What would you say is FUN? For many of us, the answer is playing sports or games and I couldn’t agree more. You can often find me on the basketball court. I love the team aspect, how fluidly leadership can shift as you run the court, and how well-defined roles (and countless hours of practice) accentuate a player’s strengths and lead to the team’s success.
These same aspects are what’s so intriguing about cyber competitions too. I’ve been fortunate to see them from many angles: researching them, participating in them, and organizing them. What I’ve discovered is that there’s tremendous value in PLAY.
Would you like to play a game?
Competing in games is powerful; first, because it’s fun. Working with the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC), I see this reflected in our Cyber Girls Academy programs as well. So much learning happens when you’re having fun, and it’s almost effortless because in the moment you’re fully immersed and engaged. It’s exciting to see kids (and adults for that matter!) dig into researching how to block specific tactics or learn new methods, to help their team win.
As would happen on my beloved basketball court, countless hours are invested into practice, learning what role(s) suits your talents, drilling basic skills so you can execute under the pressure of competition, and discovering how to communicate effectively and play with your teammates. And the reward (win or lose) is the camaraderie, skills and confidence gained as a part of the team.
Filling the thousands of open positions in cybersecurity will require a creative remedy for this workforce shortage and skills gap. Recognizing the need for a deeper look into the role that cybersecurity games can play in developing tomorrow’s workforce, the Competitions subgroup of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Working Group commissioned a white paper, “Cybersecurity Games: Building Tomorrow’s Workforce.” In it, nearly 30 thought leaders, representing government agencies, defense contractors, other private industry entities and academia, were interviewed and I’m pleased to have participated and be able to share the paper here. My key takeaway, “because of its fun factor, gaming attracts an expanded audience. Participants are able to see what a cyber attack looks like, practice different responses, and innovate … all without real risk.”
Accelerating entrance of women to cybersecurity
Cyber competitions represent an avenue for us to bring more women into the field. Because they help to spotlight the diversity of roles in the cybersecurity ecosystem, it’s easier for young women and girls to find roles that match their skills and talents, dreams and aspirations. Sure, you can be a coder, and it would be great to have more women coding, but a successful team also needs strategists and communicators, organizers and administrators.
New stats on women graduating with STEM degrees are quick to point out that 6.7% of women graduate with STEM degrees vs 17% of men, with the interpretation commonly that “men are 2.5 times more likely to enter these high paying fields.” That could be true but introducing women to STEM careers is more than a degree. Showing young women and girls the diversity of roles and diversity of people in STEM careers allows them to move beyond “high-paying,” and see if they have a vocation. And what builds stronger bonds than being part of a team, a community of people who played the game.
Sports and games are training for life. Teamwork creates respect for the varied skills and roles it takes to succeed and win. And the discipline and commitment to learn and practice helps boost confidence needed to reach higher levels. When we do things for the love of it, for the joy of playing and competing, we find new ways to tap into our wellspring of talents. And that’s how we can attract more women – and men – to the field of cybersecurity.