I am a 26-year-old cybersecurity analyst. I grew up a rather typical gaming millennial, and now I have a budding career in the cybersecurity industry. "Millennial" is a term saturating headlines today, and is defined as the generation currently aged from 18-34 or, in the words of some, the digital generation that's addicted to their phones. While this may be true, this is not a negative for the digital world we live in today. This digitized lifestyle is in fact unknowingly preparing the younger members of our generation (as well as the younger Generation Z) for a broad range of careers that utilize technical knowledge of computers and networks, namely the cybersecurity industry.
One thing I've noticed, as I've met other millennials (and many from Generation X) in the industry, is there is something we all seem to have in common today; a love, or at least an interest, for video games. This means that most job holders in the tech industry today are gamers. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reports that, as of 2017, the largest segment of gamers are millennials, and 67% of all American households today possess a gaming device other than their cell phone. I am currently a small-business cyber security analyst contracting for a state agency, while my closest friends consist of 20-something year old software developers, security engineers, and cybersecurity students. Likewise, I certainly spend most of my free time playing tactical PS4 games with these close friends of mine. What does this mean?
It is not a coincidence that so many of us security-minded individuals are gamers as well. The industry of cybersecurity is rapidly growing and there is a growing gap between job openings and qualified candidates. Reputable industry leaders, such as McAfee, believe that these gamers are strong candidates for jobs in the industry. McAfee surveyed 300 senior security managers and 650 security professionals at major corporations. 78% of respondents said that my generation, the first generation to grow up gaming, are much stronger candidates for cybersecurity positions. This next statistic from that same study shocked me; three-quarters (!!!) of those security managers and professionals say they would consider hiring a gamer even if that person had zero specific cybersecurity training or experience. 72% of those respondents say that hiring experienced gamers "seems like a good way to plug the cybersecurity skills gap." Are you kidding me?
How is this possible? WHY exactly are gamers better candidates? This question, while objectively researched, can be very subjective. In my case, my passion for video games unknowingly led me into a successful cybersecurity career.
I grew up in an incredibly small town without much to do besides hanging with friends. My grade school only had a basketball team, so I never ventured far into sports. It seems that, at some point, almost everyone was a gamer. My time came when I was 8, and my uncle let me play Mortal Kombat on his Sega Genesis. It blew my mind; I had never experienced anything so interactive. I eventually got a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. My dad, brother, and I spent endless hours competing in Mario Party and similar competitive problem-solving games. As I grew up and became more curious, I started using the family PC for gaming. This is when my friends and I started playing massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like Runescape that, for the first time, put us against players from around the world. This is also when I started learning about cybersecurity.
Runescape became a daily grind for my friends and I. While gaming on my Windows XP, and surfing the web, I was looking for ways to either level up faster in Runescape, or download anything for free because my parents were too afraid to pay for anything online. I downloaded malware and fell for an embarrassing number of scams. It didn't take long for my desktop to look like this. Quite simply, I quickly destroyed the family computer, and I needed to fix it if I wanted to continue gaming (or prevent my parents from becoming upset). I started researching and learned about malware, best practices, and basic IT support. My motivation was to continue gaming, but my interest for security was quickly growing. I helped friends with their PCs, and quickly became the local computer whiz around the age of 13. I would often find problems with PCs that I couldn't fix. It was just another game to me, another challenge that I wanted to overcome, another method of leveling-up, and I loved it.
This combination of interest and motivation related to gaming and basic cybersecurity became a full-time hobby and side job. A lot happened in the next few years. I built my own gaming PC and spent a lot of effort securing it, as the hardware was expensive, and I was simply proud of my gaming investment. I began charging for my IT services and made a ton of cash for a young teenager. I built a small reputation for myself, and landed a city government IT internship at the age of 18. While working smaller technical roles like these, my insanely competitive mindset (which I attribute to my lifetime passion for gaming) pushed me to pivot into a career in security. I began experimenting with basic hacking tools and, eventually, I obtained my M.S. in Cybersecurity Technology. It's not difficult to understand how a passion for gaming can lead to a successful career in cybersecurity.
I believe that, for lifelong gamers such as myself, any activity related to hacking and security that involves overcoming barriers to gain entry into a new domain (or preventing others from achieving this) satisfies that same internal desire to solve problems that makes gaming such a fulfilling endeavor for us. We are extremely competitive in all aspects of life, and this is what makes cybersecurity such an amazing career fit for us gamers. Basic cybersecurity concepts involve maintaining confidentiality, integrity, and availability for our systems and data, and to achieve this we have to beat the bad guys to the punch. This is a direct mental link between cybersecurity and gaming that I believe will drive young gamers, especially Generation Z, towards careers in cybersecurity. I strongly believe Generation Z gamers will make the best candidates for any career in cybersecurity, and I believe, given the sheer number of young gamers, they will fill the growing skill gaps in the years to come. For this reason, it is important to ensure young gamers understand the mere demand and potential for individuals that possess their mindset. It is critical that they understand career opportunities in cybersecurity in order for them to fill the growing skill gap. School systems need to enact curriculum that can convey the basics of cybersecurity and this demand. Likewise, corporations can utilize methods such as gamification and automation to tap into the gaming mindset and attract higher-end cybersecurity talent to fill their positions (I may write a subsequent blog on the benefits of gamification, automation, and how these and similar methodologies can be key to cybersecurity success, so stay tuned!).
Meanwhile, if your kid is a gamer, encourage their competitive mindset and provide them with the tools they need to explore this growing interest. Today, most video games are incredibly immersive experiences that require problem-solving, teamwork, and high-levels of communication. Stimulate that passion! It may just lead to a successful career in a high-demand industry laden with amazing jobs and opportunities. Game on!
Additionally, if you are a security professional looking to gain technical knowledge and reputable certifications, or simply a security-aware end user looking to learn basic concepts of cybersecurity, check out these training options provided through EC-Council. Providing everything from Certified Secure Computer User to Certified Ethical Hacker, this is a great platform for you or your colleagues to prove that you possess technical knowledge and the determined, continually-educated mindset that this industry requires. Thanks for reading, and please give it a click!