• Panelists at TechNet Cyber discuss the cyber workforce and the need for continuous education. Phoot by Michael Carpenter
     Panelists at TechNet Cyber discuss the cyber workforce and the need for continuous education. Phoot by Michael Carpenter

Cyber Workforce Needs Continuous Education

The Cyber Edge
May 16, 2019
By George I. Seffers
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A cyber career requires curiosity and an ability to adapt.


Personnel working in cyber must continually look for opportunities to learn, say cyber professionals from across government.

During a morning panel discussion on the final day of the AFCEA TechNet Cyber conference in Baltimore, high-ranking officials from the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency discussed a wide range of issues concerning the cyber workforce today and tomorrow.

Across the board, they agreed on the need for continuous and well-rounded education. Brig. Gen. Paul Stanton, USA, deputy director of current operations/J-3, U.S. Cyber Command, tied continuous education to a successful understanding of the military network. “That changes. That’s dynamic, not static. It requires continuous evaluation and understanding. That, in turn, implies we have a dynamic and agile workforce that is dedicated to continuous learning,” he offered. “We need a workforce that is truly dedicated to continuous learning, that is going to go and study, to find ways to stay current in the profession of technology. If you are not dedicated to continuous learning, to doing your own internal research, to studying the art of the possible and the state of the art, then you’ll fall behind quickly.”

That need for continuous learning, the general added, is in part because the technology will continue to change. “The tools that were put into your hands a year ago may not be the same tools you’re leveraging here today.”

Gen. Stanton then called for training modules in the cloud so that individuals on their own time can train and learn to use new capabilities. “We need folks that are thinking about developing training and combining it with their current day-to-day jobs. I would challenge the industry partners in the room to be thinking about how best to put the right training mechanisms into the hands of cyber forces so that as they embark on employing those capabilities, they do it from a trained perspective,” he said. “The environment will continuously change. It’s dynamic in terms of the technology. It’s dynamic in terms of the threat. And so, too, must our workforce be dynamic to stay on the cutting edge.”

Gregg Kendrick, executive director, U.S. Marine Corps Force Cyberspace Command, echoed that sentiment. “It’s about the continuous learning and the mindset of intellectual curiosity. As we do the interviews across the board, we love the resumes, but it’s got to be about the personality of intellectual curiosity.”

Kendrick noted that the Office of Personnel Management in the last several months has generated a “reskilling capability” for those interested in the cyber arena. “You can see the numbers are off the charts. There is a large number of the federal workforce that want to reskill into the cyber arena, so they carry that intellectual curiosity.”

He also indicated that virtually everyone is a part of the cyber force, whether they realize it or not. “If you’re on the Internet, you’re in some way engaged with the adversary. We’re in a persistent engagement, so you need to understand that you are part of that cyber force,” Kendrick stated. “Evolve or die. It’s just that straightforward. The adversary’s always getting a vote.”

Fern Sumpter Winbush, principal deputy director, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, also stressed that need to evolve. “As the technology evolves, as our adversaries become more intelligent about how to attack us, we can’t be comfortable with how we did it yesterday or how we did it last week.”

Some of the panelists stressed the need to allow employees to seek learning opportunities. Brian Murphy, principal deputy undersecretary for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Homeland Security Department, said he is no longer trying to hold on to employees. “Instead, what I’m doing is making sure they know that I’m investing in them now, and I hope they go somewhere else and continue to learn, get paid by somebody else for a while and then come back because we have mission, and I think mission is an exceptional part of people’s lives,” he said. “But they need to have the knowledge that when they leave, we’re going to accept them back.”

As part of that, Murphy reported he is looking at clearances in a different way. While potential risks cannot be dismissed, they can viewed differently. “Because we get a much better employee back that has a new way of looking at the business set [and] the problem,” he added.

John Levine, a software-defined networking subject matter expert at the National Security Agency (NSA), said continuous cybersecurity education needs to begin with children. He touted the NSA’s partnership with the National Science Foundation on the GenCyber program, which hosts cyber summer camps for students from kindergarten age to seniors in high school, as well as teachers. “Maybe that’s the point where we can ignite the spark” for interest in the cyber field. Levine also touted the University of Maryland’s ACES program.

Rear Adm. Kathleen Creighton, USN, deputy commander, Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Network, also known as the JFHQ–DODIN, noted that her daughter benefited from the GenCyber program. “She went to it even though she wants to be an English major, so I made her go,” the admiral joked. “But it was good. It was awesome.”

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