With Jobs on Horizon, San Antonio Cybersecurity Firm Funds Nonprofit

San Antonio—While job prospects abound in IT, especially in subsets like cybersecurity, a pretty simple question remains: Is there enough training available to provide people the skills to fill those jobs?

The rise of coding schools is helping take care of the demand for software developers, a position that’s projected to rise 17 percent by 2024 from 1.1 million positions in 2014, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Cybersecurity has fewer existing jobs than software, but openings in the field are expected to grow at an even faster rate. The BLS projects that information security analysts will grow by 18 percent by 2024. Today, there are 209,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs available, according to a study of BLS data by Stanford’s Peninsula Press. Demand for cybersecurity workers rose 3.5 times faster than other jobs in IT, the Peninsula Press says.

Schools like University of Texas at San Antonio offer degrees in cybersecurity. But other local programs that aim to provide more training are springing up, such as the CyberTexas Foundation, a San Antonio nonprofit that is trying to expand cybersecurity training and workforce development programs in Texas.

Local businesses are showing support. Digital Defense, a San Antonio-based services company that tests security protocols in other businesses systems, networks, and personnel, announced last week it is contributing $22,500 over the next few years to CyberTexas.

The money will primarily be used to help pay for camps and clinics that CyberTexas hosts with area schools that help prepare students for the Air Force Association’s annual CyberPatriot competition, according to CyberTexas executive director Joe Sanchez. Over the course of a few rounds, the competition has students from around the country and some internationally—more than 3,000 teams compete, Sanchez says—try to fix a corrupted file in a limited time period. Those who do the best fixing the problem the fastest move on until a champion is crowned, he says.

“You have students who know very little about IT other than their iPhone, iPad, or what they use at school, and you turn them on to opening up an operating system and learning how it operates, all the various attributes they need to protect,” Sanchez says. “It doesn’t take long for them to learn what needs to be done. They excel pretty quickly.”

CyberTexas, which operates on a budget of less than $40,000, will cover the costs it takes to operate those camps, such as hiring people to help teach the kids, Sanchez says. The camps will take place throughout the year, and the CyberPatriot competition takes place in two rounds: in October or November and in January.

Digital Defense, which offers a cloud-based security management system called Frontline, has contributed money to CyberTexas since the nonprofit’s founding in 2015. The company became involved with the organization through Sanchez, who is a civilian employee of the U.S. Air Force. He works as the chief of network operations of the operations center for the 25th Air Force division in San Antonio.

Sanchez has worked to develop other programs that promote cybersecurity in San Antonio since the 1990s—including finding early stage funding for programs at UTSA, as well as creating a consortium of colleges that meets on the subject every quarter—so creating a foundation was to centralize the work he was already doing, Sanchez says. Digital Defense first became deeply involved a few years ago when it was looking to donate money and resources to promote local cybersecurity education, and Sanchez connected with Southwest High School, says Digital Defense CEO Larry Hurtado. The company provided the school with some computer lab equipment, and provided students interested in cybersecurity with mentoring and, in a few instances, internships, Hurtado says.

CyberTexas, which also hosts an annual conference on cybersecurity in August, works with other local organizations to bring new businesses to the Alamo City, such as the local Chamber of Commerce’s newly formed CyberSecurity San Antonio, a group that aims to bring more cybersecurity jobs and businesses to San Antonio. Digital Defense was also a founding sponsor of the new group.

For Digital Defense, providing funding to CyberTexas makes both altruistic and selfish sense, Hurtado says. The private company has 70 employees currently, is profitable, and is expecting to grow, he says.

“The ultimate objective is to get more high school students involved in cybersecurity from the perspective of obviously benefiting the nation, by developing a stronger workforce, but also by giving kids in certain areas of the city sort of a better appreciation for what’s out there,” he says. “Obviously, from a selfish motivation perspective, it gives us an early lead in terms of access to talent.”

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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