Cybersecurity Career Insights Featuring UMUC Faculty Dr. George Ford

October is “National Cyber Awareness” month. To better understand this growing and ever-changing field, University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services is highlighting the University’s cybersecurity experts to examine career and industry trends, and to provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this industry.

george-fordRecently, UMUC Faculty member Dr. George Ford answered questions about career trends and opportunities working in cybersecurity. He teaches UMUC’s Cyber Forensics track courses, Cyber Technical Track courses, and occasionally serves as the game master for the CSEC 670 Cyber Capstone Simulation courses. Instructing cyberspace and cybersecurity courses, Dr. Ford’s work experience covers architecture, systems engineering, software engineering and program management of secure systems. This experience encompasses the evolution of the Internet and secure system concepts, design, implementation, test, and deployment over a span of 35 years in industry for various customers.

Additionally, Dr. Ford consults and develops requirements, architectures, and concepts for secure globally distributed enterprise solutions for federal customers.  He also investigates new cybersecurity challenges, cyber range training, and cloud security issues.

Q. The advent of the internet has increased businesses need for developing more web based services. How important of a role does cybersecurity play a part in preventing and combating threats to keep consumers information safe?

A. We are within the midst of the Information Age, and the Cyberspace of the Internet touches each of our lives each day.  With the Internet of Things (IoT), increasingly more of our home and office technology is web enabled.  Whether it’s taking a course online, banking, entering time card data for your employer, shopping, emailing, or visiting your favorite social networking site … security of your transactions to insure confidentiality and privacy, integrity, and access control are key elements to cyberspace’s requirements to protect information. Access control is evolving beyond the simple username password that we are all familiar with today.  Biometrics and personal user patterns and preferences can be assessed with artificial intelligence for identity verification processes.

Q. What career paths could one pursue working in cybersecurity? 

A. The need for cybersecurity professionals is diverse. It includes the ability to be part of teams to formulate national cyber policies, Computer Network Defense (CND), Computer Network Operations (CNO), penetration testing, cyber forensics, secure systems design/implementation/testing/deployment, and malware reverse engineering analysis.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career path in the cybersecurity field? What education path did you pursue? How did you begin your career?

A. My career path started as an electrical engineer and computer scientist designing, developing, testing and deploying secure systems for the federal government as a contractor. What started as a career in software engineering morphed into systems engineer and enterprise architecture of secure systems and secure systems-of-systems over a 35 year period. So, my career has grown in the application and evolution of customer secure processing system environment requirements.  I eventually pursued doctorate degrees in both Applied Information Technology and Computer Science.  My interest in education is to provide both academic and work experience to students, to provide insights for the next generation of professionals.

Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the professional you are today?

A. My experiences in systems design and implementation, and in software design and development, were key in my understanding of digital networked system operations. My domain experience has covered DoD simulators for pilots and U.S. Navy platforms; software development for radars; telemetry and sensor systems; signal processing; data analysis; artificial intelligence; graphics processing; secure communications; satellite design, development and operations; RF engineering; weapon systems command and control; navigation; FAA aircraft tracking; database design and implementation; and virtual machines in cloud computing.  With such a diverse understanding of systems, it has enhanced my understanding of how hardware and software create complex systems, and how secure digital systems require understanding of a system’s components.

Q. What personality and character traits must cybersecurity professionals possess?

A. Cybersecurity, like most technical and policy fields, will forever be evolving. Because of this, the professional must be willing to be a career long learner in their field. The technology, techniques, and tools of the cyber threats are constantly evolving.  So, our cybersecurity skills must be kept honed to meet the match of this challenge.  Whether by joining professional organizations like (ISC)2 or taking courses, seminars, online training, or by pursuing certifications, we need to keep well aware of the cyber environment’s needs to secure systems, data, financial systems, personal health information (PHI) and personal identity information (PII).  It also helps to have an inquisitive mind, that likes to solve puzzles, challenges, and an understanding of how things work.

Q. What advice would you give UMUC students entering the field of cybersecurity?

A. In the classroom, interact with your peers and instructor: ask questions, discuss new cyber events and technology, explore cyber vulnerabilities and threats.  Many of your peers will have some exposure to related fields, in addition to your instructor’s experience.  Lessons learned from others can be a powerful means of gaining insights into the cybersecurity fields, its needs, and career opportunities.

Q. For UMUC students and alumni already working in the field, what advice would you give them on how to keep advancing within the industry?

A. A great way to enhance your skills is to join cybersecurity and information assurance professional groups. Some of these opportunities exist with the CyberGamut Meetings, IEEE national and local chapters, the ACM, and the (ISC)2 local chapters. Not only do such organizations have guest speakers on current topics of interest to the field, but they also provide an opportunity for social networking… which can lead to contacts for that exciting next job opportunity.  I have found over the years, the best way that job opportunities occur is when you meet others in the field and you learn of openings at their company.  Likewise, keep in contact with friends when they move elsewhere … they may eventually need help on new efforts.  Generally, new efforts translate into new challenges in state-of-the-art advancements in industry.

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with UMUC students and alumni?

A. Occasionally we have UMUC hosted seminars and conferences. We often look for guest speakers to discuss their related experiences in industry and government.  A great way to “give back” to the university and the next generation of professionals is to volunteer as a guest speaker on exciting topics you have become experienced with in your career.  So, reach out to the faculty in the cybersecurity program, we would enjoy hearing from you and seeing how you might best convey your experiences to current students.

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Jennifer Tomasovic is the director of Communications for the Career Services and Alumni Relations department at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.