Cyber Defense

Recruiting cyber warriors: What DOD can learn from college football coaches

In the Defense Department’s effort to build out its cyber mission force and establish technological superiority in that domain, arguably the most critical component is people. The U.S. Cyber Command expects to complete its mission force by 2018, but what about the next generation? DOD should be looking for them now, but not in colleges or even high schools, one Army official says.  

“We really have to start at middle school,” Gary Wang, Deputy Chief Information Officer/G-6 of the Army, said in remarks at The Path to JIE (and Beyond) on Wednesday regarding the grooming of the next-generation cyber force. (The event was presented by Defense Systems and 1105 Media.)

People talk about the workforce as if potential candidates have graduated from college, he said, but in reality, it must start much earlier with STEM programs. “You missed the boat if you’re waiting ‘til folks are coming out of college and think you’re going to turn them into a cyber warrior,” Wang said. “Your best cyber warriors already starting at age 11 and 12.”

He noted that people he knows talk about how their grandchildren are taking Java classes and how some states are mandating students take courses in computer programming at the elementary school level. “If you’re not getting to them at that age, you’re going to miss out,” he said. 

Building partnerships early is also important.  These students should be deputized and should be participating in internships in middle school and high school. 

This early recruiting approach is analogous to the way college football coaches entice young talent to their squads.  Coaches “go down to the middle school, they knock on the parent’s house, they go, ‘Hey, your kid has potential to be the middle linebacker for blah blah blah’ and they kind of get them all excited … that’s the approach we have to take with our future cyber warriors,” Wang said.

And as with football players, recruiting cyber warriors needs to be a broad-based effort because of the hit-or-miss nature of the game. “Out of 100, you might get 10,” to commit, he said.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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