Is Government Working Hard Enough to Keep Its Share of the Best Cyber and Intelligence Mid-Career Professionals?

May 28, 2015
By Terry Roberts


The private sector needs that government-generated expertise, and it is getting it.


Anyone can read countless articles about the need for cybersecurity, computer science, cyber intelligence, architecture, data analytics and information technology acquisition educated and experienced operators, engineers, analysts and managers. But until you start to experience the brain drain personally, it mostly is ethereal.

There is no doubt that, at least today, the military and key government departments and agencies are a great place to start a career, receive unique training and gain impactful experience across all cyber and intelligence related disciplines. But is it the place to stay into the mid-career and beyond to the senior levels? Over the past several months, I have been connected personally to, and have met with, six amazingly talented and experienced cyber and intelligence professionals in their late 20s and 30s who are leaving government because of the lack of further professional growth, challenge, flexibility and opportunity. Whatever challenged, enabled and kept my “Baby Boomer” generation for a rewarding career in government simply is not the approach that is needed for today’s top cyber, analytic and computing talent.

So why are they leaving? Several answers play into their departure.

Few follow-on positions offer real professional growth or rewarding challenge.

Institutional inflexibility prevents workers from being able to go to industry or academia for two to three years and then return to the military or government.

Government managers or leaders are not keeping up with the commercial sector technologies and do not promote creativity and professional growth.

Government inertia leads to slow adoption of cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art practices.

Good workers may find themselves unable to serve easily in a new agency or government entity. When you are the best, no one wants to let go—so the government loses you entirely.

As everyone knows, top talent in the analytic, computing, cyber and intelligence arenas now have countless options in a myriad of key fields and business sectors. Professions that primarily were within the government in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s now are needed across all business sectors. Almost all businesses have access to intriguing and ever-growing data sets; they need to extract the key insights and intelligence from marketing, financial or business information; they need to hire information technology architects; and they must protect their proprietary information. The business of government information technology and analytics is now the business of industry at a global scale.

So while the government and the military are lamenting this transition and the impact to their mid-level personnel, they may be missing one key point. If the men and women I have been meeting with are any example, the very best of the military and government may be leaving in unprecedented numbers—because, for as long as we have been having this discussion, few programmatic and personnel changes have been put in place to enable the best to go and come back or to go to a new challenge in a related government entity. So the problem is not that government will not have all of its mid- and senior-level positions filled; it is that its best people will not be filling them. That affects all of us.

Terry Roberts, a former deputy director of naval intelligence, is the founder of CyberSync Inc.

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