Military veterans in private sector cybersecurity jobs
Military personnel often face a difficult decision when considering whether or not to exit a life to which they’ve been so completely committed, sometimes for decades. Unless they already had an education and/or career when they entered military service, which is not the norm, there are a lot of critical questions that need to be answered.
To begin with, what kind of career are they best suited to? Many soldiers go into police work or other public service careers. It seems an obvious next step, but there are many, many other options available. Which options are best suited to any given retiring soldier will, of course, depend on that individual’s skills, experience, acumen, personality, and preferences.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of information available online to assist veterans making the transition to civilian life. A key factor in the career calculus that needs to happen is the prospects of being competitive for job opportunities — particularly the number of positions needing to be filled as compared to the number of candidates available to fill those positions.
One of the most, if not the most, shorthanded sectors of the economy right now is information security, or cybersecurity.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken up the torch of cybersecurity workforce enhancement by promoting the field to young Americans, particularly active military personnel and veterans. Its “Veterans Cybersecurity Training and Education Guide” helps students interested in cybersecurity familiarize themselves with the field.
In addition, DHS’s Federal Virtual Training Environment (FedVTE) provides free online training in cybersecurity. The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) is another DHS program dedicated to providing “educators with the resources necessary to empower students to become members of the digitally literate cybersecurity workforce.” DHS has teamed up with Hire our Heroes, using Skillsoft and Percipio, to provide cybersecurity training for veterans.
Why veterans are so well prepared for cybersecurity in the private sector
A growing number of infosec employers are now looking toward retiring veterans to help fill the expanding job vacancies. Why? There are several reasons. Some suggest that veterans, being comfortable with the idea of committing their lives to the defense of their country, feel a sense of continuity when transitioning to the defense of their employers’ networks and digital information in cyberspace.
Cybersecurity employers also see the same qualities in veterans that so many others do: discipline, dedication, and team orientation.
Often, with a little bit of education and/or training, and by obtaining cybersecurity certifications, these veterans will be in high demand from private sector companies.
In addition, there are many positions in the military that require a deep working knowledge of computers, digital information networks, communications systems, cryptography, digital tracking and spying, and even information security.
Obviously, these military jobs will provide an excellent foundation for a veteran to transition quickly and easily into private-sector cybersecurity employment.
- Cyber network defender
- Cryptologic linguist
- Information technology specialist
- Cyber operations specialist
- Cyber operations officer
- Cryptologic cyberspace intelligence collector/analyst
- Cyber and electronics warfare officer
- Electronic warfare specialist
There are many other positions in the military that would provide excellent experience for the cybersecurity field, but these are probably the most directly applicable.
Working in government agency defense roles as a private citizen
While the private sector is enticing and usually more lucrative than working for defense-related government organizations, staying in the public sector shouldn’t be totally overlooked. There are many rewarding career possibilities that afford veterans the option of continuing to help defend their country against external threats. Obviously, a national security clearance will be a significant carrot for hiring agencies. The CIA, FBI, ATF, Homeland Security, CISA (Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency), Secret Service and NSA have the most obvious and critical needs for cybersecurity personnel with high security clearances.
But the list doesn’t end there. In today’s world, almost any government activity can be considered a target for unethical hackers. Many of those departments may not seem like obvious places to find critical or top-secret information, but such agencies or agency employees could act as conduits to enter the systems of other agencies that do deal with highly sensitive data. So, there is a need for security clearances in many areas of government.
Making the transition from boots to books
The effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) have been extensively chronicled, so there isn’t anything to add to that discussion here. But that isn’t the only challenge facing veterans. Existing in a very different environment and social structure for years as compared to society-at-large presents a host of challenges for veterans trying to fit in. Add to that the unique atmosphere and demands of higher education and it’s easy to see how some veterans would quickly feel overwhelmed and unprepared making the jump from the military directly to college life.
If you’ve ever left school for several years and then returned, like going from a BS degree to work, then back to school for a master’s degree, you know how difficult it can be to get back into the swing of things. Even the seemingly easy tasks, like remembering basic math or writing skills, can be elusive for a time after going back to campus. Most veterans join the armed forces with a high school diploma, so college is a completely foreign experience for those veterans after leaving the military. But there are resources available that can help vets prepare, and thus make the most out of their opportunity to go to college.
