The new wave: Modern security education
The new wave: Modern security education

Hands-on initiatives designed to hook students on security are gaining steam, says software engineer Alex Levinson. Dan Kaplan reports.

When Alex Levinson graduated near the top of his class in January 2009 from Heald College in San Francisco, carrying an associate's degree in computer networking with a concentration in information security, he fielded a surprisingly large number of employment offers in an economy that was on the fast track to the worst recession in more than 70 years.

Most of the offers were for positions like system or network administrator, decent entry-level posts for someone interested in IT. Levinson gave each some thought, but ultimately decided that a nine-to-five job wasn't for him, not yet at least. “There were reasonable offers at the time,” Levinson, now 22, says. “But I just felt like I needed more.”

Months removed from the start of the financial crisis, the opportunities thrown Levinson's way were telling of an industry in desperate need of young, motivated and highly skilled information security professionals, especially as organizations rely on computer networks in levels never thought possible.

Positions in information security fall under the STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) umbrella. These fields, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, are paid higher than other industries, are less likely to experience joblessness and are essential to the nation's competitiveness. Yet, studies show that fewer students are choosing to major in these areas, and the ones who do take longer to graduate.

Experts have attributed this to a number of factors, among them the belief that more and more IT jobs will be outsourced, a prevailing attitude among adolescents that science is too difficult a discipline on which to concentrate, a failure by high schools to adequately prepare pupils for these courses at the next level and a lack of understanding by colleges to place an emphasis on STEM student research, collaboration and support – rather than mere survival in class tracks known for their dog-eat-dog style of competition.