Last week, DefCon — one of the largest annual gatherings of hackers, cryptographers, and computer security professionals in the world — hosted an unusual speaker. Looking slightly out of character in the pre-requisite t-shirt and jeans, National Security Agency Director and head of US Cyber Command General Keith Alexander took the stage and delivered a straightforward pitch to some of the world’s best hackers: come work for us.

Much of Alexander’s speech appealed to the attendee’s sense of patriotism. “We’re the ones who built this Internet,” said Alexander, “now we’re the ones who have to keep it secure, and I think you folks can help do that.” However, he also appealed to the audience on more personal terms, “we need great talent” he said to the packed room, “we don’t pay as high as everybody else, but we’re fun to be around.”

In conjunction with the talk, the NSA launched a dedicated recruiting page for DefCon attendees. It is not your traditional government ad, telling visitors to contact the NSA about a job if they won any of DefCon’s famous challenges, “have a thing for the pleasantries of a full-time job,” or “want to relocate to the front lines of cyber operations.” Knowing full well the reputation of DefCon attendees, the ad even attempts to assure potential applicants with “a few, shall we say, indiscretions in your past” to still apply.

Alexander’s appearance at DefCon is the latest sign of the government’s massive and growing need for cyber-security workers. The need is particularly large in the intelligence and defense sectors, where there is skyrocketing demand for both protecting the country’s cyber-infrastructure and more, put nicely, proactive uses. In an uncertain economy, workers with experience or education in cyber-security or related fields will likely be in high demand in both the public and private sectors for the foreseeable future.

Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.

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Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.
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