When it comes to cybersecurity, Terry Roberts has been on both sides of the fence, securing IT systems in the private sector and also for the federal government.
She served in Navy intelligence from 1979 to 2004, getting out as a captain. When she left the service, she stayed in the IT security realm, working in the Defense Intelligence Agency. Today she’s in the private sector as vice president for intelligence and cyber at systems integrator TASC.
Both have their advantages. The private sector can move fast on cybersecurity, responding nimbly to evolving threats. In the federal marketplace, on the other hand, veterans can find ample job opportunities. “It’s an area of tremendous growth, and there is great breadth in the kinds of jobs and professions available,” Roberts said.
Even in an era of tight budgets and sequestration, experts agree the long-term prospects for cybersecurity are good. The Defense Department will add between 3,000 and 4,000 cybersecurity personnel by 2015, officials said in June. The need is strong across federal agencies, including the Homeland Security Department, CIA and FBI.
Helping drive that need are managers scrambling to tighten up their systems in the wake of scandal surrounding WikiLeaks and National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
“There is a lot of attention and focus in growing the force, and also in organizing, training and equipping the people we have,” said Frank DiGiovanni, director of the training readiness and strategy office at the Defense Department.
Compensation runs high for these jobs. In a recent survey of 16,300 professionals with active security clearances, ClearanceJobs.com saw a 3 percent overall dip in compensation, down to $88,447. Yet among those identified as cybersecurity professionals, compensation rose in the past year to an average $101,198.
And experts inside and outside government say veterans are uniquely positioned to grab those jobs.
For the National Security Agency, veterans’ appeal lies in their experience with an intense work environment.
“Men and women who serve in the military are accustomed to a high level of responsibility, and they know what it’s like to work under high pressure as a member of a team, many times responsible for the lives of others,” said Kathleen Siskey of NSA’s office of recruitment.
At the Defense Department, DiGiovanni is especially interested in veterans’ ability to work together as a team — a skill that often drives success in cybersecurity.
“If you are given a problem, a virus or some other particular security breach, you want to build a team of subject matter experts,” he said. “These things are rarely contained in one individual.”
Veterans may come with security clearances already in hand, which helps to speed the hiring process. And they have a track record of service, which can help ease people’s minds at a time when insider threats loom large.
“They are very patriotic. They want to stay in the fight,” said Alan Paller, founder of the SANS Institute, a computer security training and certification organization. “They want a job, but they also want to do something that protects the country.”