A Natural Fit: The Cyber Skills Gap & Veterans

A few weeks ago, I was honoured to be a keynote speaker at a Y2X event that took place on the HMS Belfast.  It is a fantastic ship and (currently a floating museum) on the Thames.  It was a beautiful summer night and we seemed to have all of London at our feet!

In the course of speaking to attendees who are currently working in cybersecurity, as well as the many veterans who were interested in pursuing cybersecurity as a career choice, a bunch of different topic threads came about.  Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about them.  I’m really heartened and excited about the next few years in IT and cybersecurity.

The Good Guys and The Bad Guys

It’s challenging to explain to regular folks the immense scale of today’s cyber threat, to illustrate what’s truly at stake with cybersecurity right now without sounding overly alarmist.  In the past two years, as I’ve sunk my teeth into cyber, I have come to understand this threat to be far greater than the protection of data, information or assets.  It’s much bigger than intellectual capital or intellectual property.

I like to use the analogy of a game of cricket.  We, the good guys, living in a democracy and in countries ruled by law, working in business, legally operating under government and supranational structures … we are playing a gentleman‘s game.  There are rules, we agree to them and we abide by them.  If you don’t abide, there are regulations which impose fines or threaten incarceration.

But in the world of the dark web, in the hacker industrial complex, with state-sponsored agents and organised crime (the bad guys) – there are no rules.  It’s not a gentleman‘s game.  There is no honour amongst thieves.

I am sometimes disheartened in this great mission.  The pesky hackers always finding new ways to abuse, steal, devalue and destroy.  Equally razing companies, innocent people’s lives, entire livelihoods.  But I am heartened from my conversations on the HMS Belfast, knowing that there is an amazing pool of talent waiting to be tapped and a desperate need in the veterans’ community for better career options.  These men and women are truly talented.

The Cyber Skills Gap

There is a gaping hole in cyber skills today with demand far outstripping supply at all levels.  From the highly technical to the general average workers digital skills.  I believe becoming cyber aware and developing cyber skills in both areas, to the scale needed to defend ourselves, will require more than a certification or two (for the techs) or simply knowing about phishing, passwords and malware (for the average worker).  To protect our organisations and communities, we need to tap into something deeper to educate, motivate and enact behavioural change.  We need to tap into culture, values, mission and purpose in our employees, families, friends and co-workers.  The “thing” we are now fighting for may just be our way of life, the love of the game (ie business and free markets) and our ability to stay free, safe and whole.

One of the positions I am most proud to hold is that of non-executive director for Y2X, a company dedicated to helping veterans transition into second careers within the IT industry.  IT (and cybersecurity) is a great career fit for our ex-servicemen and women because of the ethos, culture and transferable skills they have honed throughout their military careers.  These myriad intangibles translate incredibly well into critical areas of a modern IT environment – such as project management, agile practices, data and information management, and cybersecurity.

Bringing these two needs together is a natural fit.  Many veterans lose their way when transitioning, falling away from the community, feeling unskilled and lacking in purpose.  Y2X is only just starting a journey to give them the community and current IT skills needed – and based on the conversations I have had with these veterans over the past year I’ve been a NED, I am heartened to know that the need to protect and defend our organisations, communities and values can be that higher purpose they will readily rally to.

If you would like more information on Y2X or if you are in cybersecurity and would be interested in hiring a veteran or taking on a recent service leaver as an intern, please reach out to info@y2x.uk.  We’d love to hear from you.