The massive shortage of cyber professionals is a national security threat, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Cyber personnel from the private and public sectors are America's frontline of defense because critical infrastructure sectors, including water, healthcare, and elections, rely on a resilient cyber infrastructure, explained Rob Karas, associate director for Cyber Defense Education and Training from the DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
"America's cybersecurity workforce is a strategic asset that protects the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life," he said.
However, there is not enough talent in the field, both in the U.S. and around the world.
"Estimates place the global cybersecurity workforce shortage at approximately three million people worldwide, with roughly 500,000 job openings in the United States," Karas said. "This global shortage means American organizations, whether in the private sector or in the federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial governments, compete with employers all over the world as well as with each other to find cybersecurity talent. … CISA sees the cybersecurity workforce shortage as a national security issue."
Army Lt. Col. Julianna M. Rodriguez is a cyber warfare officer at Fort Gordon, Georgia. She is the offensive cyberspace operations division chief in the Army Cyber Command's Technical Warfare Section.
Though she did not take a direct path to her current position, her preparation and adaptability enabled her to take advantage of opportunities for the evolving cyber field.
In high school, Rodriguez took advanced classes, focusing on math and science up to AP Calculus BC and AP Physics. After graduating, she attended the United States Military Academy, majoring in Electrical Engineering with a focus on Computer Systems Architecture.
In addition to earning a master's in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science through Columbia Engineering, she earned two technical certifications: Mirantis OpenStack Certification Professional Level and SaltStack Certified Engineer, and is preparing for the Army Cyber Developer Exam.
For Rodriguez, changing career fields was a process of discovering where she could best serve.
"I started in Air Defense Artillery because [in 2003] it was one of the few combat arms branches in which women officers could lead," she said.
Rodriguez served in ADA units as a battalion intelligence officer and headquarters battery commander, eventually attending the MI Officer Advanced Course. She also deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division to Afghanistan and taught at the USMA before transferring into the cyber branch.
When advising others interested in cyber, Rodriguez gives feedback based on her experience.
"Our citizens can best serve when they use their innate skills and interests for our national good [and] improve daily in learning and practicing related skills. For those who have an interest in computing, information technology, and network communications, committing to engage that interest in service to our nation can meaningfully impact our nation's security," she said.
However, she cautioned how the field is not a good fit for those who like routine and clearly defined work. She also described the Army's cyber branch as highly competitive, so if an individual wants to join, she recommends:
- Obtain technical certifications like OSCP, OSCE, CISA, and CCNP
- Do networking or security projects
- Stay current on technology advances and policy impacts
Rodriguez adds specific backgrounds make a good fit for the field, including those with strong computer and IT skills.
"Soldiers from a variety of other branches and MOSes, including signal, aviation, and field artillery," she said.
Because of the critical need for cyber talent, the Army created the Cyber Direct Commissioning Program. It is actively recruiting "software engineers, data scientists, DevOps engineers, hardware and radio frequency engineers, vulnerability researchers, and other computer-based professionals," Rodriguez said. "I encourage anyone who has a deep interest in technology, a penchant for learning and change, and a commitment to our nation's security to pursue a career in cyber with our military."
For those interested in CISA cybersecurity education programs, check out:
FedVTE (Federal Virtual Training Environment): Free online cybersecurity training
CyberCorps® Scholarship for Service: DHS/CISA scholarship for bachelors, masters, and graduate cybersecurity degree programs in return for service in federal, state, local or tribal governments upon graduation
President's Cup Cyber Competition: Competition for federal and Department of Defense cyber workforce to promote and recognize top cyber talent in government service
National Centers of Academic Excellence: 190+ academic institutions that DHS/CISA and the National Security Agency have designated for cybersecurity-related degrees
Cybersecurity Education Training Assistance Program: Cybersecurity curricula and education tools for K-12 teachers