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On Hiring Hackers

Kevin McArthur has a response to firms who are demanding highly credentialed security staff: stop it!

Much of his argument surrounds problems with the credentialing process. He focuses on the fact that the time spent achieving an undergrad, MA, and set of professional certifications leaves prospective hires woefully out-of-date and unprepared to address existing security threats.

I recognize the argument but think that it’s somewhat of a strawman: there is nothing in a credentialing process forcing individuals to solely focus on building and achieving their credentials. Indeed, many of the larger companies that I’m familiar with hire hackers as employees and then offer them opportunities to pursue credentials on their own time, on the company dime, over the course of their employment. Many take advantage of this opportunity. This serves two purposes: adds ‘book smarts’ to a repertoire of critical thinking habits and makes the company ‘stickier’ to the employee because of the educational benefits of working for the company.

Under the rubric of enabling education opportunities for staff you can get security talent that is very good and also happens to be well educated. It’s a false dichotomy to suggest that you can have either ‘book smarts’ or ‘real world smarts’: there are lots of people with both. They don’t tend to be right out of university or high school, but they are out there.

What’s more important, and what I think the real focus of the article is meant to be, is that relying on credentials instead of work accomplished is the wrong way of evaluating prospective security staff hires. On that point, we entirely agree.