WASHINGTON -- The Army would like to fill the ranks of its Cyber Command with the best minds America has to offer -- but it's proving more challenging than expected to wrest that talent from high-paying technology firms in Silicon Valley.
Brig. Gen. Joseph P. McGee, director of the Army's Talent Management Task Force, spoke Aug. 1 during an Association of the U.S. Army-sponsored forum on cyber warfare about efforts to bring the best talent to the relatively new eight-year-old U.S. Army Cyber Command.
A lot of the talent ARCYBER needs resides in places like Silicon Valley, but getting that talent can be difficult, he said, after having personally spoken to some of those people.
One reason for that difficulty is the pay gap between Army and the private sector, McGee noted. Another reason is the lengthy on-boarding process that's associated with jobs requiring security clearances.
One Stanford University student studying computer science told McGee that he wasn't even aware of the opportunities available at ARCYBER, for Soldiers, civilians or contractors. The big buzz was about employment at companies like Apple, Google, or Facebook, the student said.
Many of those same people have a desire to serve, and might opt to do so if the chance presented itself, McGee said. Serving on a team for a greater purpose and actually making a difference resonates with them.
Besides the hiring fairs hosted by the Army, McGee suggested that Guard and Reserve ARCYBER Soldiers can serve as ambassadors in their cyber communities, which could boost the recruiting effort.
Retired Col. Brett A. Barraclough, executive director of Cyber ManTech International Corp., said one incentive to recruit and retain the best and brightest is to offer merit-based financial awards. However, service to country still trumps salary for the most part, he said.
Chris Olexia, chief of external recruiting and hiring at the National Security Agency, said it's a tough, competitive market. His organization, and the Department of Homeland Security just down the road, are looking for the same talent ARCYBER and U.S. Cyber Command are seeking.
Olexia said the NSA has had some success by recruiting directly to middle school and high school kids, planting the seeds of a desire to serve upon graduation.
Of particular interest, he said, is targeting youth in lower socioeconomic areas who might have the aptitude and interest for opportunities in cyber but lack the information.
Alan Paller, president of the SANS Technology Institute, said that many of the kids Olexia was referring to might not even be aware of their own innate abilities in cyber.
For example, he said he met a girl who attended a cyber challenge event. She told him she was amazed at how much fun it was and marveled at her skill aptitude for cyber, even though she had never done a similar activity before.
Tim Petit, principal, Booz Allen Hamilton, said every organization has been or will be hacked. That's driving the hiring frenzy for cyber security personnel across America, particularly in the financial and healthcare sectors, he said. Within four years, there will be a shortage in America of around 2 million cyber security professionals.
Paller said that although the pool of qualified and available cyber candidates is shrinking, recruiters must still be discriminating in who they select.
One of the biggest indicators of who will be successful is the candidate's desire to learn and his or her curiosity level. Besides having an analytical mind, cyber is about solving new and often vexing problems, he explained. That's why there has to be a natural proclivity to being curious.
Equally important to the curiosity factor, he said, is tenacity.
At a cyber challenge event Paller attended, he noticed that the kids decided to keep working on solution sets over the weekend because they were motivated to solve the problems and were a particularly tenacious bunch.
Another important element in recruiting is going after diversity, Paller said.
Paller said he noticed that male participants in a cyber challenge were fixated on finding a solution to a single problem. Female participants, on the other hand, opened up several problems and bounced between them, which greatly increased their efficiency. Having that diversity ended up strengthening the entire team, because people learn from each other.
Retired Lt. Gen. Rhett A. Hernandez, West Point Cyber chair, Army Cyber Institute, said that another important trait in seeking new candidates is their willingness to change at their assigned duties.
Currently, a lot of cyber operators are doing rudimentary work involving such things as responding to cyber attacks.
As artificial intelligence and machine learning rapidly takes hold, that work will increasingly become automated. That work force will then need to refocus their skills and engage with greater intensity in critical thinking, which might involve perhaps tweaking an algorithm in response to a novel threat.