As computer viruses like the Heartbleed bug and other security threats continue to steal data, Tennessee Tech University computer scientists are helping to build a diverse and talented workforce ready to meet those challenges head-on.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by next year, there will be 4.2 million jobs created that deal with cybersecurity.
TTU computer science associate professor Ambareen Siraj spent the past year organizing the nation’s first Women in Cybersecurity conference, funded by the National Science Foundation. Her plan to host 100 people in Nashville grew and grew until the list of attendees more than tripled.
“I had funding for 100 attendees, but I kept registration open until we’d reached the facility’s capacity and the fire code stopped me,” Siraj said. “I stopped registration nearly two months before the conference at 350. People really did come from all over and I was blown away by the support the conference recieved.”
Attendees came from several Ivy League universities and as far away as the University of Puerto Rico. In all, 180 organizations and universities registered for the conference, including Google, Microsoft, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Facebook and Regions.
The conference aimed to broaden the participation rates of women in cybersecurity. Women make up approximately 10 percent of the cybersecurity workforce in the U.S., when half of the nation’s workers are women.
More than 50 percent of those who came to the April conference were students pursuing degrees in computer science and cybersecurity. The rest were almost evenly divided between professionals and academics.
That mix was deliberate, Siraj said.
“This conference was for recruitment and retention of students in cybersecurity. The rest of us were there to support and mentor them,” she said. “Cybersecurity is such a big field now. Who is going to take these jobs if not students?”
In addition to a variety of sessions and presentations by national leaders in the field and students, undergraduate and graduate students had the chance to showcase their research in a poster competition. TTU computer science student Christa Cody, a junior from Morristown, Tenn., was named the first runner-up in the undergraduate competition for her work on smart meter security.
Siraj is already planning next year’s conference, which will be in Atlanta.