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Taking Advantage Of Veteran Security Clearances To Land Jobs

Paul Flahive
Open Cloud Academy's Graduation 12.16.16

Filling cyber security jobs often times means finding people with the certifications but also with the security clearances to work on government contracts. A novel boot-camp style class teaches veterans with the clearances the skills to land the job.

This course at the Rand Building downtown aims to fill San Antonio's security jobs stemming from the 1000+ IT businesses, commercial jobs servicing the outsized Air Force IT presence and the National Security Agency's San Antonio office.  The 12-week course is a collaboration between Rackspace's Open Cloud Academy and Project Quest, a nonprofit jobs program.

"If asymmetric cryptography scales better and provides so many more security services, why do we have symmetric Cryptography?" asks Ted Udelson the instructor of one of the many modules the class will study.

"It's faster," says the class in unison.

"Bingo Bingo Bingo, it's faster," he says.

The pilot course is free. The 13 students are veterans and range in age from their late 20s to early 50s. They were either unemployed or working lower wage jobs and wanting a shot at a good paying career

Christopher Buffaloe felt strange jumping into IT at age 47, " You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

He says he had to get over this idea after being unemployed for three months, the longest he had gone without work in 20 plus years. He and his wife are both retired military and came to San Antonio from North Carolina when she landed a job here.

"This was something very new to me. This is finally something, a direction I choose to go versus the normal route I was drive to in the military. This is kind of a beacon for me," he says.

Credit Paul Flahive
From Left: Deborah Carter, Jacob Mireles, and Marcus Benavides

The pilot course is exactly what 36 year-old Jacob Mireles needed to translate his military job in IT into the commercial sector. The grants from Project Quest made the difference.

"I could not have come up with [the money] on my own. When the opportunity came and the money was there for us, I had to do it. There was no way I wasn't going to do it," says Mireles.

The certifications this course trains for are part of the reason why seven San Antonio companies signed on to give internships to graduates. More important than the certifications though, were the security clearances these veterans have.

"As far as DoD goes, it is everything. The clearance is the door" - Steve Johnson IPSecure

"As far as DoD goes, it is everything. The clearance is the door," says Steve Johnson, cyber security project manager at IPSecure, one of the companies recruiting heavily from the class. Most of IPSecure's work is with the military. Getting someone with any clearance cuts time off the process of having someone on the payroll but unable to work on a contract. 

"And that's again why we have so many veterans and ex-military that work for us because they've already been previously cleared or already have clearances. It kind of takes out that two years of sitting around not being able to provide that service," he says.

Sister Pearl Ceasar runs Project Quest, they are picking up the tab for the 13 veterans in the class using federal, county and city funds. She says the corporate community is hungry for these types of employees.

"The first thing we heard, the very first thing we heard was 'Well, I hope next year do 100,' and that bowled us over," she says.

She says the class is one of only a few boot-camp style courses they support. The corporate buy-in has changed how she thinks about these types of programs, and how up to date they are in teaching skills.

At Rackspace headquarters - a month later - the Snooper Troopers, as the cyber security class is nicknamed, receives their certificates with the other Open Cloud Academy graduates. 

Thirteen of the 15 original students completed the course. Nine of them with Security+ certifications and four having passed the Certified Information Systems Security Professional test. According to Open Cloud Academy director Deborah Clark, there are several tweaks that can still happen to improve outcomes next year.

"We had a 'lessons learned' meeting. We've decided that some of the courses should be rearranged. It would better the flow of the content and curriculum," says Clark.

Jacob Mireles was one student who was certified in even the most grueling of tests, the 6-hour CISSP exam. "It was intense. What we've been reading is it is three to six months of studying just to do the CISSP," he says.

Because of that certification, Mireles started at IPSecure last week, but instead of an internship, he was offered a job.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive