During the dot-com boom of the late ’90s and early 2000s, data centers began sprouting up by the dozens throughout the Phoenix metro area, with companies attracted to its abundance of open land, stable weather and low cost of living. Nowadays, it’s cybersecurity that’s booming, and for those same reasons the area is once again attracting companies in the industry.
With more than 200,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs — and an estimate of up to 1 million vacancies by the year 2020 — could the Valley of the Sun be poised to become “Cyber Valley”? Arizona State University professor of practice Kim Jones says it’s possible.
Jones was recently named director of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences' Cybersecurity Education Consortium, which was created with the goal of addressing the growing talent gap in the cybersecurity sector.
“There are lots of communities who are trying to fill that gap,” he said, “but I think Phoenix, and Arizona in general, are better positioned for it,” not only because of the aforementioned attractive conditions but also because there is “already a very good below-the-radar cyber talent pool here.”
And that’s something ASU is keenly aware of.
In February 2014, the university established the Global Security Initiative, a university-wide interdisciplinary hub for global security research. Shortly thereafter, in July 2015, the initiative launched the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics to take a proactive, interdisciplinary approach to the issue of cybersecurity through research and education.
Global Security Initiative's director of strategy Jamie Winterton worked closely with professor of computer science and engineering Gail-Joon Ahn, who also serves as the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics director, to shape the center.
“Gail and I did a competitive analysis of the field, and what we saw was that most cybersecurity centers at universities were buried in other departments, like science or law,” said Winterton. “There was not a lot of connection to other disciplines that are really important for cybersecurity and that should have a stake in the issue.”
With that in mind, the center has made a concerted effort to engage nearly 40 faculty members across eight academic units — from computer science and business to law, psychology and even the English Department.
An affiliate of the center and the Global Security Initiative, Jones says the Cybersecurity Education Consortium will operate on the same principle at ASU’s West campus, with a focus on enhancing the employability of students in cyber-related degree programs through partnerships with local businesses.
“When I think of the consortium, I think of a partnership between ASU and security professionals and businesses that makes sure we’re uplifting and enhancing not only the talent that’s coming out of the university, but also enriching the current talent that’s already in the pool,” he said.
That means helping students find relevant internships, helping businesses find quality talent, and providing education and enrichment opportunities for both. In the future, Jones plans for the consortium to offer an applied cybersecurity degree and, eventually, scholarships.
He has been working on laying the foundation for all of that since he joined ASU in April 2016. Most recently, Jones secured a $100,000 partnership with Intuit, a personal finance and tax software company. As a gold-level founding member of Cybersecurity Education Consortium, Intuit will help to sponsor the center’s efforts by providing seed money for courses and activities and by participating on the center’s advisory board, ensuring that what is being taught and offered is truly of value to students and businesses.
Before coming to ASU, Jones spent 14 years as chief information security officer for various companies, including four years for the largest debit-card processor in the nation. And before that, the West Point grad spent 11 years as a military intelligence officer and five years consulting for various organizations.
“Kim Jones has nearly 30 years of experience in the cybersecurity sector,” said Marlene Tromp, dean of the New College. “This rich background of industry experience positions him to build exciting partnerships that will afford ASU students the chance to solve real cybersecurity challenges, as well as to imagine the future of cybersecurity.”
Tromp believes the consortium has the power to become a key regional and national producer of cybersecurity talent.
Part of that, Jones says, is due to ASU “taking a very novel and innovative approach” to addressing the issue of the cybersecurity talent gap. He acknowledges the “brilliance and significance” of ASU’s faculty, but as a professor of practice, he also appreciates the university’s ability to recognize the importance of having someone on board who has extensive real-world knowledge of the field.
“I think that gives ASU a tremendous advantage in the cyber talent space versus anyone else,” he said. “The quality and caliber of our program — beyond just the certifications, in terms of practical skills, practical application — is going to be better than any other program from any other university that’s out there.”
Jones points out that consortium's mission also aligns with ASU President Michael Crow’s vision of the New American University being one that is socially embedded.
To students interested in a career in cybersecurity, he advises, “If you really want to know what it’s like, please come talk to me. Email me, call me, stop by. Part of my job is [to give students] an understanding of what it really means to do this. It’s not always as sexy as it looks on TV, but it’s very rewarding, it’s a lot of fun and if you like whoopin’ up on the bad guys, this lets you do that. There is no feeling like it.”
Top photo: Kim Jones, director of ASU's new Cybersecurity Education Consortium, is setting up the new program to help to connect students majoring in computer sciences in any school within the university with local cybersecurity companies so that they can get real-world experience. There could be 1 million openings in the field in the next four years. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now