Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Alex Bazemore is going pro.
After a year-and-a-half interning for local cybersecurity firm IP Secure, the University of Texas at San Antonio sophomore announced her intention to sign on with the firm. In addition to a full slate of undergraduate courses, Bazemore will assume a full-time schedule and more responsibilities at her internship.
Bazemore and other college and high school students were recognized Monday during CyberSecurity San Antonio's inaugural Cyber Signing Day, which celebrated local students who have secured internships, scholarships, and full-time jobs in the cybersecurity industry – much like top high school athletes receive fanfare when they're recruited to a national powerhouse and later when they're drafted into professional sports leagues.
"What if we showed the nation that students competing in cybersecurity are just as important as students who compete in sports?" asked Shaun Kennedy, chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event and heads CyberSecurity SA. "That’s what we tried to do here today. Signing Day is not just something we want to celebrate when it comes to football, baseball, or basketball, or any other sport. We want Signing Day to be about the intellectual talent that we have in this community."
Borrowing from college traditions, students donned hats and slung T-shirts over their shoulder representing their professional destinations, such as local company Jungle Disk, which recognized two students at the event. Already a regular home to college interns, the company in July launched a high school internship program in conjunction with the San Antonio Independent School District. The 21 SAISD students and recent graduates began a paid internship in the summer and earned $9 an hour for 20 hours every week.
CEO Bret Piatt, who emceed Monday's Cyber Signing Day proceedings, said Jungle Disk's high school internship program illustrates the mutual interest both students and companies willing to pay them should have in developing young talent.
"Cybersecurity isn't just something [where] you have to have long-time advanced degrees and a Ph.D.," Piatt said. "This is something you can learn ... at the high school level. Get involved then, and start on that career trajectory."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in cybersecurity are expected to grow by 28 percent over the next decade. They are among the 20 fastest growing occupations in the country, with a slower growth rate than software developers but on a higher incline than physical therapists.
"Your cyberskills are needed and needed now," Marina Gavito, innovation business development director at USAA, said to the gathered students as well as educators from various parts of the country attending the NICE K12 Cybersecurity Education Conference downtown. Gavito's statement is more than just a platitude in a world where teens and pre-teens make headlines hacking Apple and infiltrating mock state elections sites.
The presence of the 24th Air Force's U.S. Cyber Command and NSA Texas in San Antonio make a career in cybersecurity all the more realizable for students such as Bazemore, though she shared she likely would not have envisioned working in information security were it not for a cyber defense training academy she underwent in high school. The program helped familiarize her with basic cybersecurity concepts, cryptography, and networking, she said.
"When kids start getting to high school they should realize that cyber isn't just something that nerdy kids do, it's something you can make a career out of," Bazemore said.