Breaking into the Field
Students crack the code to careers in cybersecurity
Hans Farnbach broke his way into the cybersecurity field. Literally.
When the Brigham Young University senior got locked out of the computer lab, he decided to crawl in through the ceiling. Minutes later, covered in ceiling dust, Farnbach opened the door to let in his friends.
Standing there instead was Dale Rowe, a BYU professor.
But Farnbach didn't get in trouble. “Professor Rowe saw how excited I was about getting into the lab and told me, ‘You could do this as a job as a cybersecurity penetration tester,’ ” he said. “And when he told me I wouldn’t have to do calculus anymore, well, that's when I decided to switch majors” to information technology.
The world will need more than a million cybersecurity professionals like Farnbach by 2020, according to a 2015 report by networking firm Cisco. Industry, academia and government are clamoring for cyber talent, and offering high starting salaries. And interest in the cyber profession can grow from other pursuits, like video games.
“My dad takes credit for my interest in hacking,” Farnbach said. “He installed parental controls on the home network, blocking a lot of gaming websites. He told me the day he turned on the filtering software was the day I figured out how to get around it.”
Another path into the profession is through cybersecurity contests. The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, one of the largest cyber contests, is being held in San Antonio, Texas, in April.
Cyber competitions like NCCDC help participating students hit the ground running once they graduate. The experience makes them attractive job candidates, according to Valecia Maclin, director of cybersecurity and special programs at Raytheon, which sponsors the competition.
“The talent present at NCCDC and the capabilities that these young people already have are amazing,” Maclin said. “We want to make offers to these students before they even leave the competition floor.”
Cheat Sheet to Cyber Stardom
Dave Kufka got into coding to slay monsters, complete quests and hoard gold in the video game Guild Wars.
“I figured out ways to hack the game to gain a better outcome, and learned I could use that same skillset to turn my hobby into a career,” said Kufka, a senior on the Rochester Institute of Technology NCCDC team.
Kufka started tinkering with computers at an earlier age than most. In fifth grade, he published web pages, and later wrote chatbots for messaging apps. He graduates next month and will head to social media giant Facebook to work as a security engineer.
His experience in cyber contests like NCCDC helped to get him there.
“There's a lot of ‘capture the flag’ contests offered, and they can be fun because it’s like trying to solve a puzzle,” Kufka said. “Participate in those, do as many as you can, learn as much as you can.”