Cybersecurity experts and novices are welcome to the CyberDEF Dojo meetups. Photo courtesy of CyberDEF Dojo.
Cybersecurity experts and novices are welcome to the CyberDEF Dojo meetups. Photo courtesy of CyberDEF Dojo.

If San Antonio wants to realize the goals of SA2020, SA Tomorrow, and other growth initiatives, residents will need access to local technological resources; not only to acquire new skills, but to join growing communities of liked-minded professionals. Many have turned to Tech Bloc, GeekdomCodeup, and other organizations for help in learning how to become technologically-driven entrepreneurs, software developers or other types of technologists and creatives.

Tech Bloc takes the more macro-level view to grow the overall technologically skilled talent base in San Antonio, while Codeup, and a host of other code schools, teach how to become a software developer, often supported by job placement guarantees. Rackspace’s founder Graham Weston created Geekdom to mentor those pursuing technology-based business ventures.

Cyber City” San Antonio, on the other hand, has lacked an incubator for people looking to learn what’s involved in becoming a successful cybersecurity entrepreneur.

“Cybersecurity talent resides mostly in the military, government and academic realms, but not so much in private industry,” said Jacek Materna, senior vice president of SecureLogix in San Antonio, during a recent interview. “One of the biggest challenges for San Antonio is to transition more cybersecurity talent into private industry.”

Paul Rivera, president and CEO of Def-Logix, and Omar Quimbaya, a Def-Logix software developer, created the CyberDEF Dojo Meetup group in October 2014 to help build the cybersecurity startup talent pool. Materna joined as a co-organizer in fall 2015 to help grow the community.

The Meetup, an online community event platform, has more than 350 members signed up online with about 55 active members, according to Quimbaya.

Image courtesy of CyberDEF Dojo.
Image courtesy of CyberDEF Dojo.

Materna explained there are few product-producing companies in San Antonio, as the local cybersecurity market consists of companies providing cybersecurity services or are companies funded mostly by government contracts.

“The talent that would build future cyber companies is typically leaving because there is little incentive in San Antonio to build startup product companies — ones like SecureLogix and DEF-Logix,” Materna added. “We asked ourselves, ‘how do you create a product company focused community, one where companies are building software and technology with wider applicability for businesses and the consumer market?’” Materna said.

One way to start building that community is to teach the skills cybersecurity entrepreneurs will need to start product-based companies.

“Let’s build a cyber community from the bottom up, to create a forum for those people to pitch ideas. That was the impetus behind creating the CyberDEF Dojo Meetup,” Quimbaya said. He is also co-organizer of San Antonio 1 Million Cups, a free, weekly national program designed to teach and connect entrepreneurs.

Jacek Materna
Jacek Materna

“Geekdom has always been an anchor for tech startups, but we needed that type of forum for cybersecurity professionals,” Materna added. “The city is at this tipping point, with lots of momentum in biotechnology, Geekdom and Tech Bloc. We’re working hard to make San Antonio a place for cybersecurity talent to stay and for venture capitalists to invest in cybersecurity startups.”

The CyberDEF Dojo meets regularly to help individuals develop cybersecurity ideas for private industry from the bottom up, rather than waiting for top cyber professionals to advance new ideas for products and businesses. The group’s motto is “Learn, Hack, Pitch,” three skill sets vital to creating a capable cybersecurity professional.

Learning cybersecurity is learned by active, hands-on hacking. In this case, the word “hacking” is used in the broadest sense. Members go beyond understanding how to hack computer systems defensively and offensively to check on system defenses. Hacking can also be about creating a clever solution to a tricky problem — a solution that can be attractive to venture capitalists looking to fund a promising cybersecurity startup.

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Pitching is not only encouraged but mentored in the CyberDEF Dojo. By focusing on these essential skills of learning, hacking and pitching, Materna and Quimbaya aim to help local cybersecurity entrepreneurs form a San Antonio-based cyber startup community focused on developing defensive security, or DefSec applications helpful for many industries. CyberDEF Dojo is centered on creating a defensive cybersecurity startup community, rather than the so-called “building and breaking things” mandate of the San Antonio Hackers Association.

“CyberDEF Dojo is a Meetup where you can learn about cybersecurity in a way that makes it accessible for everyone who wants to learn,” said Quimbaya.

Omar Quimbaya
Omar Quimbaya

Plans for 2016 include organizing a large-scale “hackathon” event in San Antonio.

“Small businesses don’t have the money to pay for employees to attend large cybersecurity conferences outside of San Antonio. I want to bridge that gap between what large companies can afford and what small businesses need to develop serious cybersecurity talent,” said Quimbaya.

UC Berkeley has hosted the largest hackathon to date, with little over 2,000 hackers participating in a 36-hour event in 2014. Blackhat conferences provide security and technical professionals the opportunity to meet, learn and network. However, rotating global locations and conference fees makes Blackhat too expensive for many to attend.

“We want to go beyond the Blackhat conferences and create the world’s largest hackathon here in San Antonio, with teams competing on cybersecurity challenges,” Quimbaya said. “One track would be for learning, while the other event track would focus on cybersecurity penetration testing competencies. The main event would be the hackathon, with vendors and professionals attending as well.”

The next CyberDEF Dojo Meetup is 6:30p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 13 — all meetups are held at SecureLogix headquarters at 13750 San Pedro Ave. Jeff Reich, chief security officer at Barricade Security Systems will talk about the return of investment on a security program. With so much data being generated and stored, cyber techniques are critical to detect emerging data insecurity threats. Jeff Reich’s presentation will provide a deeper awareness of security risks facing businesses, as well as help attendees understand the importance of data risk management for any organization.

There’s still time to apply to become a member of the CyberDEF Dojo Meetup. With a busy calendar planned for members, there’s no time like now to start learning, hacking and pitching.

*Top image: Cybersecurity experts and novices are welcome to the CyberDEF Dojo meetups. Photo courtesy of CyberDEF Dojo.

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.