“There’s a career in cybersecurity for everyone,” says Microsoft Security CVP

BY Lake SydneyDecember 27, 2022, 3:53 PM

Lauren Buitta (left) is the founder of Girl Security. Vasu Jakkal is the CVP of Microsoft Security.

With the number of cyberattacks on the rise and a growing gap in the cybersecurity talent pool, companies are taking a closer look at the resources needed to combat a growing workforce problem. In the United States alone, there are over 700,000 vacancies in cybersecurity.

While some higher-level cybersecurity positions require advanced certifications, many entry-level positions can be filled by less trained individuals. These can be refresher courses, self-study or on-the-job learning. While four-year degrees or master’s degrees aren’t always necessary to land a job in cybersecurity, some companies and organizations are working to expand workforce training with community colleges and other institutions. education to prepare the future workforce in cybersecurity.

“There is a career in cybersecurity for everyone, because it really is the foundation of our digital world,” said Vasu Jakkal, vice president of Microsoft Security. Fortune.

Microsoft Security, the $15 billion cybersecurity arm of the Fortune 500 tech giant, in 2021 launched a nationwide campaign with U.S. community colleges to help train and recruit 250,000 students into the cybersecurity workforce by 2025 to achieve equity in the national security sector.

Fortune had a roundtable with Jakkal and Girl Security Founder Lauren Buitta to learn more about efforts to address the cybersecurity workforce gap and how to close it.

The Cybersecurity Workforce Shortage

Fortune: What are the biggest challenges associated with the cybersecurity workforce shortage?

Buitta: It is important for people to understand that cybersecurity as we know it today is a relatively nascent professional field. If you think of law or medicine, these are professional sectors that have taken more than a century to develop. One of the main challenges is that the workforce is trying to get up to speed with the skills they know we need to stay competitive in a global economy.

Jackal: Cybersecurity is this nascent field, but it is growing exponentially given the way the world works today. We’ve seen that during the pandemic, businesses and homes need to go digital, which has created this expanding attack surface that can easily be exploited. We have seen cybersecurity be a priority for all organizations and cyberattacks happen to everyone. You have this perfect storm happening—a perfect storm of opportunity too—where there’s a shortage of talent. That it opens up incredible possibilities for women and minorities who don’t necessarily feel this is a field for them today.

How can the United States begin to close the cybersecurity workforce gap?

Buitta: Basic cyber security awareness can start at home and in childhood. This includes normalizing a discussion of digital safety, trust and security. It is very important to mobilize resources to activate public education at home and in the community. If we look at STEM studies and what we have seen in terms of female representation in STEM, there are a lot of important lessons to learn. We need to reach diverse populations earlier, which is why our partnership focuses on that important bridge between high school and college, where there really is a lack of ongoing opportunity. It is important not only to provide access to education, but also to practical learning.

Jackal: Today, 71% of women think that cybersecurity is too complex a job for them. Over 25% of all adults think parents are more likely to steer their sons towards cybersecurity than their daughters. These myths must change. To make cybersecurity a career for everyone, we need to start by demystifying and modeling.

We launched an initiative in which we pledged to train 250,000 people in partnership with community community colleges by 2025. In the corporate world, we need to ensure that we have diverse rosters when training. hiring and that we are very intentional. It will take the whole village, from parents to teachers, recruiters, colleagues, peers and organizations, to elevate women and minorities to cybersecurity.

What you need to know to start a cybersecurity career

Are soft skills valued in the cybersecurity industry?

Buitta: Girl Security has always valued what we call sustainable skill sets. We engage with girls and gender minorities in our program asking them what ideas about work, school, responsibility or jobs they were raised with. Often when girls come to the table they say things like “my parents always told me to tell the truth” or “hard work is important” or “working with classmates is important”. Cybersecurity requires collaboration, ethical decision-making, and innovation of thought. We’re really focusing on some of those core skills that we know will be extremely valuable in a changing environment.

Jackal: One of the things we need to change is the way we talk about cybersecurity. For a long time, cybersecurity was very technical. It’s been very fear-based and really dark. We need to tell stories of inspiration and hope, because that is what cybersecurity is all about. It’s about innovation.

There is a career in cybersecurity for everyone. Safety is for everyone. Whether you’re a neuroscientist, whether you’re a psychologist, you need it, whether you studied law, you need it, whether you’re an engineer, you need it, whether you tell great stories, you need it. There is a career in cybersecurity for everyone, because it is truly the foundation of our digital world.

Cyber ​​Security Training Options

Candidates sometimes get discouraged because companies seek to hire only the cyber elite. What do you have to say about it?

Buitta: There is no doubt that these perceptions are obstacles, certainly with regard to certifications and the costs associated with certifications. The good news is that these conversations are producing some truly innovative models for equipping the workforce with the cyber skills they will need sooner while also thinking about ways to minimize the cost of populations. But we have a long way to go. At Girl Security, we offer paid training that is also virtual, so it can be accessed from anywhere.

Much like Microsoft, we have a strong focus on community colleges: reducing costs upfront, making the field as accessible as possible, and then creating a continuum in pathways. We need to put in place this pipeline that is inexpensive, accessible and provides employment to someone who needs it. There are lots of jobs available, it’s just a matter of finding people, making the message accessible, and providing them with that direct pipeline to an opportunity at a company like Microsoft Security.

What training is really useful to start a career in cybersecurity?

Jakkal: When there is an abundance of opportunity, there are many ways to seize that opportunity. We have an incredible shortage of talent. Going back to a debunker, 37% of respondents said they believed a college degree was necessary to be safe. It’s not true. You don’t need a college degree. Many security jobs don’t require a four-year college degree. You can qualify by getting a certificate, associate degree from a community college. That’s why we work with community colleges. There are also plenty of free resources as it can be intimidating.

The cost itself can be daunting, but there are plenty of resources. Microsoft has a massive content repository that we have made available. We have done certifications. These are available to anyone who wants to follow them, and there are ways to get trained and get started in cybersecurity. We have this abundance of opportunity, which creates new ways to come in, and we need to educate people on all of these facets of how they can come in.

What other tips do you have for someone trying to break into cybersecurity?

Buitta: For anyone who is interested in the field of cybersecurity, especially a young person, it is to understand that the field needs them. Wherever they see a place for themselves, there is a potential career path for them. There are organizations and companies determined to see them thrive in this environment. There are many resources. There’s a lot of support there. The workforce really needs this diverse community.

Jackal: There are many jobs in cybersecurity. There is a job for everyone. You have to have a passion for it, you have to understand it. It’s up to us to make cybersecurity simple and explain it. My call to action would be for all of our young people, for all of our girls in diverse populations, to truly believe that cybersecurity has something for them. It is our responsibility to create these opportunities for them.

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