Wanted: Creative-thinking superheroes to fight cybercrime

October 26, 2021 | By Sophie Hares

Cracking cybercrime means more than crafting airtight code. With fraud and identity theft on the rise and ransomware attacks crippling hospitals and essential infrastructure, the industry needs people with novel approaches to identifying and fighting fraudsters — yet American companies are struggling to fill nearly 500,000 cybersecurity vacancies with professionals trained to combat these increasingly complex and costly attacks.

“We’re looking for diversity of thought as the foremost thing,” says Jon Brickey, who as Mastercard’s in-house “cybersecurity evangelist” oversees cybersecurity strategy and is spearheading a new partnership with LaGuardia Community College in Queens to build a cybersecurity talent pipeline. “We don’t want everyone thinking the same way. There are so many challenges in cybersecurity, we have to leverage the brainpower of our entire society.”

An ex-law enforcement professional could put their investigative training to use, says Brickey, a former U.S. Army colonel and cybersecurity specialist who also taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Artists and musicians could apply creative problem-solving and pattern recognition. “No matter where you are in life, there’s an opportunity to come into cybersecurity,” he says.

LaGuardia and Mastercard will launch an intensive boot camp and apprenticeship designed to attract a wide array of creative thinkers who are keen on fighting cybercrime — not just computer geeks.

“We don’t want everyone thinking the same way. There are so many challenges in cybersecurity, we have to leverage the brainpower of our entire society.”
Jon Brickey

LaGuardia is just the place to find a wide array of talent. The community college caters to nontraditional college students, including mature students looking to shift careers or return to work after taking time off to raise children. The school is also culturally diverse — students come from 158 countries and speak nearly 100 languages.

“This program has the potential to strengthen society on multiple levels by providing these students — overwhelmingly the first generation of their families to attend college — a pathway to well-paying, in-demand and challenging careers while preparing them to play a major role in protecting our increasingly digital world,” says LaGuardia president Kenneth Adams.  

The program will select 20 students from the college’s Network Administration & Information Security associate degree program. Those students will begin a summer 2022 boot camp, learning cryptography, product development and cyber intelligence. They will also develop communication and interpersonal skills needed to navigate a business environment.

Ten of the boot camp students will have an opportunity to spend several months working alongside Mastercard security experts learning how to deal with cyber threats in a hands-on paid part-time apprenticeship, which could lead to offers for entry-level jobs working in areas like product development, fraud detection or artificial intelligence. From there, Brickey hopes to launch similar programs throughout the U.S. and in countries such as India.

Brickey views the LaGuardia program as part of a larger institutional shift to solve the tech talent crunch, where companies, government and academia take a more innovative, long-term approach.

All children need access to computers and clubs to hone their tech know-how, he says. Research has shown that girls in particular need ample encouragement and opportunities to excel in STEM subjects, says Susan Warner, founder of Mastercard’s signature STEM program Girls4Tech, which has reached 1.6 million girls in 46 countries and targets reaching 5 million by 2025. “It’s not just about cracking codes — it’s about gaining confidence and realizing that it takes all kinds to pursue a STEM career, and that all kinds are needed to help shape and protect our increasingly digital world.”

As the cyber talent pool grows, companies must also create incentives for employees to stay by developing clear career paths and stimulating roles within the organization.

For now, the boot camp offers an invaluable opportunity for LaGuardia students to kick-start their careers. “It’s a hyperactive career field; there are just so many opportunities,” Brickey says. “I can’t imagine students going through cybersecurity programs like this not being employed and happy with their employment.”

Top photo: Courtesy LaGuardia Community College

Sophie Hares, Contributor