Education at all age levels is key to closing a major talent gap in cybersecurity careers in San Antonio. Credit: Unsplash, by Annie Spratt

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San Antonio is no stranger to defense: from Gregg Popovich to its moniker of Military City, USA, the Alamo City has seen its fair share of it. However, another type of defense that is quickly putting San Antonio on the map is cybersecurity with a recent CSO Magazine article listing the city as a top ten destination for careers in the field. Why is cybersecurity so important for the city, businesses, and citizens? Cybersecurity technology, expertise, and other forms of defense help prevent cyberattacks perpetrated by hackers, which can cause significant revenue loss to a business or government.

Cyberattacks have wide-ranging consequences – from your personal information being compromised and traded on the dark web to a city’s software systems being shut down due to cybercriminal activity, like the attack on the City of Atlanta in 2018. One study estimates a cyberattack costs a business approximately $3.86 million and Atlanta’s is estimated to have cost taxpayers $17 million in upgrades to IT systems alone. The city also suffered disruptions to a myriad of departments. The police department lost video footage from patrol cars and was unable to prosecute certain cases. The watershed department could only accept payment at City Hall, and the Municipal Court could not accept any form of payment for traffic citations. Bottom line: Cyberattacks all end up costing businesses and cities big money regardless if they were intended to breach personal information, data storage, or financial systems, which is why it’s important to close the gap in the supply of cybersecurity professionals to keep cities and businesses alike secure.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates jobs in cybersecurity are expected to grow by 28 percent over the next decade; however, the field is currently experiencing a large shortage of trained professionals and San Antonio is in a great place to fill that gap. The city is already the second largest in the nation in the number of cybersecurity professionals, ranked only behind the Washington, D.C., area. Organizations such as the National Security Agency (NSA) Texas and the United States Air Force (USAF) contribute not only to that statistic but also to the opportunity for the city to keep that second place. However, let’s say this might as well be first place – it’s unrealistic to expect any metro area to beat the nation’s capital in an employment metric in an industry related to defense.

Start Teaching at a Young Age

Several other local companies are also contributing to closing that skill gap by exposing middle and high school students to cybersecurity careers through Youth Code Jam, CyberPatriot, and other IT academy programs. Getting our youth excited about learning cybersecurity and turning it into a career is the mission of CyberPatriot, a national program centered around a National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. This is a team sport that puts students in the position of newly hired network managers of a small company and completing a series of increasingly difficult challenges.

Eight teams participated in the first season of CyberPatriot in 2009, and that number swelled to over 6,300 teams by the eleventh season this academic year. The program also recognizes institutions or municipalities that excel in emphasizing cybersecurity and developing the workforce of tomorrow with the Center of Excellence (COE) designation. The City of San Antonio currently leads the way with 317 COE’s, slightly ahead of the Southern California Cybersecurity Comm College Consortium’s (SoCal CCCC) 310. While the difference between the two is only seven COEs, the reality is much like what the San Antonio Spurs have been able to achieve as a “small market” NBA team.

With a population over 10 times smaller than Southern California’s, a team from San Antonio brought home third place in this season’s CyberPatriot All-Service Division, a division for students in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programs nationwide. Team Roosevelt Rough Riders, from the Army JROTC at the Engineering and Technologies Academy from San Antonio’s Northeast Independent School District’s (NEISD) Roosevelt High School took the bronze as well as an individual award in the same division.

This exposure is excellent for the city’s cybersecurity future; however, the program still has a long way to go from the few thousand students in San Antonio participating to the tens of thousands playing more popular team sports such as football, baseball, basketball, and soccer.

Universities and Local Businesses Partner to Offer Opportunities 

At the collegiate level, the University of Texas at San Antonio’s (UTSA) Cyber Operations Track in its B.S. in Computer Science program is one of only a few hundred degree programs designated by the NSA as a Center of Academic Excellence in either Cyber Defense or Cyber Operations. UTSA also offers the first full online bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, so students living anywhere can study at a top quality program – a key feature to attract students in a city with a large military population who may not be able to commit to a set classroom schedule every semester.

As these students progress in their courses, whether it’s online or in person, internship programs in cybersecurity are no longer limited to large organizations. As an example, Jungle Disk offers a four-week “hands on keyboard” summer internship program to high school students where they work with the company’s security products. Each week the students present their findings in a presentation to the leadership team.

Another program is Students + Startups – a San Antonio-based organization for students from different universities across the nation and a wide variety of majors. One of Jungle Disk’s goals for participating in the program is to help dispel the myth that “cybersecurity is only for those with computer science skills.” The program was a success after its first two years and in 2019 it opened up applications for candidates nationwide, after organizers noticed a trend of San Antonians attending college elsewhere looking for summer internships closer to home.

What to Do if You Need a Cybersecurity Professional Today 

For businesses looking to fill cybersecurity roles in the shorter term, they can look no further than graduates from local “boot camp”-style programs such as the Open Cloud Academy or Codeup. These programs train professionals to either enter the field for the first time, such as military veterans transitioning into civilian status, or provide training for those looking for a career change. Students can go through programs in less than six months, graduating with technology and cybersecurity industry-recognized certifications.

Progressive firms are figuring out how to get it done and engage students at all levels of learning to continue raising the profile of San Antonio as a hotbed for careers in cybersecurity. If the NSA can open their doors to high school students, any business can. The opportunities for cybersecurity careers and businesses in San Antonio are growing rapidly, but if San Antonio is serious about building this dynasty it will have to continue to put forth the effort to train, educate, and develop talent locally!

Bret Piatt leads Jungle Disk as the President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of the Board. Prior to Jungle Disk, he led a 300 person SaaS business unit for Rackspace serving over 75,000 small businesses....