Why Tech Companies Are Turning to HBCUs to Expand the Cybersecurity Workforce

When Microsoft hired Thomas Moore in 2008, he joined the company as a software engineer but quickly noticed he was the only black employee on his team. Later, Moore was lucky enough to attend a job fair at Florida A&M University on behalf of Microsoft. After working with administrators, students and her manager to create career readiness events, her efforts resulted in strong new hires at Microsoft at a historically black college or university, or HBCU.

At REFACTR(Opens in a new window), a convention focused on diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, Moore shared the challenges he faced when recruiting black students and the solutions he offered to better prepare them for job interviews. rigorous hiring in the best technology companies. I attended the convention earlier this month.

Why HBCUs?

Nearly 18% of black students with STEM degrees graduate from HBCUs, according to the National Science Foundation(Opens in a new window), and one-third of all black students in the United States who earned a doctorate earned their bachelor’s degree from HBCUs. According to Moore, these schools are an untapped resource for new talent that could solve the tech industry’s struggles to fill vacancies, especially in certain niches, such as security.

Closing the Cybersecurity Skills Gap

Demand for employees trained in cybersecurity is massive, despite cybersecurity being one of the highest paying careers in tech, according to a 2020 study. From May 2021 to April 2022, the United States had 180,000 Information Security Analyst Jobs, According to CyberSeek(Opens in a new window)but only 141,000 workers currently occupy these positions, resulting in an annual shortage of 39,000 employees.

At the same time, a recent study by EdWeek(Opens in a new window) found that students in small, very poor school districts are significantly less likely to be exposed to cybersecurity education. This means that low-income and minority students have far fewer paths to the field of cybersecurity as a career.

This year, the US government expanded Project Reach(Opens in a new window), a program that connects K-12 schools with HBCU’s IT and cybersecurity programs through campus tours, classroom support, and kid-friendly cybersecurity activities. “This collaboration between universities and high schools will be key to solving the cybersecurity labor shortage and introducing students to cybersecurity careers at a young age,” said Laurie Salvail, director of cyber.org, the workforce development organization that manages Project Reach.

The pilot initiative launched with Grambling State University in 2021, and Project Reach recently announced that 10 additional HBCUs intended to join the program.(Opens in a new window).

Prepare students for technical interviews

When Thomas Moore first visited the FAMU job fair to scout for Microsoft candidates, Project Reach hadn’t even started yet. But in his case, finding a talent pool wasn’t the problem. Moore told the REFACTR audience that his biggest recruiting hurdle was preparing students for real-world job interviews in the tech industry.

While many of the potential candidates he spoke to were smart and ambitious, they hadn’t been prepared for the rigorous technical interviews that big tech companies are known for. They are totally different from job interviews with common questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Moore contacted an outgoing student named Jay at the job fair and arranged a separate session with a small group of students to teach them how to tackle technical interview questions.

On subsequent visits to FAMU, Moore made an effort to talk with administrators about their computer science curriculum and how to better prepare students for interviews for lucrative careers at big tech companies. His advice eventually earned him a place on the school’s advisory board. It also secured funding for future student interview prep events.

The sessions Moore created not only included interview prep and mock interviews, but also opportunities for students to have their CVs reviewed by industry professionals. Several FAMU students were hired at Microsoft while Moore was with the company.

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If you’re wondering how Moore found the time to make multiple trips to a college campus in Florida over the years, he traded time spent working on the company’s diversity initiative in his job description. Specifically, Moore said he requested 10% of his working time for his work with FAMU to train the future tech workforce, which his manager at Microsoft approved. When he later left the company to work for Mozilla as a software engineer, he made a similar speech, and his new manager endorsed it as well.

How to create the tech workforce of the future

Currently, Moore is working at Microsoft again, this time as a senior software engineer. He lamented that the pandemic prevented him from visiting the FAMU campus for over a year. Moore says he stayed in touch with university administrators and staff and is involved in online recruiting activities such as online mentoring until he can return to Florida for a job. visit in person.

In his presentation, Moore offered these tips for anyone in the tech industry interested in working with HBCU administrators to better prepare Black students for tech careers:

  • Offer your expertise. Reach out to administrators or staff members and let them know you want to review the current curriculum and help students find careers in technology.

  • Stay consistent. Showing up on campus once every few years to sit behind a table at a job fair just isn’t enough to attract the candidates the industry needs. Moore said he established a relationship of trust with university staff and students by constantly returning to school and talking to students about the opportunity to enter the tech industry.

  • Be flexible. Moore said he had no plans to serve on an advisory board at FAMU when he first visited the school for a job fair. He built a strong mentoring and recruiting relationship between his companies and the school because he was willing to meet students where they were in their budding careers and then guide them through the tech industry.

Some of the biggest tech companies have already implemented new training and recruiting programs at thousands of educational institutions across the United States, such as Microsoft’s Cybersecurity Scholarship Program.(Opens in a new window). In 2021, Google launched Google Career Certificates to help tens of thousands of Americans get job training and career guidance. IBM makes progress in addressing professional cybersecurity talent shortage with recent partnerships(Opens in a new window) with HBCUs to develop strong cybersecurity programs in participating schools.

If you’re looking to change careers or hope to enter the tech workforce in the future, check out PCMag’s online training guide for some cybersecurity skills.

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