Today we’re continuing the four-part series highlighting the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. 

This episode focuses on the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies, commonly referred to as NICCS. Antonio Scurlock is the Deputy Chief Learning Officer and oversees the online platform.  

Antonio Scurlock

It’s my job to try and find efficient, effective ways to provide leadership development, professional development, training, education and hopefully, eventually, career pathways for all CISA employees. They’re our principal customer, our primary stakeholder and partner in what we do going forward, mission wise.  

Phoebe Wells

The Office of the Chief Learning Officer manages the site, which is primarily for CISA employees but also services any government personnel. 

Antonio Scurlock

The National Initiative for Cybersecurity, Careers and Studies is a resource that’s, key element, free for all to utilize. It is a website that has considerable resources available for people to look at a gamut of things from training to careers to career planning, scholarships. It’s all right there.  

Phoebe Wells

As the need for cybersecurity professionals continues its rapid expansion, NICCS has included resources specific to cyber job seekers.  

Antonio Scurlock

We’ve added upgrades and changes to help facilitate the job search. One of the really neat, cool tools I like – yes, I said neat – tools that I like on it is the ability to look for cyber careers and opportunities. You can even narrow it down to a particular state or city. So it’s not just federal opportunities, it’s opportunities. 

Phoebe Wells

As a former military member, Antonio has firsthand experience with the benefits NICCS provides.  

Antonio Scurlock

The way that it benefited me was actually before I came on as an employee with DHS, I was able to look at some of the content and look at some of the training that was offered out there and go, “Hey, this is pretty cool,” because as a member of the military, it’s free to me. 

State, local, tribal, territorial government personnel – it’s free. A lot of it is completely free in the sense that, for example, when we were doing some searching, we, the United States, associated with activity across the globe, one of my friends or on a reserve unit in Europe said, “Hey, you know what have you got that I can get my reserved units back up to speed on?” 

And I said, “I got you.” So I showed them the website and they dove in there and you can see the numbers, how folks got in there and started doing the training, everything from baseline refresher, reverse engineering, you name it. And again, every resource for them is free. If you’re in the reserves, even if you’re activated, there’s a window of non-accessibility to government resources. Well not with our site.  

Phoebe Wells

Every day we are inundated with cyber threats. As individuals and holistically as a country. The mission of NICCS and CISA as a whole is to strengthen the cyber workforce, making it more resilient.  

Antonio Scurlock

Well, there’s a blog where you can order a special phone that in and of itself will transform you into a superhero. I’m just kidding.  

No, really. So what it does is it connects folks, right? So if you’re an entity and you’re offering unique and specialized training, they can see that if you’re an entity and you’re looking at trying to take a person who basically isn’t sure about where they want to go or if they even fit in cybersecurity, you can see that. There is a workforce guide, workforce planning guide and it’ll walk you through from basic to expert and articulate for you in plain language how you can understand what that means for you – if I know I want to do a thing, but I’m not sure what that means to do a thing. And then of course, the training, the training courses are there. If you want to get a refresher or if you’re trying to transition careers, it’s there. 

So any way that we can enrich and enhance a person with knowledge, we make them stronger, right? You can give somebody something to eat and you feed them. Once you teach them how to cook, you teach them how to grow. They’ve fed for life. And we have a core value here. It’s just a commitment to a lifetime of learning, which I lead. 

And the idea is every day there’s a new nugget, right? Well, with 12,000 courses, 12,000, that’s 1-2-0-0-0, ranging from K to gray, I like to say. Not K through 12. I think there’s something there for everyone for those looking to transition careers.  

Phoebe Wells

For those looking to transition careers, NICCS serves as a wealth of information, without focusing too heavily on industry jargon.  

Antonio Scurlock

And it speaks in plain language. That’s the key, right? You don’t have to know the lexicon of cybersecurity words to be able to dive right in and get an idea.  

Phoebe Wells

For the younger generation, high schoolers, soon-to-be-grads, college students and those almost through with their degrees, NICCS offers resources and connections to help transitioning students on their new path – whether they majored in a cyber field or not. 

Antonio Scurlock

Some folks, especially high schoolers, are trying to say, well, “Where can I find a way to go, say scholarship to work?” Right? So there are links to those particular special programs like the Cyber Scholarship for Service Program that allows them to get in there, see that direction to the right places, contacts, so they participate and apply.  

So, there’s a there’s a way for folks not just transitioning from career to career or a greater level of cyber engagement, but even those who are just thinking, “Well, I’m about to go to college or I’m in college, how can I start taking those steps to become a cyber professional?” Well, the information is there, particularly with scholarships.  

Colleges that are part of the National Centers of Academic Excellence, whose specialized programs have been designated by federal entities like the National Security Agency and CISA, as well as FBI, to be those places where cybersecurity studies are premiere. So all of that is there for the taking, and it’s an easy browser and easy click. 

And I think that we have been very responsive to feedback on making the resource efficient.  

Phoebe Wells

Antonio also elaborated on the NICE Framework, a key component in the world of cyber hiring. 

