Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Nerd Camp! A Solution to the Dwindling Cybersecurity Workforce?

Image via NinaMalyna/

Growing up, I spent two summers learning physics and archaeology in Southwest Virginia at “enrichment camp.” What is "enrichment camp," you might ask? A playful euphemism employed by my parents to hide where I really was those two summers: nerd camp. Yes, nerd camp. And nerd camp might just be the solution to one of the nation's most pressing job shortages--the increasing demand for well-trained cybersecurity professionals.

Today, the US cannot produce enough computer scientists to fill current job openings. Speaking Thursday morning on a panel hosted by Women in International Security (WIIS), Cynthia Dion-Schwarz of the National Science Foundation (NSF) said this gap between supply and demand is troubling during a time when attacks on the nation’s critical infrastructure are escalating.

The U.S. Cyber Challenge (USCC), a nationwide talent search and skills development program, seeks to close this gap by getting young people excited about cybersecurity. USCC hosts a number of online competitions that offer a way for high school, college, and post-graduate students to compete in cyber-related challenges. Government has been embracing all kinds of challenges and incentives in efforts to cut costs and improve efficiency (see, but USCC presents a unique public-private partnership that could improve recruitment within the federal workforce.

Contestants, which can range from high school, college, up to post-graduate students—compete in an online competition for a trip to “cyber camp,” a weeklong training experience that includes workshops with university faculty and cybersecurity experts and concludes in the ever-popular “virtual capture the flag” event. The winners of capture the flag receive a signed certificate from the President’s Cybersecurity Coordinator.

Another part of the camp experience includes a job fair, where participants can connect with potential employers. USCC National Director Karen Evans said there is a disconnect on how we’re classifying jobs. Many are hard to find, even if you are looking specifically for cybersecurity jobs. “When you go onto and type in cyber security, you get 2 or 3 jobs,” she said. Through cyber summer camps, USCC hopes to expose America’s young people to the opportunities available in the field of cybersecurity.

According to Evans, it’s working. “USCC builds on the competitive spirit,” she said. “In the high school competitions we have 20 states participating.” One capture the flag winner attached her certificate signed by former Obama Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt to her college applications. The student was accepted on a full-ride to Carnegie Mellon and credits her success to the USCC program.

Though USCC is working to raise awareness and build skills necessary for the cybersecurity workforce, other professions may be facing similar problems.

Is your organization concerned about finding enough skilled workers to fill critical positions? What are you doing to improve recruitment and retention?

Zoe Grotophorst is the Director of Research & Content Services at Government Executive Media Group. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the George Mason University School of Public Policy and received her undergraduate degree in public policy from the College of William and Mary.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.