Again, there is help for veterans making the transition from military service to college. In 2007, California founded a course called “Boots to Books.” Offered in 20 California community colleges as of August 2018, “The course focuses on building skills needed for college success as well as helps student veterans transfer their combat skills to career building.” This Military Times article, published on August 24, 2018, chronicles how veteran Nathan Kemnitz made his difficult transition from military service to private education with the help of the Boots to Books program.
For any veteran heading to college, working to improve study skills is an excellent idea. This “Student’s Guide to Improving Study Skills,” presented by Community for Accredited Online Schools, provides an excellent primer for all students, not just veterans. Also, OASC (Online Academic Skills Course) and CPST (College Placement Skills Training) have made available an ebook by Peterson’s Publishing entitled “College Success Tips for Adult Learners” and another entitled “MCAST – Your Military Career Advancement Success Tips.”
Campus support for veterans
Veterans are retiring to an incredible range of privately offered services, benefits, and financial aid, not to mention the admiration of the public. The term “military-friendly” has been adopted by all sorts of institutions to lay claim to the preferential treatment they afford veterans. While the veracity of these claims can sometimes be called into question, the phenomenon has nevertheless greatly enhanced the opportunities of today’s veterans.
Many organizations go to great lengths to help veterans become well-adjusted, successful members of society after their military tours have ended. Relative to veterans wishing to attend college, many campuses have developed programs to assist veterans in acclimating to their new life. Most of these programs provide financial assistance, but many now make a variety of services available to help veterans adjust to campus life.
Thus, when shopping for colleges, it would be wise for veterans to see what non-financial assistance is available. Examples are:
- Military training credit – providing course credits for select military training and/or occupations
- Free textbooks and supplies
- Veteran-specific point of contacts/advisors – counsellors dedicated to assisting veterans with difficulties adapting to college life
- Veteran housing options – non-dormitory/student body living accommodations, sometimes specifically for military veterans
- Veteran support groups
- Community support groups
Financial assistance available to veterans for career training and education
Finances are typically a large obstacle for veterans to overcome in their efforts to start a new life and career in the private sector. The military isn’t known for their generous wages, making it difficult to amass any type of nest egg while serving one’s country. Fortunately, there are multiple sources for funding to aid veterans seeking training and education in order to start a new career.
Most important of these sources may be Veterans Administration (VA) funding via the GI Bill. GI Bill benefits will depend largely on service time and how much of the service time came after 9-11. It will also depend upon whether your chosen educational institution is on the list of VA-approved schools.
To help wade through these variables, the VA provides an online tool, called the GI Bill Comparison Tool, designed to determine a veteran’s benefits eligibility based on several variable inputs. The VA also provides a pdf guide outlining how veterans should proceed with choosing the best school for themselves.
In simple terms, the schools approved by the VA decide the percentage of a veteran’s tuition and housing they will waive, up to 50 percent, and the VA matches that amount. Ideally, the combination will pay for all college tuition and housing needs.
Some schools, however, waive less than 50 percent of the total, leaving veterans to pay for the remainder with scholarships or other financial aid, or out of their own pockets.
Where the GI Bill fails to provide adequate financial assistance, there are still a myriad of other potential sources of aid, even before student loans become necessary. Nearly all schools have financial aid available to students. Much of this comes from private contributions, and a high percentage of those funds are directed by the donor to be used to assist particular populations.
Today, there is a ready supply of financial aid dedicated to military personnel and veterans.
There are also a number of high-tech companies that are directly providing cybersecurity students with scholarship funds. Among them are Cisco, Raytheon, Google, and Microsoft. Cisco now provides $10 million in scholarships for students on cybersecurity career paths. The company also has developed its own CCNA Cyber Ops certification.
There are also several websites dedicated to helping students search for available scholarships that may be applicable to their needs. These sites include:
Through the Information Assurance Scholarship Program (IASP), the US Navy is providing funds to help provide cybersecurity education to students and develop infrastructure for information assurance education. The program has scholarships set aside for non-Department of Defense students, Department of Defense students, and grants to schools.
Training and educational opportunities available to veterans
Once the decision is made to leave the military, it must be determined which field is best suited to the skills, experience and personality of the veteran. Military.com provides a tool to help transitioning veterans determine how their specific military experience translates into civilian employment opportunities. After a career field is chosen, it’s time to determine what, if any, additional training and education will be needed before job seeking begins. The resources for veteran training and education are extensive, and often free or deeply discounted.
