Networking helps Australia’s security industry steer cybersecurity students towards areas of greatest demand

AustCyber ‘Speed dating’ event introduces industry to aspiring cybersecurity engineers while they’re still at uni

Australian security firms looking for new cybersecurity talent have found great value in an AustCyber ‘speed dating’ event that this week gave around 130 aspiring cybersecurity students the chance to sit down with the experts that may one day employ them.

The oversubscribed networking event, which was held in Canberra and organised by AustCyber and CSIRO Data61’s Ribit student job platform, attracted participants from more than 25 commercial firms including Google, Telstra, Verizon, Accenture, Ernst & Young and FireEye.

Timed to coincide with the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) annual conference, the event offered Ben Whitham, founder of security firm PenTen, the chance to look past CV-based recruiting to get a better view of the types of talent in the pipeline.

“The fact that you can sit down and have an exchange with somebody, provides stronger contacts than you can get just from sitting down clicking through CVs,” he told CSO Australia.

Whitham was attending on behalf of his newly-launched machine-learning venture Deception.AI – whose locally-developed core technology creates ersatz versions of real files in an effort to confuse attackers. The firm this week partnered with Quintessence Labs and will pitch the industry at next week’s RSA security conference in the US.

The speed-networking event offered the chance to identify potential subjects for mentoring opportunities that may ultimately lead to careers with firms like Deception.AI and PenTen, which is pushing past the 50-staff mark and will lean heavily on academic pipelines to maintain its growth with new graduates.

“We’re at a certain stage of our business cycle,” Whitham said.

“In the early days of growing the business you know a lot of the people you work with. But as you move forward, you have to reach out further than your immediate social groups and people that you’ve worked with in the past.”

“For us, that represents a new stage – and events like what AustCyber have set up here, allow us to have conversations beyond the people that we know. This event allowed us to speak to a lot of people at the beginning of their careers, an to make sure we can help facilitate their entry into the ecosystem.”

Security researcher Aaron Doggett, regional director of Hivint, was also in attendance and found great value in meeting with university students who were considering careers in penetration testing and other security-related work.

“The attitudes of a lot of the people there were just brilliant,” he said. “These were people that didn’t know what they want to do, but want to engage with employers and best fit themselves towards that. The biggest benefit is introducing the industry to students as they progress through university, to help guide how they progress their studies and what they will do at the end of them.”

The “pretty intense” event gave the team the opportunity to talk with more than 30 people during the course of the hour, Doggett said. Whether or not they end up working for the firm, he added, the ability to help steer students’ choice of skills was a boon for an industry that has been struggling to find enough of the right people to keep up with rampant demand for cybersecurity skills.

“We’re always on the lookout for good breakers of systems and good builders of systems,” he said. “Just finding people with good application in that space is difficult at time.”

“That being said, there are a lot of really good, flexible people out there who can grab concepts and learn. You want to get the best of the best – and you go out to find them.”

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