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CyberTitan: Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

Organizations across the globe are feeling the pain when it comes to cybersecurity, advanced threat detection, and in particular the global shortage of skilled talent. Cybersecurity Ventures projects $1 trillion will be spent globally on cybersecurity between 2017 and 2021.

In New Brunswick, government, industry and academia are collaborating to develop tomorrow’s leaders and innovators today in order to help shrink that gap. We are executing on a purpose-built strategy via initiatives like the CyberTitan challenge. Leading the charge is New Brunswick’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD), with the full support of CyberNB.

Bill Kierstead, CyberNB’s K-12 Specialist, has keen insight into this competition. We spoke to Bill to learn more about New Brunswick’s involvement in CyberTitan.

ONB: First give us a bit more detail on your role with CyberSmartNB.

Kierstead: On top of dealing directly with the K-12 sphere I’m also engaging the IT and cybersecurity industries to get their message to students and parents. We are currently working on video vignettes looking at careers in cybersecurity and IT in New Brunswick. We’re featuring industry players in these videos; who they are, what they do, what it’s like to work for them, etc. We want students to see themselves in those roles, so these will be kid-oriented and fun as opposed to a straight talking head setup.

InspireNB is also involved; they have a database of New Brunswick companies available for students. Any companies we include in these vignettes are connected to InspireNB in hopes they will include themselves in that database. That way kids can dig into more detail and find out about opportunities within those companies in New Brunswick.

ONB: Let’s talk about CyberTitan, your big event of the moment. What does it entail?

Kierstead: CyberTitan is a cybersecurity competition involving teams of students from both the U.S. and Canada. In the States, where it originated, it’s called CyberPatriot. This will be New Brunswick’s first involvement with the competition.

Prior to us joining the fray there were 21 teams from Manitoba; that’s due to leadership from Sisler High School, which has really embraced cybersecurity. There are also three teams from Alberta, and one each from Ontario and Quebec. There are now nine New Brunswick teams involved representing seven of our high schools. The first qualification round begins later this week, November 11th.

When the competition begins, teams receive an email with a password to help them extract a virtual machine image. There will be a problem associated with it, and each team will have to get to work solving that particular problem. The goal is to fix any vulnerabilities associated with their image. Teams also get points for answering questions about their actions taken to solve the problem.

If any of our teams make the finals they’ll travel to Baltimore to compete against the best from both sides of the border.

ONB: Nine teams from a small province like New Brunswick, that’s impressive. It speaks to the increased excitement around that industry here.

Kierstead: Absolutely. I actually got a call from Charles Bazilewich, who leads Sisler High School’s cybersecurity activity and works with the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). He made it a point to say we caused quite a stir by registering nine teams.

ONB: What made you sign on with CyberNB and this new role? 

Kierstead: I’m a firm believer in the constructivist approach to education; I believe kids learn by doing. I also believe education is a social activity. When we put kids in situations where they have to flex their creativity muscles to problem solve, we end up with creative problem solvers. That’s what the industry needs.

Within the economy that lays ahead of us that’s what is going to be in demand. It’s already in demand, really. When we speak with employers about who they hope to recruit, they say technical skill sets aren’t the only factor. They say “Bring us people who are creative, can solve problems, and learn quickly. We’ll teach them what they need to know.” By giving kids practical examples of current, authentic things to learn from, and demonstrate their learning, we can and will grow a great pipeline of talent.

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CyberNB, an initiative of Opportunities NB, is executing a deliberate action plan to build upon New Brunswick’s world-class industry cluster to enhance workforce development, education, and cybersecurity research. Learn more at CyberNB.ca

Bill Kierstead has been a biology and chemistry teacher, science department head, district supervisor, and Principal. This year, Kierstead joined CyberNB in the role of Education Specialist, where his focus is on K-12. His position falls under CyberSmartNB, which aims to create a robust pipeline of cybersecurity/IT talent and leadership for the province.