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team. Fairfax County Public Schools have done particularly well in the competition — once sweeping the top three spots. “It’s not only measuring


their expertise in finding the vulnerabilities, but also it’s against the clock, so they have to work well as a team, so they’re building their collaboration and commu- nications skills,” says Diane

G. Miller, Operations Cybersecurity Group program director. Surprisingly, perhaps, cybersecurity

companies in Virginia say they don’t have a problem finding talented techies. “We get unsolicited contacts from recruiters almost daily, and they’re not just from Virginia. From a talent acquisition standpoint, that’s one of the last things we worry about,” says Rob Hegedus, CEO of Suffolk-based cyber- security firm Sera-Brynn, which was ranked the No. 1 firm in Virginia and 10th in the world on the Cybersecurity Ventures list of the top 500 hottest cybersecurity companies to watch in 2016. What they do have more trouble find-

ing, Jackson says, are support personnel with technical knowledge, as well as tech workers who have business and communications skills. “It is very important to have the

research and the technical people because they’re the ones who have to do what has to get done, but there also has to be a level of people involved who can translate the technical into what the C-suite or the board of directors or the general public can understand,” such as marketing and com- munications professionals, she adds. “That’s imperative. It’s very difficult to walk into a C-suite to get money for R&D if the C-suite can’t understand what you’re pitching.”

Excelling in the field It takes more than a degree, however, to

make a successful cybersecurity professional. Among longtime cybersecurity profes-

sionals, it’s less important to them what kind of a degree you hold than what you’ve accomplished and what sort of mindset you possess. (And one might take note here that Microsoft founder Bill Gates was a self- taught computer programmer who didn’t earn a college degree.) “The industry is snapping up anybody that’s got the word ‘cybersecurity’ in a degree

and that’s good … but just because they have that in their degree name doesn’t mean it necessarily translates into real-world skills,” says Darren Manners, who heads up the offense security operations division of Richmond-based SyCom Technologies. His unit conducts penetration testing, emulat- ing what hackers would do to locate and eliminate system vulnerabilities. “A degree is nice, but what have you done? Have you made your own applications? Have you built different systems?” The cybersecurity sector also has been

largely dominated by white males and hasn’t done as good a job at reaching out to women and minorities, say Manners and others, resulting in a huge loss of potential talent. Furthermore, cybersecurity pros “don’t

suffer newbies very well. You’re paid for what you know. Knowledge is everything in our industry … People can be overly criti- cal, and there’s a reason for that. Mistakes cost a lot of money. Sometimes they can cost lives. It’s one of those industries where you can really make an impact, but you can also really mess up, and I don’t think some people take to that.” Some companies, like Northrop Grum-

man and SyCom, recruit students as paid interns while they’re still in high school in hopes of bringing them on as full-time employees after college. “It’s almost like we end up doing what the basketball recruiters do,” says Manners. “We’re in it for the long haul, so we understand the particular skills set that we’re after. It’s very hard to find.” And while cybersecurity salaries in

Virginia are very competitive and can range from around $70,000 to $180,000, the best cybersecurity pros aren’t in it for the money, says Northern Virginia-based cybersecurity consultant William Lumpkin, known in the cybersecurity world by his hacker handle, InfoJanitor. “A successful person in computer security is not actually pursuing the money. He’s pursuing a puzzle or some nuance he’s never seen before, and he wants to be the person to solve that … You can’t make a geek happy with money.” When Lumpkin was a kid, he wrote an

electronic Rolodex program for his mom’s insurance agent in exchange for a Commo- dore 128 computer. He brags about the time he defeated a client’s motion sensor security system with a paper airplane. Problem solvers and curious minds are

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