Soldiers take fast track to cybersecurity careers

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Soldiers Sal Hinson, left, and Bill Gnerlich are working toward new careers through the pilot Cybersecurity Career Program at SecureSet.

A new cybersecurity program — a partnership between SecureSet and Fort Carson — is offering active duty soldiers a fast track to cybersecurity careers in the civilian world.

The pilot Cybersecurity Career Program aims to bridge the gap between military experience and civilian cybersecurity requirements, and smooth the transition to civilian life for service members transitioning out of the military, said Martha Laughman, senior manager of workforce and veterans programs at SecureSet.

Laughman said veterans are ideally suited to help meet the nationwide shortfall in qualified cybersecurity professionals.

“Soldiers are extremely technically savvy, they’re used to working under pressure, they’re very analytical and logical thinking, they’re very quick on their feet — so they’re honestly the ideal candidates to be in cybersecurity,” she said.

Seventeen active duty soldiers transitioning out of the Army are in the first cohort, participating in SecureSet’s five-month CORE Technical program, which readies them for civilian careers as security engineers, information assurance analysts, penetration testers or security consultants. They continue to receive full military pay and benefits throughout the program, and can use G.I. Bill funds.

“Typically in order to get into cybersecurity we say you need three things: education, certification and experience,” Laughman said. “Typically the soldiers have two of the three but they don’t have all of them. This transition program allows them to … fill in whatever extra needs they have to get into cybersecurity.”

Competition to enter CCP is high: Laughman said the program received 150 requests for applications from Fort Carson, and about half of those who made it to the interview round were accepted.

“I’m grateful to be here because they’re not just taking anybody — with SecureSet I was really able to grab on and fight for it,” said Bill Gnerlich, a CCP student and infantry team leader whose interest in cybersecurity stemmed from a previous role as an IT specialist in the Army.

“My education from the military equates into two years of IT experience, but getting out there’s not a high demand for information technology or computer science. But cybersecurity’s growing like crazy,” he said. “So transitioning out of the Army into cybersecurity, I can either go the civilian route or back in [the Department of Defense] and still make quite a bit of money and have a secure job for my family.”

Gnerlich said he chose CCP because it combines education, essential certifications and hands-on experience at high speed.

“Typical colleges are four years but with cybersecurity the demand is so high right now, that after four years whatever you started learning is not going to be the same,” he said. “A lot of colleges don’t offer what they do — you get similar training but it’s four years from now. They want us now. They wanted us yesterday. It’s such a huge demand.”

Health care specialist Sal Hinson is also part of the first CCP cohort, aiming for a second career in cybersecurity as he retires from the Army after 20 years.

“I’ve become more aware of how much cybersecurity and medical go hand in hand,” Hinson said. “Cybersecurity was something that always sparked my interest, and I want to be a part of that community.

“This program gives you that pathway: ‘This is an opportunity. We’re going to give you all the tools, now you need to implement them.’ I think that’s fantastic.”

Hinson described CCP as “like drinking out of a firehose” but said the students are big on collaboration and teamwork.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but the best benefit about being in the Army is you’re used to the fast pace — and this course is no different,” he said.

Laughman said CCP graduates will have a year of college credit, a diploma in cybersecurity, hands-on technical experience, and Security+ and CISSP certifications.

“What makes us unique is typically about a third of people pass the CISSP — but we have 100 percent pass rate so far, and that’s because we’re such an immersive program,” she said. “We hit you up with 8, 9, 10 hours a day and then we do prep on top of it. And they get hands-on technical experience too.”

She said SecureSet is targeting a 100 percent job placement rate via the employers who help sponsor the program and hope to hire CCP graduates.

While none of the soldiers start the program with a job offer, they are interviewed by employer sponsors before being selected for CCP and will be interviewed again a few weeks before graduating. Job offers are made at that stage.

Gnerlich is looking forward to it.

“I really want to become a part of the movement and help,” he said. “In the military I’ve learned to defend and protect the people and the country. Being in cybersecurity I can do the same thing — just on the cyber level.”