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May 19, 2023

Bridging the Cybersecurity Talent Gap with NextGen: An Interview with Olivia Herriford

Bridging the Cybersecurity Talent Gap with NextGen

Cybersecurity is a rapidly growing field that is essential to protecting businesses and individuals from cyber threats. However, there is a growing talent gap in the industry, with a shortage of skilled workers in cybersecurity. NextGen Cyber Talent is an organization that is working to bridge this gap by providing training, mentorship, and career opportunities for candidates from underserved groups.

I spoke with Olivia Herriford, Program Lead for NextGen Cyber Talent, about her role in the organization, how it serves the community, and how Armis helps.

CSW: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in NextGen?

OH: Sure, sure. My name’s Olivia Herriford, and I am a Program Lead for NextGen Cyber Talent. I’ve been working in career education for the last 10 years, but I’ve been in tech for most of my career, and I was drawn to NextGen, an incredible organization, founded a little under two years ago. NextGen Cyber Talent has the mission to close the cybersecurity talent gap in a way that is diverse, which is one of the reasons that attracted me to the organization. My role primarily is in building the program, getting things started, and working with our partners like Armis.

CSW: What specifically does NextGen do, and how does it serve the community?

OH: Well, we’ve started with offering free training. One of the things, obviously, if we’re going to do this in a way that addresses the diversity challenge that we have, is we want to first of all reach out to underserved groups. And that begins primarily very early in the pipeline. So we were looking at, first of all, working with community organizations, community colleges, and really getting to understand where the opportunities are to get those types of people into the workforce. We felt the way to do that would be to start with training the tools that would make those students, we call them candidates, attractive to organizations that are looking for people to come into their operations, to use these kinds of tools.

CSW: When you speak about the candidates, what kind of age range are we looking at here?

OH: You know what, it is amazingly wide. You have your typical student, a new person, but then you have a lot of people that have degrees and are having a career change. We’re finding that a lot of the people that have successfully entered the cybersecurity workforce are what I call skill builders. So they’ll start off someplace else, and then they’ll hear about cybersecurity, and they’ll start to take advantage of programs like NextGen. In our program right now, we have 19, 20 year olds all the way up to middle age, coming back to school and taking advantage of this training.

CSW: That’s great to hear, NextGen really does serve the whole community! So could you tell us a little bit about the partnership with Armis and how we are working together?

OH: Well, our founders knew that we really had to have training partners. If that’s the first thing that you’re going to do, we need partners like Armis to come in and train our candidates on these tools. So that was the strategy and it’s working out very well. We’ve pretty much got the whole SEIM area covered, but we are still looking for partnerships. We continue to grow because things change so much and there are lots of organizations out there right now that are really getting serious about diversifying their workforce, and particularly in areas where we have a big skills gap.

CSW:  What would you say the key benefits are with the relationship that we have?

OH:  I think one of the things that has really opened my eyes through the partnership with Armis is a perception that, and it’s an incorrect perception people have, about the work of cybersecurity. And they think that it’s all in tech companies. Sometimes even our community colleges tend to teach it that way. I’m saying, no, no, no, no, no.

CSW: I think that’s quite a broad misconception that most people have. They don’t realize that cybersecurity is actually relevant in every industry, in manufacturing, in healthcare, in critical infrastructure, the public sector and even industries like retail, cybersecurity is present, and there are many roles available. It’s great that you are out there helping to change the perception and to evolve it!

OH: That’s the mission. You know, this was like IT was, when I got into it, where suddenly people realized it’s ubiquitous. And I think now we’re beginning to realize how ubiquitous this challenge that we have in keeping our systems and our environments safe and secure. One of the things about the Armis product and the training is that it is preparing our candidates to work for jobs in areas that previously they didn’t even think were existent. For example, healthcare, manufacturing, these are all organizations or industries that really need to be using Armis, right? I think that will give our candidates an opportunity to bring those skills into those environments because they’re needed. We want to make sure that we’re adequately training the next generation of cyber talent in tools like Armis that are going to be needed in those environments. It’s not just about training for the job market today; it’s about preparing for the job market of the future.

CSW: Yes, it sounds like the partnership is really helping to broaden the perception of cybersecurity as an industry and the opportunities that are available.

OH: Yes, and I really think that this partnership is going to help us expand or change that perspective. There’s a lot of opportunity out there. And if we can just develop the skill sets that people need, connect them with those opportunities, I think it’d be great.

CSW: Yes it really does affect all industries and people are often unaware of this.

OH: Exactly. I mean just recently, in the Bay Area here, three of our community colleges were attacked for ransomware. And then we have major medical centers and providers headquartered here. These employers, they’re going to need this new talent and they’re going to need Armis, because Armis provides a one-stop-shop for all security needs. There’s no agent, and you can’t turn it off. We know that healthcare and critical infrastructure have unique requirements, and that’s where Armis helps.

CSW: So, on a practical level, what does the partnership look like? How are we changing this perception and working together, day to day?

OH: Well, one of the things that we really need to do more of is outreach. That awareness of getting it out there. And Armis has been a really great partner in at least me throwing ideas out about how we could do that. For example, one of the projects we’re discussing right now is working with the cyber clubs, working with the cyber camps. There’s a lot of effort, funding going out there in the early stages of the pipeline where you start telling high school, middle schoolers about the opportunities in cybersecurity. We’re talking about doing those kinds of things, like working with the clubs in the high schools and the colleges. And Armis has been very, very open about that. We’re exploring those possibilities.

CSW: That’s great to hear! Olivia, let’s get a little bit cheeky here. You mentioned before we started, that you were semi-retired and you were dragged back in. So what happened?

OH: What keeps me coming back to work? Well, I think one of the things for me is just the contact, how inspiring our candidates are, the people that are going through our program. Just to see the change that it makes, to see how excited they get about it, and how appreciative they are to have the kind of support from NextGen and Armis that they’re getting. Even though I’m very operational, I’m a long, long time IT project manager doing systems integration. I’m in that space, I love the contact with people, and particularly with seeing the change that this can make in people’s lives. That’s what keeps drawing me back. And then I tend to get drawn toward the flashy things, and that’s what cybersecurity is to me!

CSW: It’s flashy, it’s fun….

OH: It is fun. It’s incredible. It’s always constantly changing.

CSW: People think it isn’t, though. People think it’s maybe a little bit more dull, but it is actually incredibly flashy. Yeah, it’s bling, cybersecurity’s bling – we can say that! We’re in it after all!

OH: Ha ha, Yeah. Yes, exactly. Exactly!

CSW: I hope you don’t retire anytime soon because we need and want you to keep going, keep leading these partnerships, and help the NextGen candidates get those roles.

OH: Yes, and that is why I stick with it because I can’t walk away from this. It’s almost like you see a change, you see someone’s life change. You see someone just suddenly grow and flower, and you say, I can’t walk away from that. You just want to see more and more.

CSW: On a final note, what can people do if they want to get involved, if they want to help instrument this change? How can anyone out there get in touch, and help us drive this objective forward?

OH: Go to our website, NextGenCyberTalent.com, and there’s lots of information there about our partners, our training partners, the programs that we do, how you can support, become a partner, how you can become a sponsor, and how to become a candidate. The other thing too on this site is all the wonderful things that we want right now and where we’re going for our candidates. Our website has all the information.

CSW: Thank you so much, Olivia.

OH: You’re welcome.

CSW: It was really great to chat with you.

OH: Thank you for the opportunity.

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