New York City is not immune to the effects of the cyber skills gap. According to Cyberseek, there are almost 30,000 unfilled professional cybersecurity positions in the New York, Newark and Jersey City regions alone. And the competition for this talent can be fierce.
Aware that the COVID-19 pandemic may have depressed the number of aspiring cyber professionals able to pay for training or certification programs and ultimately bolster the workforce, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and its exclusive cyber training partner Fullstack Academy announced a new scholarship program designed to help lower-income individuals financially impacted by the pandemic.
Fullstack has offered scholarships in the past through the NYCEDC and its Cyber NYC initiative, but this is the first to specifically aid city residents who were negatively affected by the pandemic. NYC residents of any cyber skill level who live in one of the five boroughs, make an annual salary of less than $50,000 and were economically affected by COVID-19 are welcome to apply to receive a full scholarship to one of four Fullstack Cyber Bootcamps to be held later this year.
The application period for the first Bootcamp, which will be conducted live and online starting in late May, ends on April 25.
SC Media spoke with both Nicholaus Tucker, campus director, NYC, at Fullstack Academy and Xevion Baptiste, assistant vice president, emerging tech initiatives at the NYCEDC, to learn more details about the program and the impetus behind the generous offer.
Talk about the ongoing relationship between the NYCEDC and Fullstack Academy and some of previous initiatives.
Tucker: We’ve had [arrangements] with NYCEDC before to offer scholarships… in conjunction with Cyber NYC. And in addition we also work with New York City on the web dev side of our curriculum. We have an entire program called the Web Development Fellowship that is meant to provide full scholarships for New Yorkers coming from low-economic backgrounds.
Baptiste: The original impetus for the relationship was really a result of the Cyber NYC program – wanting to increase the pipeline for cybersecurity talent in New York City. And so Fullstack was one of the respondents to the [request for proposals] that was released for Cyber NYC to provide training for a broad variety of folks to enter into the industry. They were selected in 2019 as the individuals who would provide that training.
So far the [NYC]EDC has funded the education of about 105 students across five cohorts as part of Fullstacks Academy. There was an original partnership that included the LaGuardia Community Bridge to College and Careers Program, really focusing on underserved communities to support them in gaining access to the field.
Explain what makes this latest scholarship initiative different.
Tucker: One of the major differences of this is that the genesis of the scholarship was really our partners at NYCEDC wanting to provide something to the community of New Yorkers who have been negatively impacted by COVID.
We really are trying to target individuals who have had a negative financial impact because of COVID. And that's one of the questions we ask people to answer as a part of the application if they're applying for the scholarship.
It’s a full scholarship – no tuition is going to be required. In addition to the scholarship, if students need a laptop because they don't have one that's functioning, we will provide the laptop, and we also provide certification vouchers for certain certs that are taught within the course.
Can you share what the impact of COVID-19 has been from both a Fullstack Academy perspective and an NYCEDC perspective?
Tucker: When the pandemic first hit… we weren't really sure what the long-term impact of it was. In the immediate impact of when everything went remote and the world stopped, we did see initially, [Academy enrollment] numbers fall – and I think people were hopeful that maybe this would pass a lot sooner than people expected it to. But then as it became more normalized and as we collectively as a society realized that this is going to be going on for a while and we still have to keep living life, we did see those numbers rebound.
Because we did realize that a lot of people were laid off, [we knew] this was going to be, for better or for worse… a great time to reskill. So… we launched a $1 million fund that we called the Opportunity Fund with our parent company Zovio. And this was meant to help people who were negatively impacted by COVID, as well as to increase opportunities for people who are low-income people who are underrepresented in tech.
And so, that opportunity fund has funded many, many students attending either our cybersecurity Bootcamp, or our web development Bootcamp. So we are just getting at the end of that – the Opportunity Fund we finally expended all of its funds. And so it's really exciting that we now have another scholarship opportunity for potential students who would really like to dive into cybersecurity, but may not have the funds necessary to do so.
