Empowering Tomorrow’s Cyber Practitioners

Written by Dom Kirby

Former MSP Owner, CyberSec Practitioner, Modern Work Pro, Evangelist, Husband & Father

February 25, 2024

In my last post, I wrote about the idea that cybersecurity doesn’t need colleges. For this post, I wanted to shed some light on how I think we can build a modernized cybersecurity pipeline that prepares practitioners for the reality of working in this space. With the right program offerings, I think we could build affordable, approachable, engaging, and practical training and preparation for the incoming generation of cyber talent.

Tomorrow’s Practitioners

Gen Alpha are predicted to be the most technologically literate generation so far. They have grown up with technology as central part of their lives, which will likely make them uniquely equipped to hit the ground running in the professional cybersecurity world. Notably, many of them have already been seen threat actors up close and personal. Family impersonators on social media, scammers in online games, you name it. They’re uniquely aware of what this world looks like. This unique experience, combined with their learning styles and practical training offered by vocational programs, could make Gen Alpha a powerful force in the cybersecurity field.

Learning Isn’t What it Used to Be

The next generation’s unique experience doesn’t stop with technical acumen. As a parent of a gen alpha kiddo, I can assure you that keeping their attention span and learning styles are dramatically different from ours. Though I would argue that my neuro structure looks very similar to my eldest’s, but I digress.

Point is, these kids learn radically different from us. If we let it be, it will be their most powerful advantage. If they like something, they will learn it. I’ll use my oldest son as an example. Getting him to sit down and do his math assignments feels like going to war. But about a month ago, he got into the idea of being a Naval Aviator. I swear this kid can go toe to toe with some actual Naval Aviators on the performance dynamics and limits of an F-18 and how the catapult works on an Aircraft carrier.

If we can harness this superpower of theirs, the ones that want to join our ranks will be some of the best practitioners we’ve ever seen. If they want to learn incident response, they’ll master it. Decide they wanna be CISO someday? They’ll find a way to learn the business ins and outs, and go study to learn security management principals. Point being, they will put themselves in a position to be successful, if we give them a path towards it.

The Traditional Classroom is the Antithesis

Young people want to be hands on. They want to do it, not hear about it. The traditional lecture hall will almost always fail to meet the learning style I described in the last section. Tossing a kid into a lecture hall, hurling information at them and throwing a midterm and final at them isn’t going to work. Worse yet, the information out of the teacher’s mouth is irrelevant before the midterm even comes up. We need to teach these concepts by putting them in front of learners and letting them interact with them. More importantly, we need to teach them how to keep their skills relevant, teach them how to be forever learners, practitioners.

Making it Happen

I’m by no means the one to answer this question. I see a problem, and I’d love to support the solution. But I don’t know what the full solution is aside from this concept I’d like to propose. I feel confident that some for of vocational training is the way. Training that can start in high school and continue right after graduation.

I envision a system that enables students to find their interest in technology, and provides pathways for them to explore it further, Programs like this should allow students to really see the industry and get involved in it. I would love to be part of a program that shows students “behind the curtain.” Let them see real teams doing real work. Let them see the best and worst parts of the job. They can shadow the IR team, security ops teams, meet CISOs and other leaders. Let them really get a feel for the industry and meet mentors.

Initiatives and conferences like Jeffco Schools’ Jeffcon student conference can allow students to see a variety of tech fields, but we’re missing the follow-through. If we could create enrichment programs at the high school level, it would provide incredible follow through opportunities for them to really latch on to their interest and expand on it.

If students had an opportunity to start this as early as high school, they can make future career decisions with a hell of a lot more information than we give them today. It could lead to far more committed learners who would excel in vocational education programs. Programs that put the tech and role in front of them, let them touch it while they learn it. Gets them certified but, more importantly, gain real world experience and insights that they can bring onto your team.

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