Matt Hansen was fidgety Saturday ... and for good reason.
As coach of Indiana Tech's Cyber Warriors, he wasn't allowed to interact with his team during the eight-hour Indiana Collegiate Defense Competition.
So Hansen sat in a nondescript room at Indiana Tech's campus talking about the event as the 12 students on his team attempted to detect and defend against numerous cyberattacks while simultaneously accomplishing the typical tasks of an IT professional.
Teamwork and communication are critical to success as professionals create a perfect storm of everything that can go wrong, he said.
Seven other teams – three in person and four remotely – were attempting the same tasks and being graded by judges. At stake was a trip to the regional competition and an opportunity to win a slot in the national competition.
With Saturday's first-place finish, Indiana Tech has won six straight state titles, 13 overall.
“Our teams are lean and mean,” Hansen said. “We take the (students) who really have the drive and ambition and push them as far as we can. So far, it's been a winning strategy.”
Pushing members means practicing 20 hours a week, on average. That's a year-round commitment that balloons in the weeks leading up to competitions.
Hansen compared the time required for Cyber Warriors participation to the time that would be required by two or three college courses. Most – if not all – members have part-time jobs in addition to being full-time students, he said.
The grueling schedule leads participants to impressive career opportunities.
Hansen, a graduate of the program, ought to know. The married father of two works remotely full-time for Microsoft, teaches one class each semester at Indiana Tech and is a doctoral student while also coaching the team.
Indiana Tech has achieved 100% job placement for its cybersecurity program students before graduation for at least the last eight years, Hansen said. Some receive senior-level offers with salaries of more than $100,000, he added.
Alumni have secured jobs at companies including Cisco, Raytheon, Boeing, the Department of Defense and, of course, Microsoft. Various employers sponsor cybersecurity competitions and interview the participants.
Cybersecurity Ventures, considered a world leader in cyber-economy research, estimates the industry will have 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions worldwide by next year.
Darryl Togashi, director of Indiana Tech's cybersecurity program, was hired in June to beef up the university's offerings to increase lab space and align classes with current industry requirements. As cyber-threats evolve, professional training must adapt, he said.
His vision includes creating more hands-on opportunities for students to gain practical experience.
Togashi's focus includes securing a CAE-CDE – of Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education – designation from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. Results of the review should be available in March or April, he said.
If Indiana Tech doesn't receive the prestigious designation, it will get feedback on what deficiencies were found and allowed to correct them and reapply, Togashi said.
Within a year to two, university officials hope to offer working IT professionals opportunities to receive training in specific cybersecurity skills or topics. Voting machine security issues might be a focus of one, for example.
Togashi is also charged with sponsoring and participating in events that introduce middle and high school students to cybersecurity at a level they can understand.
Hansen is especially interested in attracting talented and dedicated students to join his team. That's why he's enthusiastic about the $10,000 scholarships that Indiana Tech will begin awarding to new team members for the fall semester.
The financial aid will make team participation possible for some students who otherwise have be shut out because of the required time commitment.
And succeeding on the team is a direct path to career success, Hansen said.
“If you can do it at this level,” he said of the collegiate competition, “you can absolutely do it in the real world.”
At a glance
The Top 2 finishers in Saturday's Indiana Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition were:
1. Indiana Tech
2. Purdue University – West Lafayette