, persons of color, non-binary citizens, community college grads – there is no one-size fits-all description for a cybersecurity professional. The MassCyberCenter supports a variety of programs that target high school students to adult learners, computer scientists to cybersecurity certified technicians. The demand for cybersecurity professionals is high and the opportunity to work collaboratively or independently is available in jobs located across the Commonwealth.
Massachusetts has addressed this issue through the Cybersecurity Workforce Talent Challenge launched in 2018. The Challenge selected three grantees located across the state – in Western Massachusetts represented by Bay Path, in MetroWest Boston, and in Southeastern Massachusetts – highlighting the aim to deepen our pools of talent statewide. Several of these programs combine classroom learning with real-world, hands-on training, like the Bay Path program, where students are actively working with small businesses across Western Massachusetts on cybersecurity assessments.
One of the students in the Bay Path program is Magen Pyers, a graduate student in the university’s Cybersecurity Management master’s program. Magen highlighted the program in a recent speech at Bay Path’s annual Cybersecurity Summit:
“As the team lead, I manage nine students from Bay Path and Springfield Technical Community College. We do onsite visits to our clients and conduct a cyber assessment that includes a physical audit, intrusion testing, and phishing. Working with Paragus IT, a grant partner, we look at our findings and make recommendations to the clients. We’ve been successful in helping companies understand their vulnerabilities. At the same time, other members of the team and I are learning so much about the field of cybersecurity. I’ve discovered I love doing this work.”
Magen found her career path by chance. In high school, she walked away from a computer science class as she was the only girl in the class, but luckily found her interest in cybersecurity after taking a digital forensics class in college. That’s when she realized she had found her career in cybersecurity.
We need more Magen Pyers in the cyber talent pipeline. If you’re the parent of a middle, high school, or college age student, talk to them about careers in cybersecurity. There are also a wide variety of programs available, from training and certification to higher education.
It’s a great time to get students thinking about these issues, as November 11-16 is National Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week, when local, regional, and national organizations highlight cybersecurity careers and the work that is being done. Massachusetts also celebrated its own ‘Cybersecurity Week’ in October, which included a focus on talent development and how to drive diversity in our cyber sector.
Can you help us recruit our next generation of cyber workers? We need more talented workers to help our businesses and communities defend against and recover from cyber-attacks. This is a critical workforce issue for the 21st Century and one that will only grow in importance over the coming decades.
Carol A. Leary is the president of Bay Path University. Stephanie Helm is the director of the MassCyberCenter