By Amber Lowry, Program Director for CyberUp
CyberUp recently celebrated its five-year anniversary and I can’t help but think back on how action-packed these last five-years have been. Take a walk down memory lane with me if you will as I reminisce on my last four and a half years with CyberUp through the lens of our core values.
As with any young organization, you can’t make it to the five-year mark without being tenacious. Five years ago, we had a group of thought leaders come together to identify a solution to a critical need of growing the cybersecurity talent in our region. CyberUp was born as the Midwest Cyber Center of Excellence. We rebranded in 2019 to CyberUp to better represent our mission and the geographical reach of our programs.
We’ve spent the last five-years fine-tuning how we were going to develop and grow the cybersecurity talent pipeline. Our mission has remained the same the whole time, but the “how” has been an ongoing work of love. In 2017, we were approached by the Department of Labor to create a cybersecurity-related registered apprenticeship. It sounded like a great idea, but honestly, we weren’t quite sure what we were getting into. Over the last three years, we’re continually asking for feedback from companies, industry professionals, and even our candidates on how we can make our apprenticeship program better. We’ve continued to educate companies about how apprenticeships work and how our apprenticeship program can solve their workforce storage. We’ve made a commitment to cultivating the cybersecurity talent pipeline and we’re not going to let anything stand in our way from accomplishing that mission.
We are probably more truthful about where we’ve come from and where we’re going than people expect. We’ve been extremely honest about our growing pains with the apprenticeship program or even our youth program during any of the collaborative working groups we’re apart of. We’re more than honest letting our peers know what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. It’s great being the first cybersecurity apprenticeship program in our region, but that notoriety also comes with growing pains we get to work through.
We’ve had some tough conversations of tough love with some of our candidates polishing up their workforce readiness skills because no one had the courage to provide the candidate feedback before. This tough love was never mean-spirited, but it helped them develop them and land their next job.
We’re probably most honest with ourselves. After each event we complete an after-action report to go over what did and didn’t work so we’ll know how to make the event or program better the next time we do it. It’s never anything personal. Being this honest with ourselves has kept up nimble and able to quickly adjust to the challenges we face like a global pandemic for example. We’re not afraid to try something to see if that’s going to connect with our audience better.
When we say hungry we don’t mean physical hunger as in pass the snacky-poos so my tummy stops growing. We mean that we’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep brainstorming, researching, asking questions, finding mentors, and working together to develop the cybersecurity talent pipeline. We will continue to root for our candidates who have so much potential but aren’t given the opportunity to prove themselves because they don’t happen to have a college diploma. We’re hungry to provide the best training and take time developing relationships with companies to hire our apprentices. We’re also hungry to continue to work with our youth partners to develop a fun, gamification way for middle and high school students to learn cybersecurity.
Being adaptive honestly feels like my 2020 motto. Adapt and overcome. CyberUp and the rest of the world went into 2020 very optimistic. Although we’ve still done a great job hitting our goals, it wasn’t how we envisioned it would happen at the beginning of the year. We started off the year with a Military Spouse IT Fundamentals in-person class, but a couple of weeks in had to completely convert the class 100% online. Our instructor and students quickly adapted to the new class, but it provided an opportunity to quickly pivot to run the class in a new environment that’s now scalable nationwide. We also started our PowerUp: Cyber Games pilot at the beginning of the year, but once the world shut down, it helped us realize the importance of us making sure we made our cybersecurity challenges able to be completed on a Chromebook. It made us extremely aware of the potential barriers some students might face if they don’t have access to Wi-Fi or a Chromebook. The pandemic made us adapt to our new reality and learn how to quickly engage candidates and students remotely. It helped push us to create our own resources and content for our candidates and students to explore on their own time.
This is one that comes naturally for us. We truly want to see the region and nation do better. We want to see the people who have been laid off transition into cybersecurity. We want to help the military veteran transitioning out of the military transition into a booming career field. We want to see youth explore cybersecurity now so they know all their options to get into the career field to make a difference and potentially change their trajectory in life. Because we genuinely want to lift everyone up and help secure our nation, we value all our partnerships and collaborative working groups that help us achieve these goals.
Although the road has been challenging, we’ve still been able to celebrate our success and the impact we’ve made so far. I look forward to what the next five years are going to look like for CyberUp and how much more of an impact we’ll be able to make.