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Universities developing cybersecurity degrees to fill jobs gap

May 04, 20164 mins
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

Why more schools across the U.S. need to implement a cybersecurity curriculum

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If they want to continue to protect our nation’s most valuable data from cyber-attacks, leading security practitioners need to look to the future of the security industry and develop ways to grow the talent needed to fill the looming jobs gap.

That’s why Jim Treinen, vice president of security research at ProtectWise, was happy to help  J.B. Holston, dean at the University of Denver’s Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science, when they ventured into designing their Master’s in cybersecurity curriculum.

Having earned both his Masters and PhD at Denver University (DU), Treinen was thrilled at the opportunity to give back to his Alma Marta given his long history of involvement with DU. 

A couple highlights of the course work that Treinen is most excited about include working on lab activities and classic computer systems. He said, “There are some lab activities mostly focused around how vulnerabilities are being exploited, current ransomware and how to exploit with crypto systems, and how they can be turned around and used against unsuspecting users.”

In addition, students will learn how operating systems work. “Understanding how modern OS have built in security, understanding at a deep level of how the underlying networking works, and the theory of OS and why it matters, is important, as are secure software engineering practices,” said Treinen.

Knowing that when academic and industry work in partnership, good things happen, Treinen said he values and appreciates that DU is so very forward looking. “They recognized the gap in prospects and moved to add specialties to their computer science program, which is a great recruiting tool for institutions, and I expect to see more universities roll out forward looking programs,” he continued.

In designing the course work and deciding on the different levels of depth and breadth that ought to be offered, Holston credited Protectwise for having been incredibly helpful in co-creating this program.

Holston also spoke with a cybersecurity company on the West Coast and said, “They have 500 job openings right now. They happen to be a very mature company, but if you extend that beyond cyber security companies and include those organizations that actually need to be better at cyber security, there is a huge gap.”

[ ALSO: Top U.S. universities failing at cybersecurity education ]

So they used a broader brush in designing this intensive one-year program. “If you don’t have any kind of background in computer science, there are bridge courses. Prospects can take a pre test online to determine whether they need bridge courses. There is an intensive period focused on the basics of computer science,” Holston said.

In addition to building a strong core in computer science, the degree program also offers a number of electives, so there will be folks that take a number of different paths. “One primary goal,” said Holston, “is to help students structure relationships with companies. We have structured everything from the capstone all the way to the individual working on an internship from the first day.”

Those enrolled in the year long program will be required to commit one work day of interning, and the program leaders will work with students to help them decide which company, which capstone, and which internship is best suited for their professional goals.

“I think we will get a lot of folks who have been out of school for a year or two working for a think tank, likely holding a generic undergrad degree. Those who like what they are doing but realize that they are not on a path toward a career that is really interesting. That’s our highest probability target,” said Holston.

So, for those who can take a year full-time to do it, (though part-time classes are available online) DU is ready to help you kick-start a career in cybersecurity. 


Kacy Zurkus is a freelance writer for CSO and has contributed to several other publications including The Parallax, and K12 Tech Decisions. She covers a variety of security and risk topics as well as technology in education, privacy and dating. She has also self-published a memoir, Finding My Way Home: A Memoir about Life, Love, and Family under the pseudonym "C.K. O'Neil."

Zurkus has nearly 20 years experience as a high school teacher on English and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University (2011). She earned a Master's in Education from University of Massachusetts (1999) and a BA in English from Regis College (1996). Recently, The University of Southern California invited Zurkus to give a guest lecture on social engineering.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Kacy Zurkus and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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