Powering today's competitions, tomorrow's cyber defenders
Leidos is incredibly excited to sponsor events like this week’s Cambridge 2 Cambridge (C2C), where bright students are given the opportunity to test their knowledge in an immersive learning environment. This experiential learning transforms the lessons of their coursework into reality. With this reality, the students gain an appreciation that cyber work isn't only about packets, protocols, and technical jargon. Instead, success is all about the soft skills. Communication with their team, curiosity to pivot on their observations, time management and prioritization, and decision-making are paramount to accomplishing the challenge.
In the real world, these are complemented by understanding laws and regulations on privacy, compliance, and governance. These are the skills that we don't often associate with the prototypical cyber person: a hoodie-wearing basement-dweller furiously typing on a keyboard while drinking Mountain Dew. Events like C2C break down the stereotypes, provide a real picture of the cybersecurity profession, and give valuable practice to the students — both male and female.
There are several female competitors at this year’s C2C, who I am so awestruck by and excited to meet. When I was in college, there weren’t cyber competitions like there are today. Assuming that then is now, and re-imagining myself as the young female computer science student that I was, I'm not certain that I would have the confidence to attend or even apply to be part of an event like C2C. I would’ve thought that my skills weren't good enough, even though I made A-level grades and often helped my fellow students with debugging their coding assignments.
There is something intimidating about testing your knowledge in a big competition, particularly where you may be the ‘different’ one in a pool of stereotypical men. The good news — as evidenced by the number of female competitors — is that the intimidation factor may be dissipating as we focus more efforts on cyber awareness and education at all levels of schooling. These young women likely have heard of cybersecurity as a career field, which is far different from my peers when we were their age.
Even so, events like C2C help all of the competitors step out of their comfort zone and practice their skills in a realistic way. And as the expression goes, practice makes perfect. The impact of this kind of experiential practice will influence the students' future choices for careers. I hope that includes attracting a significant number of the female practitioners to cyber roles in the future. Events like C2C help make those roles seem more attainable, more intriguing, and more capable of being mastered.