Dr. Vincent Berk, co-founder and CEO of FlowTraq, hit me with a great anecdote highlighting why there's an empty space where data analyst talent should be in IT security.
As part of Dartmouth's ISTS -- Institute for Security Technology Studies -- Vincent was working with folks doing some open source data mining. While some had an innate sense of how to get things done, others did not.
The analytical mind
"There were two analysts having an argument," Berk told me over the phone. "One swore that you could find anything on Google, the other claimed that wasn't true -- you could get data, sure, but not the whole picture. One very smart guy there said to them, 'Ok, get me all the people who are in Senate who are part of the Dartmouth alumni'. So the guy goes to Google and starts hammering away on the keyboard, search after search after search. Meanwhile, the girl steps outside for a cigarette, comes back in and phones the alumni office -- two minutes later she has the list".
That's the skill and not everyone knows they have this a level of understanding. It is a way of looking at a problem and finding that quick solution; she had it, he simply didn't.
So, I asked if the relative rarity of this special talent is leading to a shortage in real value in IT security hires. "We all know the answer to that," says Berk. "The guys who can look at all sorts of data, look at other companies and find conclusions, those guys are rare, known and never unemployed."
But the skill of recognizing patterns, having the creativity to bring together data sources in your mind, and reach conclusions isn't that rare. There are people with these inherent data analysis skills. Berk identifies the shortage is in the number of people who have opted to specialize in the way networks work.
The analyst skill
Computers, it goes without saying, are very good at compute tasks -- but they lack the ability to make sense of what they are computing. When it comes to recognizing patterns and trends, computers are generally awful. Whatever our shortcomings as humans, we are gifted with a unique ability to see and spot patterns. This basic understanding of how your data needs to be worked is starting to sink in at the C level according to Berk. "CIOs and CSOs are starting to realize their key asset is not the toolset," he told me, "but the analyst".
Is the industry the problem?
Now, I'm a generally cynical person, so I find myself thinking of this shortage with particular reference to the society we live in. Modern life is no longer about loyalty to a corporation, a job for life, modest reward for a day's work. We operate in a society fueled, if not yet solely by the empty promise of X Factor style stardom and glamor, then at least by the romance of multimillion dollar buyouts of startups and computer programmers scooting around Google HQ on their way to their free lunch. So why would people with these skills make their way over to the IT security space?
"I'm from a network security background so I think everyone should get into it!" Berk told me down the phone. "But honestly, it's about your interest. It's a chicken and egg situation, if you have a natural interest in something you study it, if you study it you get better at it. Some people have an innate understanding and want to take that ability further."
He concluded: "Security carries with it that black art image. It's not like that, but people tend to see it as like the matrix. Plus it pays well." So despite my cynicism, the security area is clearly able to attract new talent.
Despite that, as interest grows, demand for these roles looks set to grow even faster.
User Rank: Exabyte Executive 10/4/2013 | 10:56:49 AM
Re: Don't forget r-e-s-p-e-c-t @Qasim Agreed. Current changes in the job market will continue to have an impact on companies. Companies can work to further personalize its initiatives to different staff tiers to meet the needs, being adaptable in such demands and market factors.
User Rank: Gigabyte Governor 10/4/2013 | 10:08:59 AM
Re: Don't forget r-e-s-p-e-c-t @MDMConsult, Generally speaking,wouldn't it also be true for all the technical-jobs, not the senior level technical jobs though, the mid-level and mostly junior staff? Adaptability, to meet the growing and continuously changing demands of the job-industry.
User Rank: Exabyte Executive 10/4/2013 | 9:00:28 AM
Re: Don't forget r-e-s-p-e-c-t @Qasim Security teams require such adaptability in the marketplace. ROI is an obvious critical component to delivering valuable results. The market also pressures specialists to deliver projects and work in shorter time constraints. With this demand, adaptability must play a very strong role. Security analysts should adapt to technologies.
User Rank: Gigabyte Governor 10/3/2013 | 11:11:46 AM
Re: Don't forget r-e-s-p-e-c-t @MDMconsult, I agree, if the basics are well developed, learning a new skill becomes easier, same is the case with Analytical skills, which are honed with time and through exposure, not forgetting the positive attitude towards learning new skills that has proved to be a necessary ingredient.
User Rank: Exabyte Executive 10/2/2013 | 4:39:39 PM
Re: Don't forget r-e-s-p-e-c-t @Qasim Agreed. Any analyst would always look for more and more to learn. Most experienced analysts have the ability to master key programs. Being able to be exposed to a plethora of knowledge is important an unaccompanied approach is definitely a successful way to further cultivate curiosity and growth.
User Rank: Petabyte Pathfinder 9/30/2013 | 10:05:18 AM
Re: Don't forget r-e-s-p-e-c-t I don't think that is the case with fresh hires. If there is then I am sure they want the graduate to share some experience in his academic forte in which he was challenged with such a quest. I see people with great problem solving techniques and approaches even in their academic career and that is what the recruiters want to see. Whether or not one will adapt and bring the student knowledge into practice within the professional environment is more of a mystery and gamble in my firmest opinion.
User Rank: Gigabyte Governor 9/30/2013 | 9:45:38 AM
Re: Don't forget r-e-s-p-e-c-t @Netcrawl
You really can't blame the education system. As James said, you can't teach all these skills in the same breath. But what can be done is that an organization can conduct a trainee program which would train young minds to adapt to these situatuons and draw out a best possible solution. Such a skill set takes time and experience to develop.
User Rank: Gigabyte Governor 9/30/2013 | 9:40:01 AM
Re: Don't forget r-e-s-p-e-c-t @Kiran
I totally agree. Without exposure in a professional environment, you can't expect anyone to develop these analytical skills and solve problems overnight. But the issue is that seldom orgainzations are willing to take that chance and look for people with pre-developed problem solving abilities and can come in and hit the ground running.