February 7, 2022

Center for Global Affairs’ Pano Yannakogeorgos Discusses How NYU SPS is Preparing the Next Generation Cyber Workforce

Panayotis “Pano” Yannakogeorgos, PhD, is a clinical associate professor and program director for the NYU SPS Center for Global Affairs’ MS in Global Security, Conflict, and Cybercrime (GSCC). He joined the Center for Global Affairs after an eight-year career in government civil service with the US Air Force, where he completed his tenure as the founding dean of the Air Force Cyber College.

When he discovered that CGA sought to launch the GSCC and was looking for someone to lead the effort, he was thrilled at the thought of having the opportunity to take the lessons he had learned while developing a strategy-oriented cyber program for the military and scale it up to meet the strong demand for cybersecurity professionals across the world. Joining NYU SPS in the summer of 2019, Yannakogeorgos leads a team of full-time and adjunct faculty members who have developed a unique cyber curriculum that aligns with work roles related to strategy, planning, policy, and intelligence analysis within the US National Cyber Workforce Framework (NCWF).

As the number of cyber-enabled malicious incidents that impact individuals, businesses, and organizations continues to rise every day, Yannakogeorgos discusses how the NYU SPS Center for Global Affairs is helping to prepare the next generation of cyber strategists, planners, analysts, and leaders to fill a critical national and international cyber workforce gap.

What skills are needed to succeed in the cybersecurity industry now and for long-term career success?
The skills needed to succeed in cybersecurity go well beyond just understanding science and technology. One of the most critical and essential skills required for the cyber workforce is the ability to think critically to understand policy and to be able to analyze problems, and design solutions within a strategic framework that aligns with organizational goals and objectives.

Currently, there is a massive gap in this area. Now the industry is technology-focused. However, the leadership expertise in cyber governance and oversight with the requisite non-technical social science-oriented non-technical contextual understanding of cyberspace is largely absent.

With the growth of technologies like AI and Machine Learning, it is vital to have the skills and ability to help translate policy and issues into something a machine will understand. In other words, it is critical to be a translator between technology developers and non-tech leadership, and increasingly between organizations and AI-enabled machines automating society. A tech developer may understand the science and technology of developing an algorithm; however, they may not understand how it relates to or can help an organization. The MS in Global Security, Conflict, and Cyber Crime provides individuals with the skills and tools to meet the policy, planning, and analytical challenges industry and governments worldwide face when confronting cyber threats.

We also have an academic partnership with the EC-Council, a cybersecurity certification body. Students who enroll in our “Cyber Threat Intelligence” course become eligible to take the CTIA certification exam and graduate from the program with both a master’s degree as well as an industry-recognized certification.

What makes the MS in Global Security, Conflict, and Cyber Crime different from other institutions’ cybersecurity programs?
While most cybersecurity graduate programs focus on the nuts and bolts of science and technology, our program is unique in that it addresses the intersection of major cyber policy, emerging technology issues, and societal impact. We educate our students with the critical knowledge needed to understand foundational STEM concepts. Through exercises in the classroom, we help develop the skills and abilities they will need to apply what they learn to real-world cyber and policy issues in a low-risk academic environment. This prepares them to enter the cyber workforce ready to develop policy and strategy, support cyber intelligence analysis and advise organizations by translating between the technical and non-technical communities within organizations. 

An excellent validation of our educational model is how our students perform when competing against their peers in cyber competitions. We recently placed second among more than 30 teams at the prestigious Atlantic Council’s Cyber 9/12 Strategy Competition, an annual cyber policy and strategy competition where teams competed in a crisis-simulation meet war-gaming exercise. 

What has been the reaction to the program from industry leaders and professionals who have completed the program?
Our first cohort of students is just now starting to graduate, and hiring managers are aggressively pursuing them for placement. Some of our top students are in a situation where they actually have too many choices, and I find myself guiding them through difficult decisions that will impact the next 10 years of their professional lives, like whether or not they should take a job in the private or public sector. We also see employers recruiting students who are still a year away from graduation but have made firm offers contingent upon graduating from the program.

When graduates go into the workforce, we keep in touch, and all of them have given me a similar message: “The team exercises, strategy design projects, and other hands-on skills that they developed were immediately applicable on the job. Many of the readings assigned during the program of study also related to on-the-job scenarios and responsibilities.”

Of what industry partnerships and initiatives/projects are you a part of?
We have core partnerships with the Department of Homeland Security and New York City Cyber Command. Our students have an opportunity to consult and research problems that are of concern to the leadership of those organizations. Additionally, I continue to remain engaged with the military cyber community and advise the Department of Defense on issues related to cyber institutional capability development for US partner nations and allies. This recently included a project for which the students and I developed a cyber workforce framework aligned with the requirements a partner nation would have when developing and growing their military cyber workforce.

What is ahead for the program in 2022?
Since we introduced the program in 2019, the curriculum has evolved tremendously, and we are planning to continue to grow and evolve it. We are adding more faculty members with a broad range of real-world, military, and operational expertise to provide our students with the opportunity to learn from and network with the best-of-the-best in the industry.

We are constantly updating and evolving our curriculum to help individuals gain the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the cyber industry. We also added “Global Financial Crime and the Economics of Cybersecurity” courses to the curriculum.

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