While D.C. is known for its think tanks and consulting firms, a new niche might be making its mark on the D.C. employment scene in the near future: cyber security.
In February 2013, President Obama launched the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative to enhance U.S. counterintelligence, review cybersecurity practices at all levels of government and call for an investment in cyber education for America’s youth. On Thursday, Obama re-emphasized his commitment to cybersecurity with his nomination of Navy Cybersecurity Vice Admiral Michael Rogers to the position of director of the National Security Agency.
While a 2009 study from the Georgetown Center on Education indicates that only approximately 36,500 students or two percent of all college graduates earn a degree directly related to cybersecurity within the computer science field, the cybersecurity industry is worth approximately $60 billion. According to a May 2012 article in The Washington Post, the government will need to hire at least 10,000 cybersecurity experts in the near future to meet demand.
“Technology and security are the key growth areas [in D.C.]. All you have to do is look at what the Dulles Corridor looked like 20 years ago and how it looks today to recognize the immense growth in the commercial technology sector,” cybersecurity entrepreneur and computer science professor Matt Devost said.
According to Devost, the District has the potential to surpass Silicon Valley as the country’s leading cybersecurity center.
“On the security and technology side, you’ll see a dominance within D.C. over Silicon Valley by way of cyber security companies just because you have that talent pool and that broader market – you can sell commercially and to the federal government if you’re located here,” Devost said.
To that end, nearby Maryland and Virginia have gone so far as to attract cybersecurity contractors to their states using tax incentives. In 2013, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley announced over $3 million in tax breaks for cybersecurity companies in his state. Virginia has done similarly, establishing technology centers across the state with tax incentives including in the D.C. suburb of Arlington, Va.
Rather than compete with Silicon Valley, computer science major Kristen Schwabe-Fry (COL ’14) expressed that the U.S. government should use D.C.’s status as a rising technology center to focus exclusively on cybersecurity, a high priority for the government.
“It’s hard to compete with Silicon Valley because it’s already so established. You kind of got to let Silicon Valley do what it’s focusing on and create your own brand in some other way,” Schwabe-Fry said.
As seniors majoring in computer science look for work post-graduation this spring, the burgeoning cybersecurity industry has made D.C. an increasingly viable option.
“In D.C., the government spends a lot of money, and that’s going to be a huge potential market and that’s some advantage for being in D.C.,” computer science major Welles Robinson (COL ’14) said.
Robinson added, however, that Silicon Valley’s steady influx of skill and funding will help it to maintain its high standing.
“Silicon Valley has the money, the talent from Stanford and a lot of talented people flock there. It’s a combination of really smart, really creative and really driven people. And the higher number of people just means a higher likeliness that you’re going to find success,” Robinson said.
Despite D.C.’s promise, Devost did regress that the East Coast city does lack the youth and urban culture of its West Coast counterpart.
“[The companies] aren’t able to offer in the D.C. area yet the culture of a startup that you get with the Googles and the Facebooks. We don’t yet have that hip environment. We endorse a more politically conservative business as a whole where you don’t have that more aggressive kind of startup lifestyle,” Devost said.