The mechanics of a cyber career
This engineer rewired his career to pursue a new path in cyber
Cedric Fletcher wasn't looking to make a career change. Change found him.
Originally a mechanical engineer by trade, he is now chief engineer of cybersecurity at Raytheon's Intelligence, Information and Services business. Fletcher made the transition after leaders at a different business unit, Raytheon Missile Systems, asked him to bring their business into the cyber domain.
“I joined the Information Operation and Information Assurance directorate,” Fletcher said. “That’s what we called cyber, before it was called cyber.”
For his new role, Fletcher pursued new technical knowledge. He began learning about the potential cyber vulnerabilities in the same systems he used to engineer.
Fletcher took the leap from mechanical engineering to cyber engineering out of curiosity at first. Then it became a personal test.
“One of the biggest challenges, for me, was going from developing and delivering a very specific piece of hardware to developing and delivering solutions that are comprised of multiple fluid components: software, commercial products, hardware, people,” he said.
Another deciding factor was the opportunity to work on problems that change every day, as opposed to more traditional engineering, in which a problem solved can be a challenge completed.
In cyber, “I can develop a solution that solves today’s problem, but there is no guarantee it will solve tomorrow’s,” he said.
As cyber tops the U.S. intelligence community's list of worldwide threats and intrusion attempts become more sophisticated, global security will depend on a workforce that is also diverse.
“A diverse pool of talent is the best defense against a diverse threat,” Fletcher said.
That means looking beyond the “hands-on-keyboard” talent and encouraging experienced professionals, like himself, to consider a career shift to cyber, according to Fletcher.
It's projected that there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by the year 2021. To fill those positions, Fletcher said, we not only have to look at new talent entering the workforce, but at the experienced workforce as well.
“We need strong managers and leaders that bring new perspectives and skillsets to solving the challenges that the cyber domain presents,” he said.
His experience as a mechanical engineer allows Fletcher to see problems with a perspective that is rare in the cyber field.
"It's not just ones and zeroes. There are mechanical aspects to systems, too,” he said.
Fletcher admits there are challenges that come with switching careers, such as leaving behind an established reputation; lack of historical knowledge; and potential financial risks if things don’t work out.
“Know yourself and your strengths,” he advised. “If you are looking for a challenge or believe you offer a unique perspective or ability, take the risk. Just because you are not a cybersecurity expert does not mean you can’t work in cybersecurity. Ask questions, find out what you bring to the table. It is likely more than you originally anticipated.”
Fletcher recently received a Professional Achievement award for his technical expertise and leadership at the 2019 Black Engineer of the Year Awards, or BEYA, in Washington, D.C.
"To effectively do my job, I need to understand the cybersecurity environment, what persistent threats exist and what we can do to enhance our customers’ cybersecurity posture,” said Fletcher.
To learn that, he immersed himself into the industry’s culture. He didn't go back to school to earn an advanced degree in cybersecurity, nor did he participate in extensive training.
“I started teaching myself, attending conferences like Black Hat and DEF CON, watching videos, listening to the community and networking with colleagues,” he said.
Hiring is one of Fletcher’s biggest challenges. The talent pool is small and the demand is large.
“If we can get more mid-career professionals to consider joining the cybersecurity workforce,” Fletcher said, “we may just be able to combat this talent epidemic.”