Closing the cybersecurity skills gap: A Q&A with CyberVista CEO Simone Petrella

September 2, 2020

CyberVista, a cybersecurity workforce development company located in Arlington, Virginia, builds and strengthens organizations by providing cybersecurity professionals with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to drive defense. We sat down with CyberVista CEO Simone Petrella and asked her about their role as sole technical partner for the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative and why she is committed to the growth and development of cyber employees in the federal government.

What inspired you to collaborate with the Partnership to train the cohorts in our program?

Petrella: My cybersecurity career has taken me to both the government and private sectors, and I’ve seen firsthand the impact of knowledge transfer between the two. When I started my career, the federal government was one of the only places doing computer network operations and information security work in a substantial way. In recent years, cybersecurity has become a bigger priority for both federal agencies and private companies, which benefited from recruiting former military and government cybersecurity experts.

The cybersecurity talent gap continues to grow, putting a strain on the security needs of both the federal and private sector workforces. The Partnership’s Cybersecurity Talent Initiative is a model for the public and private sectors to formalize a working relationship and provides an avenue for new talent to be considered for cybersecurity positions. At CyberVista, we believe that employers can, and should, invest in developing talent from within, as well as identify new sources of external talent that can be grown into cybersecurity roles.

There continues to be an excess of open cybersecurity positions, not only in the federal government, but across the country. How does a program like CTI help address that, and what role does CyberVista play in reducing the gap?

Petrella: We acknowledge that there needs to be a focus on developing and investing in the growth of entry-level talent, while recognizing that today’s talent is unlikely to stay in one place for their entire careers. By providing incentives on both the public and private sides, the program brings more high-quality talent into the cybersecurity industry than each sector would on its own.

At CyberVista, we provide measurable diagnostic performance data, as well as foundational cybersecurity training, to elevate participants’ on-the-job experience. In the beginning, we assess their skill level to gather baseline data for each participant which enables us to measure improvement and provide unique insights relative to each individual’s role. As participants continue in the program, we provide focused training to help fill gaps in their cybersecurity skills.

CyberVista is the sole technical partner for the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative. Now that applications are being accepted for the second cohort, what have you learned from being a part of the first?

Petrella: We have learned how important it is for participating federal agencies to be proactive and involved in the process from start to finish. The initiative’s overarching goal is to recruit and develop an effective cybersecurity workforce that can contribute to both the public and private sectors. That’s why government agencies reserve positions specifically for these participants – because the long-term benefits of establishing a program like this, where private and public sectors can work together, are well worth that initial investment.

As the initiative continues to grow, how do you envision the program, and CyberVista’s role within it, evolving to fill more cybersecurity gaps across the country?

Petrella: As more cohorts are placed, we will have more data on our participants’ backgrounds, their starting skill levels and how they have evolved over time. Analyzing that data can provide valuable insights on the overall skill level required for successful entry-level talent and allow us to identify trends in their development.

The Cybersecurity Talent Initiative has the potential to become a robust recruiting pipeline for government cybersecurity jobs, while simultaneously creating a predictable, reliable and skilled workforce for private sector jobs. It breaks down the assumption that professionals need to choose a career path in either the government or the private sector and instead demonstrates that a person can do both. I’d like to see more government agencies participate in the program, and entice additional corporate partners to support the initiative and hire graduates of the program. 

Why should college students interested in cybersecurity work for a federal agency or at least begin their career there?

Petrella: First, the federal government has some of the most exciting and meaningful cybersecurity missions that make tangible differences in our society and country. Additionally, federal agencies tend to have a greater willingness than the private sector to support career advancement and professional development training. Unlike the private sector where any investment in developing talent directly impacts the bottom line, the federal government has a vested interest in identifying and fostering talent to make employees more effective in their roles and strengthen our national security.

To learn more about the Cybersecurity Talent Initiative visit www.cybertalentinitiative.org or read more about the initiative on our blog.