Antonio Scurlock

The NICE framework actually originated from the Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative that was launched three administrations ago. It was one of 12 sub initiatives, some were classified, some were not.  

So NICE, the National Initiative for Cyber Education, and NICE developed a framework for cyber screening the workforce that looked at work roles and knowledge, skills and abilities associated with those work roles and the idea is that if you were to look around the broad spectrum of cybersecurity professionals, you can kind of characterize based upon knowledge, skills, abilities in result of activities and certain skill sets. 

So for instance, in the NICE framework, I am a cybersecurity strategist and also a program project manager. So there’s a designation of codes in there that have been linked to the Office of Personnel Management that says, okay, this is also tied to GS 2210, information technology specialist, and the coding for that position is X, and that’s what that position does. 

 I’m in that position, so I do that work. The beauty of that is it speaks in plain language about what those knowledge, skills and abilities are, and it also in this tool can map you to certifications and training that would help facilitate knowledge in that arena if you’re designated as one of those professionals or if you’re thinking about going into that arena, you can see, “Okay, what is a person who does cyber network analysis do?” You can click that and it allows you to look at several different types of categories of cyber professional so that you can see where they overlap with the knowledge, skills and abilities. 

It basically allows you to educate yourself on where your skills and talents lie in this arena. Then you can look across NICE, those work roles and go, “Okay, I might sit here,” or I might decide to look to see what the feed is to be there. 

So it’s pretty comprehensive, but it takes a swath of data and just kind of makes it easy for you to read and look at. I mean, it’s really simplistic. 

Phoebe Wells

For those who may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of breaking into the world of cyber careers, Antonio gave critical advice: breathe. 

Antonio Scurlock

One of the things that I like to tell people to do, and I get this from my own coaching sessions, is to stop, right? You literally stop. You take a breath, you orient yourself around what you want to look at and understand, and then you proceed to analyze, read it, engage. And that’s just a good way to operate.  

“I’m nervous. I’m anxious about what’s coming next in my career. This site doesn’t look scary to me. I can start with careers. I can start with college scholarships, or I can start with frameworks in cyber, or I can actually see what’s going on.” 

Sometimes the site will have major events like we just had the International Cybersecurity Championship in San Diego, California that was advertised on the website.  

Phoebe Wells

Throughout the conversation, Antonio reiterated the importance CISA puts on ensuring NICCS serves as a go-to resource for everyone, but especially the next generation of cyber workers.  

Antonio Scurlock

Well, a lot of it is about their ability to start a conversation, right? And in some communities, there are thought processes around what it means to be successful. I know that when I was coming up, doctor, lawyer, politician…cyber? What? You play video games? You’re going to make money off of that? What is cyber?  

So it provides them not only a resource for learning but a resource for how to start a conversation and continue that conversation, especially in the situation where you have to have a hard conversation for folks. You want to move to this environment or do this other thing.  

And also, one of the core aspects of being at this, we are an entity who thrives on relationships and we are seen as the broker of information, whether it be initial indicators of activity that may be malicious, to provide an information that helps and mitigates and allows organizations to examine risk. 

So it makes sense that we will provide a resource that allows a large swath of the American people. Whether you’re young, you’re middle, or you’re going into high school, college, or transitioning careers to be able to dive into something that isn’t marketing to you, that is trying to provide you resources to enrich and enhance you. We say people first in our organization, again, a part of our social culture, well, it’s people first in everything that we do. 

So we provide this resource so that individuals can become part of a greater team, and enhance themselves, which automatically enhances as all.  

Phoebe Wells

While it’s clear Antonio is a passionate advocate for training and educating the next generation of the cyber workforce, he himself has a long history of serving the mission of the U.S. 

Antonio Scurlock

I had been with CISA/NPPD National Protection and Programs Directorate since 2011. I retired at United States Cyber Command, came to CISA, which again was NPPD. 

I loved the ability to walk across the organization as my curiosity and my career and desires afforded me those opportunities. Being able to be seen as a valued resource wherever we go within the organization, and in understanding that psychological safety, in the ability to be heard and to be our authentic selves and to honestly come into the workplace as me and feel like and know that I’m somewhere that I actually belong, that is a mighty thing. 

And I believe that we are moving and striving to become that place where everyone has a sense of belonging. And to be honest with you, I’m not smart enough to understand how you measure that, but I don’t see me going anywhere. So I would say we’re doing a pretty decent job.

Somebody may say, “Well, yeah, you’ve been here a while and you moved around and you’re in the various echelons of the organization.”  Well, I wasn’t always there and I’ve seen people come from different echelons of organization that have risen further, faster and higher than, say, I have, and I’m excited for them and excited about those opportunities. 

And as long as we keep doing that internally I think we’re gonna work so that the culture is so ingrained in what we all do that we’re living it, we’re breathing it, and it becomes natural. So that’s what I like about it. We’re trying to do that. That’s aspirational and inspirational. Come on board.

Phoebe Wells

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