How Military Veterans Transition To Civilian Cybersecurity

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By Stephan Tallent

Given the number of ex-military folks we know who now work to defend networks, we understand that military veterans possess natural synergies that can allow them to develop into outstanding cybersecurity professionals. With this in mind, Fortinet launched the FortiVets program in 2013 in an effort to recruit and assist veterans seeking to make the transition to a civilian career in cybersecurity.

Since then, 56 veterans who have gone through the program have found jobs in the cybersecurity industry, and dozens of others are either completing the program or interviewing for jobs.

The program receives high marks from veterans. FortiVets “was instrumental in helping me smoothly transition into the civilian workforce,” said Joel Chapman, a CISSP and former Marine Corps captain.

The program prepared him to interview for jobs with confidence, Chapman explained.  “When I first began searching for jobs I was spending eight hours a day looking through job postings, completing applications, making phone calls, and trying to find contacts who could help me,” he added. “However, through the auspices of this program I was sought out by senior leadership at different companies to compete for positions with their organizations.”

The FortiVets program allows veterans at any skill level to gain access to cybersecurity-related job opportunities that would “otherwise be impossible to capitalize upon,” added Christopher Armstrong, also a former Marine Corps captain.

Many other programs focus either on general job-related skills or technical proficiency, “rather than providing both aspects in a flexible manner,” he said.

The program gives veterans an opportunity to interact with a “vast network” of people and companies, Armstrong added.

“Great jobs are all about who you know and what you know, and FortiVets has all the answers,” he said. “Having former service members as mentors during my entry in the information technology field was important. I could rely on their experience with the confidence that they could truly relate to the challenges faced by service members transitioning.”

The FortiVets program was started and continues to operate as part of the Fortinet Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) organization. Fortinet MSSP partners were frequently asking us to refer qualified job candidates to them. That led the company to set up a cybersecurity professional training and referral program focused on military veterans.

The FortiVets program operates at no cost to enrollees or the employers. Two dedicated staff members run the program. The team lead is a recently retired military veteran, providing a relatable experience to new candidates.

The FortiVets program contains three main elements:

1. Make veterans aware of cybersecurity opportunities

Fortinet works with the military services and the U.S. Department of Labor to encourage veterans to apply the skills and disciplines they acquired in the military to cybersecurity roles.

Many military people perform highly technical work during their service, and their training teaches them to operate effectively under pressure and take responsibility for decisions and actions that affect others. Still, many veterans are unaware of the ways their experience prepares them for a role in cybersecurity, and FortiVets helps them take advantage of their skills.

2. Technical training and cybersecurity certification

The program provides participants with knowledge and certifications that employers want. Many veterans already hold U.S. government security clearances, a big plus for many employers. Security clearances, combined with IT certifications and other training, make military veterans attractive employees to many companies.

Participants in FortiVets are enrolled in the Fortinet Network Security Expert (NSE) Program. More advanced participants can acquire Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and other high-level certifications, including all eight levels of NSE training and certification as a part of an internship with participating partners.

3. Soft Skills for Job Hunting and Interviewing

Resume writing, building a LinkedIn profile, networking, interviewing, salary negotiations, and simply learning how the hiring process works can be daunting processes. The soft skills element of the FortiVets program goes beyond the standard training for job hunting.

The program helps every participant put together a personal “battlecard” that goes beyond a standard resume. The battlecard presents job candidates as a complete person, with life objectives, interests, and pictures in uniform and civilian business attire-- all to help employers visualize them playing a role in their organizations.

The results are twofold, and speak for themselves. First, men and women who have served in the military need more than a pat on the back when they finish their service. They need a way to effectively transition back into the society they worked so hard to defend. And second, we are engaged in a real battle against the cybercrime industry, and we are woefully understaffed. We need trained cyber professionals who also understand things like defense in depth, proper preparation, perimeter control, establishing and completing objectives, the need for visibility and control, and thinking like the enemy. Which is why so many military veterans make such good cybersecurity professionals – and why we need more programs like FortiVets to help them continue to serve.

About Stephan Tallent

Stephan Tallent brings over 16 years of managed services and information security experience to Fortinet, having spent the last 13 years building managed security service practices within several different types of service provider businesses.

More About Stephan

Want more? Last year, ITSPmagazine captured a Q&A session with Chris Armstrong.