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How information technology is changing the landscape for federal employees.

Cyber Summer Camp

Last week marked the kick-off of a series of summer camps designed to inspire the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. This first camp not only attracted young, inexperienced cyber experts; it also drew experienced professionals interested in boosting their craft.

“The camp is geared towards aspiring high school and college students,” said George Schu, a senior vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton, speaking to Wired Workplace about the first of four U.S. Cyber Challenge summer camps, which are run in partnership with Virginia Tech and Booz Allen Hamilton. “Interestingly, it also attracted people out in the workforce who already had considerable skills and were interested in sharpening their skills.”

The camp last week, held in Arlington, Va., also included a roundtable of industry experts and camp participants to examine the critical shortage of cyber professionals, in part to inform a follow-up to a report released last fall by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the cyber workforce shortage.

“The roundtable gave some perspective on the ever-growing need for people with cybersecurity skills and related certifications,” Schu said. “I tried to paint a picture for campers that this is definitely a growing field and that skills in these fields will help people gain very attractive employment. It is universally recognized that we need more and more people who understand the nature of this challenge.”

Another hot topic of the roundtable was the status and potential implications of the 2012 Cybersecurity Act, which the Senate unveiled to much fanfare in February, Schu said. The bill, which in part would require the government to develop a comprehensive cyber workforce strategy and develop new classifications for federal cybersecurity jobs, is still waiting action by the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Cyber Challenge camp that closed Friday with an awards ceremony, was a success, with many campers noting the level and quality of instruction received, Schu said. “A lot of these people are hackers at heart, and we like to think of them as ethical hackers,” he said. “They liked the competition and being able to outdo or stump their instructor or fellow students is what drives a lot of these people. They’re not just sitting in a classroom passively listening to what a lecturer is telling them.”

Still, there is much work to do on cultivating and grooming the next generation of cybersecurity leaders, including boosting the reach of the Cyber Challenge program, Schu said. “A lot of interest, sponsorship and programs focused on cybersecurity tend to be generated in Washington,” he said. “This has to be something where we spread this kind of learning and interest across the nation.”

Schu said more state-level sponsorships of Cyber Challenge camps and competitions is necessary to inspire the level of interest that is necessary to have a capable cybersecurity workforce going forward and achieve the Cyber Challenge’s goal of having 10,000 participants.

“I think continued funding and focus on this issue by the government is very necessary,” he said. “If we’re not attacked, people can forget how vulnerable we are. We’re not going to solve this problem overnight; it’s going to take a while.”

Reporter Portrait for GovernmentExecutive.com

Brittany Ballenstedt writes Nextgov's Wired Workplace blog, which delves into the issues facing employees who work in the federal information technology sector. Before joining Nextgov, Brittany covered federal pay and benefits issues as a staff correspondent for Government Executive and served as an associate editor for National Journal's Technology Daily. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Mansfield University and originally hails from Pennsylvania. She currently lives near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., where her husband is stationed.

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