Charting the Future of Cybersecurity Excellence
Finding Talent Today To Help Secure a Safer Tomorrow
Recruiting the next generation of cybersecurity talent is crucial to ensuring Palo Alto Networks can continue protecting our digital way of life.
That key goal helped spark Secure The Future, a six-month competition that launched in 2019 and challenges the best and brightest college students to identify and address cyber threats in vulnerable industries that include Energy, Transportation, Finance, Healthcare, Education and E-Commerce.
The top 15 students from this year’s Secure The Future event were recently announced. So far, payoff from the event has been immediate and substantial for both the competitors and the company, said Academic Program Director Thomas Trevethan, who was among the architects of the contest.
“This year, we also collected over 150 resumes from top students across academia,” he said. “In the first three competitions, we hired six candidates and last year two of the top three candidates were women.”
Among those candidates was Meghan Koester, hired as a Senior Technical Trainer in 2022. She said the contest was “an amazing experience and opportunity” that opened the door to her career.
“Contest organizers got me in contact with recruiters and the conversations that I had with them led me to the most appropriate role for me [here],” she said. “Without these contacts, I would not have been aware of the Systems Engineering Academy or technical training roles.”
There were other benefits, said contestant Harrison Thaxton, hired as an Associate Systems Engineer in 2021 and now working as a Systems Engineer.
“The competition allowed me to think outside of the box and made me become familiar with concepts and technologies I had little prior exposure to,” he said. “I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about cybersecurity while also honing both my research and technical writing skills.”
Secure The Future resulted from the efforts of The Cybersecurity Academy and the Early Talent Team, which together devised plans to design, develop and run the first competition in October 2019.
Candidates are provided a self-paced academic course where they research and learn about advanced cybersecurity technologies and defense methods, participate in discussion threads, submit completed assignments and take assessments that measure their learning, Thomas said.
Students then write a report on how to best secure the industry they focused on while also creating a video summary of their solution.
“Reviewing those reports and videos has been a highlight for me personally, since this exercise is a culmination of what the candidates learned throughout the competition,” Thomas said. “It is amazing to watch their poise and confidence.”
Creating those presentations meant plenty of hard work for the students, Meghan said, which is among the real-world experience Secure The Future provides the contestants.
“The toughest thing about it was managing the demands of the competition, university coursework and a part-time job,” she said. “Time management was a key part of this competition which I had not anticipated when I initially signed up to participate. Keeping up with all the deadlines and expectations was challenging.”
Challenging, but worth the effort.
“After winning the competition, the Early Talent team reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in joining the Systems Engineering Academy,” Harrison said. “After interviewing and meeting some of the team, I signed on and spent a year in training to become a field Systems Engineer.”
The students ranked in the final top 15 are invited to present their findings to a panel of experts from Palo Alto Networks and also are eligible for resume review, mock interviews, and actual job interviews.
Those ranked in the top three after the presentation are awarded cash prizes of $10,000, $5,000 and $2,500, respectively.
“Over a six-month period, we assess the candidate’s writing, communication, organization, presentation and deadline skills,” Thomas said. “Participating in this type of competition requires hard work and discipline so the students that make it into the top 15 are the type of individuals we as a company would like to hire.”
“Overall, this was a great experience,” said Lionel Somé, who took a position as a Senior Data Scientist at Palo Alto Networks after competing in the first Secure The Future event and writing a blog about his experience. “This competition requires determination and commitment, but it is also an excellent learning opportunity.”
In addition to Lionel, Harrison and Meghan, the following Palo Alto Networks team members were also hired after taking part in Secure The Future:
- Riley Mueller, hired in 2020 as a Collaboration Solutions Systems Engineering intern and now in that role full-time
- Matthew Nappi, hired in 2020 as Junior Network Engineer and now a Network Engineer
- JR Gumarin, hired in 2020 as Global Security Research Team intern and now a Threat Researcher
Without further or do, here are the names of our top 15 winners in no particular order:
Sowmika, Vrinda, Bradley, Mayank, Seunghyun (Christina), Rakshit, Bhagya Sree, Kajal,
Benjamin, Jason, Austin, Jacob, Yusuf, Brian and Alexander.
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