Baptiste: I would say that COVID-19 is a focus and a reality for many across both the public and private sector… And so as we look at what we want New York City to look like coming out of the pandemic, we definitely want to take this opportunity to invest in an area that's growing as quickly as cybersecurity is – especially given the propensity of entry-level talent to be paid a very, very good wage. On average, I think it's around a $75,000-$85,000 or starting salary on average.
So what we’re attempting to do is understand the baseline situation as being not desirable for a lot of folks in terms of the job loss and general disruption in the city, but saying: “Okay, where are there areas of opportunity here?” And I think that providing an on-ramp for folks who might not otherwise consider cybersecurity [is] one of those areas where we’re, frankly, turning lemons into lemonade.
How many people is this open to?
Tucker: We’re selecting a finite number of applications… It's really an incredible opportunity so, unfortunately, we’re always going to have more applications than we have seats available. In the spirit of that, we will have to make some difficult decisions, but we will invite anyone who meets those basic qualifications. We'd love to see their application.
At this point, we haven't settled on the exact final number of scholarships we'll have available, but it will be more than 20, spread across the four cohorts that are eligible that we will be accepting people in as scholarship students.
Can you give me a sense of where New York falls in terms of the cyber skills gap and the job market, especially for those interested in pursuing a more lucrative career in cybersecurity?
Tucker: We’re really confident that the jobs are there for graduates. And a lot of our graduates do stick around in New York City. We also have graduates heading out to other cyber hubs. And we’re really supportive of that as well.
Any student of ours would definitely agree that there's a lot of work that goes on in the Bootcamp and a lot of work that happens after the Bootcamp. Finding a job is a full-time job. So what we do for our students is we just try to be there for them every step of the way. They have a career coach who is talking with them, helping them prepare for interviews, looking over their résumés, looking over their LinkedIn profiles, making sure that they’re equipped and ready to get out into the job market to do the networking, to do the legwork to get that job. But there's also a big responsibility on the students. They have to be willing to get out there and network, pound the ground, and really see where those jobs are and really find out where they want to sit in the cybersecurity world.
Baptiste: This is absolutely an opportunity for New York City. But yes, there’s still some work to be done and we don’t expect that these scholarships and our work with Fullstack should be the end of investing in an industry that could so benefit New Yorkers and, quite frankly, the security of the city and the country as a whole. It's a first step. And I would say that that understanding of the kind of work that needs to be done and the kind of investment that needs to be made, was the impetus behind creating Cyber NYC as an initiative in the first place.
Take me through some of the other lessons and skills that are covered in a Fullstack Academy Bootcamp.
Tucker: Our Bootcamp does cover quite a bit… We teach students to monitor and secure systems, networks and applications. We also teach them to deploy offensive and defensive tactics needed to appropriately respond to some of those cyber breaches. And in addition to this, we're constantly looking at the market, seeing what skills are being asked for, what certifications are being asked for, and adjusting our curriculum to match that.
One of the things that we've most recently added is… AWS cloud, and cloud administration. That's one of our newest things that we'll be rolling out with some of our upcoming cohorts… training for that.
The earliest part of the course is what we call Foundations… and by the end of that period, students – even if they came in at different levels – should be to participate in the boot camp. It was made with beginners in mind – so I would encourage people [to apply], even if they have never experienced cybersecurity before, but have always wanted to try. We're a great place to start and we'd love to see their application.
Can you also talk about how this scholarship may help in terms of improving diversity and inclusion efforts while developing cyber talent in the New York City area?
Tucker: Diversity has always been super important to us at Fullstack… We have a program that is exclusively for women called the Grace Hopper program. This is something we're really passionate about, and one of our core values at Fullstack is we strive to accelerate meaningful and enduring diversity and inclusion in tech, so this is something that is very close to our heart. It is a part of our core mission.
The mission of Fullstack is to transform individuals, communities and economies by teaching the technologies that power the future. And we feel really strongly about investing in some of these underrepresented communities and making the tech workforce resemble more of what the world looks like.
Baptiste: We understand that a diversity of populations across New York City have been negatively impacted by job loss and COVID-19. From folks in the service sector to hospitality, we've been hit, as a city, pretty hard by the pandemic. The scholarship program, in terms of focusing on folks who have lost their jobs, really does try to speak to those communities that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 – and yes, diversity is one of those concerns.