For advanced schooling, Military Times magazine compiles a list yearly of Best for Vets Colleges. The list of colleges is divided into four groups: 4-year schools; 2-year schools; online and non-traditional schools; and career and technical colleges. Online schools can be a good alternative for active military personnel and veterans. They offer the flexibility needed to fit into demanding lives that can otherwise make it difficult to attend traditional colleges.
The state of Virginia has partnered with a group of organizations to launch a pilot program to help veterans transition into private sector cybersecurity jobs. The group includes CISCO and Amazon, as well as Fortinet, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. This Cyber Veterans Initiative provides free training opportunities, as well as free access to industry-recognized certifications to those interested in launching their cybersecurity careers in Virginia.
Cybrary “is a free community where people, companies, and training come together to give everyone the ability to collaborate in an open source way that is revolutionizing the cyber security educational experience.” In keeping with it’s free, open-source philosophy, Cybrary offers free study guides for a number of different cybersecurity disciplines. It also offers a catalog of courses covering a variety of cybersecurity topics.
Microsoft’s MSSA (Microsoft Software and Systems Academy) now offers a curriculum for veterans leading to careers in cybersecurity administration and preparation for the Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) certification test offered by (ISC)2®.
Synack, which combines human intelligence and artificial intelligence to provide security solutions, launched its Veterans Cyber Program in 2018. The program is designed to create pathways for veterans to having successful careers in cybersecurity. Through this initiative, veterans are recruited by Synack and receive “expedited application review for access to the Synack Red Team (Synack’s elite crowd of ethical hackers), flexible and lucrative security testing opportunities through the Synack platform, annual networking events, training opportunities to further develop cybersecurity skills, and access to interesting enterprise and government targets for their continued mission in protecting the USA.”
CyberVetsUSA is a cybersecurity “industry-led initiative that provides free training and employment opportunities to transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard and Reservists, and military spouses looking to enter the cyber workforce.” In short, CyberVetsUSA is “a skills-to-job pathway that aims to fast-track veterans into high-demand cyber careers.” It started out offering its services in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland, but plans to expand to additional states in the near future. The courses it offers are self-paced 12-14 week online training programs. Veterans can choose the courses that best fit their skills and experience. The six options currently offered are:
- Cybersecurity operations
- Security infrastructure
- Software engineering
- Operations/technical support
- Security management
- Network security
SANS Institute, founded in 1989, is by far the largest source of information security training and certifications in the world. It offers more than 400 multi-day courses in 90 countries around the world, and a range of GIAC certifications (Global Information Assurance Certification).
In the age of the internet, active-duty military don’t have to wait until they retire to embark on their higher-education journey.
Online degree programs provide much more flexibility for students than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. This is especially true for “asynchronous” classes. Synchronous courses take place live at a predetermined time, meaning the student must comply with the schedule the same way a student attending a real campus does. Asynchronous classes allow students to log in and “attend” classes on their own schedule. This delivery style provides 24/7 access to discussion boards, emails, multimedia presentations, and podcasts. Asynchronous classwork could be the ideal solution, especially for active-duty military personnel, to further their cybersecurity education.
Assistance for veterans transitioning from military service to the private sector
There are ample resources available for veterans starting out on their professional civilian careers.
VeteranSec is an online community of military veterans employed in or interested in information technology and cybersecurity fields. Currently, they offer a private networking channel, free training videos, and a cybersecurity blog with training tutorials.
Fortinet, a provider of cybersecurity products and services, encourages veterans to enter the cybersecurity field through its FortiVet Program, launched in 2013. The program’s mission is “to facilitate the transition of exceptional military veterans into the cyber-security industry, providing professional networking, training, and mentoring.”
ITSP magazine published an article about the FortiVet Program in 2017. The article stated that the “FortiVet program allows veterans at any skill level to gain access to cybersecurity-related job opportunities that would otherwise be impossible to capitalize upon.” The article also provides examples of veterans who benefited greatly from FortiVet in their efforts to transition from their military careers to careers in cybersecurity. Fortinet was named a Best for Vets Employer in 2019 by Military Times magazine. The entire list of Best for Vets Employers for 2019 is divided into two groups: for-profit companies; and government and non-profit organizations.
From the military to cybersecurity
While the transition from military life back to a civilian career can be challenging, the good news is that there are a number of opportunities specifically geared towards veterans interested in pursuing cybersecurity as a field.
From scholarships to mentoring, and from program placement to career recruiting, yesterday’s soldiers will find a world of opportunity defending tomorrow’s digital infrastructure.