HESP May 1, 2018

In a world where cybersecurity workforce is facing severe labor shortages, and the tech world more broadly is under fire for lack of workforce diversity, there is a labor pool to draw from that are largely overlooked by recruiters: liberal arts majors. This is changing, and recent years have seen graduates in fields like political science, international relations, and communications (among others) encouraged to seek employment in tech sector companies. Unfortunately, corporate cultures are harder to change than outreach and recruitment, as many candidates find they are marginalized either in the hiring process or in project assignments once they are through the front door. All too frequently the implications are that, in spite of whatever qualifications that singled them out originally, they are now not “technical enough” to be the project lead, senior pitch agent, etc.

Apart from the obvious benefits individuals with marketing or international relations/business degrees bring to large corporations, social science folks are expert communicators and can visualize trends easily. These are the folks you want to consult when trying to come up with new service or product ideas to fill industry gaps, and the closer on that big customer presentation pitch. Liberal arts graduates bring communication skills, vision, emotional intelligence, and diversity among a host of other traits beneficial to (and still undervalued in) the technical world. These skills have taken a back seat to the “hard” technical skills like software development and programming/coding historically, but as we see a shift towards more automated tools, algorithms, and artificial intelligence, these “soft” skills will become increasingly relevant. One need only look as far as the revolution in user experience work and emerging research in the field of human factors to see the critical role of having a non-technical presence involved in the software design process and roll-out of a product intended for everyday users.

True in many office environments, but especially in the project-centric environment of the tech world, there is a tendency to want to pigeon-hole people based on one or two projects they’ve contributed to rather than looking at their skill set holistically. It starts simple like working on a specific project and from then on being typecast in that role, glazing over whatever other credentials a person might have. This has very real impacts on an individual’s daily workflow, and they can become vastly underutilized. Of course, it’s not realistic to have a conscientious evaluation of what nuanced skill sets everyone can bring to the table when bidding on contracts or designing a deliverable, but it is time the tech world stop dismissing individuals with non-tech backgrounds as incapable of doing the heavy lifting. Cybersecurity is a need in almost every industry, and is more than just securing data – it’s risk management, involving people and changing office cultures.

 

About the author: Holly Dragoo is a research associate with the Cybersecurity, Information Protection, and Hardware Evaluation Research (CIPHER) Lab at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). Her research interests reside at the intersection of foreign policy, national security, cybersecurity, and military cyber operations.

 

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