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And that means jobs tied to cybersecurity are expected to grow, with Rep. James R. Langevin, D-R.I., and others eager to try to make the Ocean State a hub for the fledgling industry.
While there is no hard data he can point to that Rhode Island is actually on its way to becoming a hub for this growing technology specialty, Langevin says interest from local technology companies and the growth of cybersecurity programs at Rhode Island colleges have helped the Ocean State lay “the groundwork better than most states.”
Indeed, “In the past, security was an afterthought, now it’s very much a focal point in what we do,” said Kevin Longo, network systems administrator for OSHEAN, a nonprofit coalition of universities, hospitals, government agencies and other nonprofit institutions throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the cybersecurity field to grow by 65,700 jobs, or 22 percent, by 2020. Developing the next generation of information- and network-security professionals is critical, according to Longo.
“It’s never a good thing to send a customer a letter telling them your security has been breached and their information might be in the hands of a cyber criminal,” said Longo. Langevin has done more than just talk about the need to develop that next generation.
Through the sponsorship of the online Cyber Foundations Competition, he’s encouraged high schoolers from around the country to take quizzes that demonstrate their abilities in the three foundational fields of cybersecurity: networking, operation system and systems administration. Langevin co-founded the Congressional Cyber Security Caucus and took the lead in launching the contest in Rhode Island.
Last fall, out of 35 states, Rhode Island had the most students participating in the national cybersecurity program. Locally, the congressman has called on Rhode Island businesses to sponsor local students who excelled in the cybersecurity competition.
“We have an opportunity to make our state a leader in this emerging industry, but we need all of those with a stake in this effort to come together to build a qualified workforce that will allow businesses to thrive here,” said Langevin in a statement released in May asking local technology companies to offer cybersecurity internships to area high schoolers.
“You need to sometimes see what the career can offer you,” said Erin Flynn, manager of admissions, outreach and events at the New England Institute of Technology, the state coordinator for the cybersecurity competition. The challenge, according to Flynn, is to get companies involved in the program. “This is an industry that is so busy. It’s not an industry that has a slow and busy time of the year, it’s an industry that’s always, always busy, and to see that they have to be reaching out to young people is so great.”
Both OSHEAN and Warwick-based information technology company NetCenergy, among others, heeded Langevin’s call for interns this year. Longo said he had “nothing but praise” for the program, which OSHEAN has participated in the last two summers.
“Rhode Island has some of the finest education institutions in the country, but by the time students arrive at college, they’ve typically already chosen a major,” said Longo. “Providing high school students with an opportunity to explore careers in network and system security helps generate interest in those and related occupations.”
At NetCenergy, interns shadow technicians and engineers, earning hands-on experience to supplement their classroom learning. “My goal in an internship is really to assist them in their education and for us to also get a look at that person,” said NetCenergy President Don Nokes.
He added that he looks at the internships as both a kind of orientation and indoctrination “so that when that person is looking for a full-time job, they know how our process works, how things work, how our team works and has a relationship with the rest of the team.”
NetCenergy took on Joseph Vierra during the summer of 2010. According to Nokes, the company had had good luck with interns in the past and thought the cybersecurity program sounded promising. “Security is becoming more and more in demand by our clients,” said Nokes, adding that the cybersecurity program looked like a good way to make sure the company had an incoming technician with the skill to fit its future needs.
“It’s a real learning experience,” said Vierra, NetCenergy’s cybersecurity intern. This is Vierra’s second year at NetCenergy. He comes back to work during school holidays and over summer vacation.
“It amazes me what I learn on a daily basis from the engineers and the technicians here,” said Vierra. He landed the internship after his junior year at Cranston High School West in the high school’s Cranston Area Career and Technical Center. He said the internship has strengthened his decision to make cybersecurity his career path. Vierra just finished his freshman year at Johnson & Wales University, where he is studying for a bachelor’s of science in network-engineering degree.
Nokes doesn’t want to downplay the importance of formal education. But he added that, “In our space, formal education becomes a necessary foundation, but a greater portion of their skills come from the real world, the experience of troubleshooting, of installing, of architecting solutions and really getting in a real-life, hands-on situation. You just don’t get that in a classroom.”
Today’s “interns will become professionals tasked with protecting vast resources,” said Longo, “from safeguarding private networks and systems from fraudsters and those after intellectual property to serving as guardians of our nation’s military infrastructure and complex infrastructure to thwarting electronic espionage.”