UW Bothell prepares students to meet the demand in cybersecurity

There were one million cyber-security job openings in the United States in 2016. More than 200,000 of those positions went unfilled.

This area of work has a zero percent unemployment rate, according to the University of Washington, Bothell.

In an age where the scope and severity of breaches is ever increasing, cybersecurity experts are in huge demand, Barbara Endicott-Popovsky said.

Endicott-Popovsky, Ph.D., is the executive director of the University of Washington Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity, which is headquartered at UW Bothell. She’s also an affiliate professor at UW Bothell in computer science and systems, an editor at Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law, a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists, and a fellow of Aberystwyth University in Wales.

The Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity is a National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security designated center of academic excellence in cybersecurity education and research. It prepares students for careers that protect computer systems from accidents, hackers, viruses and other security threats.

“CIAC creates training programs and research programs that advance the professionalization of cybersecurity,” according to its website. “Our approach through the theory of systems requires us to cross disciplines and sectors in order to address the real immediate needs of major industry, critical infrastructure, and governments.”

Endicott-Popovsky said that cybersecurity professionals come from diverse backgrounds. For example, she’s seen students with liberal arts degrees excel in the subject.

“Lacking a bachelors degree in computer science is not a barrier to entry,” she said. “The best asset you bring to the table is your brain and your ability to think critically.”

She said, if someone has a passion for the subject, anyone could major in cybersecurity.

She did say that a cybersecurity specialist needs to have a “certain twist of mind” that see things the way an advisory, or bad guy, might.

“It’s very difficult to take your baby and look at it as an advisory would. They’re looking for flaws,” she said.

As part of the program, which has been educating people in the field of cybersecurity since 2004, the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity aims to bridge the gap between education and industry by collaborating with T-Mobile in offering its graduates a paid internship at the company. This past year, 10 graduates entered the internship program; nine of those interns were offered a job with T-Mobile afterward.

This partnership was one way T-Mobile is tackling the dire demand for cybersecurity experts.

T-Mobile has now recruited for this coming year and is assisting in developing similar programs with other companies in the area that have a cybersecurity talent deficit, Endicott-Popovsky said.

The curriculum taught at the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity is mapped to NSA and DHS academic standards.

As an undergraduate, UW Bothell offers a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and software engineering with an information assurance concentration. This degree focuses on software development. UW Bothell offers a Bachelor of Science in computer engineering, which combines education in hardware and software development, a Bachelor of Arts in applied computer, which emphasizes connections between computing and other fields, and a Bachelor of Arts in interactive media design.

If a student is switching careers, they can take the university’s graduate certificate in software design and development to immediately move to a new job or to prepare students for success in graduate studies.

As a graduate, UW Bothell offers a Master of Science in cybersecurity engineering and a Master of Science in computer science and software engineering.

Additionally, there is a track for STEM or business specialty to get certified. The center is also in the process of developing a program to train military veterans and reservists in the discipline.

“The National Security Agency and Dept. of Homeland Security recently redesigned this tri-campus program based on the UW Bothell campus as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education through 2022,” according to Director of Media Relations and Communications Lisa Youngblood Hall.

The Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity received additional recognition a “as the only NSA/DHS Regional Resource center in the Pacific Northwest that encourages sharing best practices and building a professional network with universities and colleges in seven western states — including Alaska and Hawaii,” Endicott-Popovsky said in an email.

In 2018, the center will host the NSA Executive Academic Forum for all Centers of Excellence university presidents and provosts. This is the first time the conference will be hosted on the West Coast.

“Cybersecurity is a dynamic and relatively new and forming field,” Endicott-Popovsky said.

For a graphic that show entry-level, mid-level and advanced-level job opportunities in the cybersecurity career pathway and average salaries, visit http://cyberseek.org/pathway.html.