These days, so much of our lives is transacted online: we shop, access our bank accounts, use email, and connect via apps like Twitter and YouTube. And with all that online activity, we’re vulnerable to cyber attacks.
Cyber attacks. Yikes! Sounds serious, right? It is.
In today’s online life, we’re more exposed than ever to breaches of personal and confidential information. In response, demand for cybersecurity professionals is exploding. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook forecasts 28% growth for information security analysts and 12% growth for computer and information systems managers between 2016–2026.
Not only is demand great, but so are the paychecks. BLS reports that for information security analysts and computer and information systems managers, the median pay in 2018 was $98,350 and $142,530 per year, respectively.
The University of Minnesota answered the call for more cybersecurity professionals by introducing the Cybersecurity Boot Camp, a partnership between the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS) and Trilogy Education Services. The intensive 24-week program will launch its first graduates in the fall; the next course starts November 4.
Students in the program come from a variety of backgrounds, including an airline pilot and a watchmaker, says Matt Kallok, a transaction network manager by day and bartender by night. He says he was looking for a more interesting and better-paying career when he learned about the boot camp being offered at the U.
“Going in, I knew I’d get the right skills to make me relevant in the job market,” Kallok says. He hopes to take what he learns to work at an airline or a tech-centric company such as Amazon. “Cybersecurity is a broad topic that encompasses many areas of technology and can be applied in so many different types of businesses.”
Joshua Wilkes is the watchmaker in the class. He was interested in transferring his inclination for detail-oriented, analytical work to a more technical field when he discovered the U’s cybersecurity program. He says the course is a broad survey of the field that allows students to concentrate, through course projects, on the things that most interest them.
“I’m spending a lot of my supplementary time learning how to react to malware, a skill that can be taken into government, school districts, and small cities,” says Wilkes.
Coursework consists of lecture, in-class practice exercises, and take-home projects, says course instructor Tony Wilson. Like all instructors of CCAPS professional development programs, Wilson is a working professional and expert in the field he’s teaching. He was working for Target in IT and cybersecurity compliance when they were hacked in 2013, which he says was the biggest breach of a company at the time. After that, he worked as a threat intelligence manager for CWT (Carlson Wagonlit Travel), where he leveraged his Target experience to minimize risk of cyber attacks. He currently works as an independent cybersecurity consultant.
“Course projects include researching different malware attacks and looking at how to prevent them in the future,” says Wilson. “These are not make-believe, they’re real cases. The exercises force students to think about how they will handle it and what things to consider when it happens under their watch.” Wilson, like many cybersecurity professionals, believes when it comes to security breaches, it’s not a matter of if but of when.
“Most companies, whether they know it or not, are already compromised to some degree,” he says. “Slowly, businesses are coming to realize that breaches will occur. What they need to do is concentrate on detecting them early and containing them quickly.”
Wilkes says he appreciates the depth of experience he’s able to tap into in the class. “Being able to learn about the profession through Tony’s experience is invaluable,” says Wilkes, a Minnesota native who anticipates finding a position near home. “There are enough companies that specialize in IT here that I’m confident I won’t have to leave the state. In the meantime, I’m doing my homework, building my portfolio, and getting a feel for the entire field.”
Kallok agrees. “Tony and both teaching assistants, I feel like they know everything. Tony has been doing this work for 20 years and he’s got a great personality to be a trainer, very nurturing and patient,” he says. “The U is a great environment for learning. It’s been more fun and interesting than I thought it would be.”