The National Security Agency’s growth spurt borders on staggering. That growth has included massive expansions in NSA careers. The aftermath of the September, 2001 terrorist attacks has generated more than a decade’s worth of increases. Everything from office space to budget to its workforce has seen expansion. The agency’s intelligence mission, from the D.C. region to outposts in Utah, Hawaii, Texas and beyond, demands a continual and concerted effort to hire skilled, cleared personnel.
Increasingly, NSA’s anti-terrorism operations rely on cyber professionals. In this arena, cleared candidates with prior military service and IT skills are among the most coveted, with career opportunities focused primarily on four fields.
The agency’s demand for computer science professionals falls generally into two categories: development and support. The multitude of job skill requirements is mammoth: Computer network operations, information systems security, vulnerability discovery, information assurance, project and database management, telecommunications and real-time interface. Web design and graphics are also in high demand.
Professionals with IT engineering backgrounds have opportunities for jobs in simulation, analysis, design, experimentation, testing, manufacturing and prototype development.
There is a range of career options for computer and electrical engineers. Among the most in demand candidates are those with a background in design of special-purpose computers and antenna systems, pattern recognition techniques, signals analysis, optics and electron communications. The agency has its own employee progression plan, the Dual Track System, which offers opportunities for advancement according to individual technical abilities and interests, as well as options for moving into management positions.
As for the most desirable certification and skill requirements, they include:
- Network engineering – design/analysis of LANs/WANs, routers, switches, firewalls and protocols
- Software engineering – JAVA, C++, XML, HTML, web applications, object oriented analysis and design, rapid prototyping and algorithm development
- Communications – digital and analog, fixed and mobile wireless, satellite and antenna design
- Systems engineering – inter-disciplinary engineering, requirements definition, architecture, design, interface specification, integration, validation, modeling and simulation, developing installation/acceptance test plans.
- Microelectronics – VHDL, FPGA, microelectronic manufacturing and testing (MCM, SOC), electronic packaging, and VLSI
Even a decade ago, students interested in linear algebra likely never saw its application in counterterrorism. But increasingly, math and computational skills are applied to strategies for disruption and data analysis of terrorist cells. For those reasons, the agency actively seeks professionals skilled in number theory, group theory, finite field theory, linear algebra, probability theory, mathematical statistics and combinatorics.
Agency mathematicians typically apply their skills and knowledge in designing and analyzing complex algorithms, using math to express cryptographic problems, and demonstrating computational limitations. For these jobs, transcripts must be provided.
Along with good pay and the opportunity to contribute to national defense, work life within the intelligence community gets high marks. The most recent Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report, released by the Partnership for Public Service, ranks the intelligence community in second place among all federal agencies.