Andrew Phillips sits at his desk looking at the computers in front of him.

(ROSENBERG, Texas) – When someone thinks of Texas State Technical College, cybersecurity might not be front of mind. But the Cybersecurity program at TSTC is crucial to filling the need for greater online safety for both businesses and individuals across the state.

Andrew Phillips, lead instructor for the program at the Fort Bend County campus, recently shared his thoughts on the importance of the program, how it is structured, and the demand for cybersecurity professionals in the workforce.

What does TSTC’s Cybersecurity program entail? What kinds of things are you teaching?

What we effectively begin with is a general-purpose IT program in the first semester or two. We then specialize into cybersecurity in the last three. Because of the way that the cybersecurity discipline integrates with all the rest of information systems, there’s really no getting around that.

We don’t have to go into as much depth in terms of network administration and systems administration as, say, the CNSA (Computer Networking and Systems Administration) program does. But in order for our students to understand either attacking or defending the kind of networks that you’ll see in the real world, they basically have to be an IT generalist. You have to start off as a generalist and then specialize.

What we add that is a little different from what you would get in, say, the CNSA program is the focus on forensics and security in the last three semesters, particularly. We’ve got a couple of forensics classes where we talk about everything from the basics of chain of custody, what is evidence, and how you collect and analyze digital evidence in a way that will actually have a chance to stand up in a court of law.

Then we start talking about things like firewalls, intrusion detection, security auditing and assessment. We teach networking. We teach basic systems administration. Our program is designed for a student who has come out of high school or come out of another career knowing almost nothing.

We start them with the PC hardware class and servers and very basic levels of networking. That way they can understand forensics-related things like the order of volatility, as in how quickly a computer loses its information when you turn it off.

Who is doing the hiring when the students graduate from the program? And what is the demand for cybersecurity professionals?

The folks who are most likely to actually have a job with cybersecurity in the title are larger companies and government agencies. There are a lot of folks who don’t know they need our help until something has already gone terribly wrong. One of my pieces of advice for my students is not to pigeonhole themselves early. They may very well find themselves taking a general IT job and then working up into an actual cybersecurity job.

On the whole, there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of unfilled cybersecurity jobs. They are easier to find in metro areas like Houston than in suburban or sub-rural areas.

Finally, do you have advice for anyone looking into TSTC’s Cybersecurity program?

Be prepared to learn and never stop learning. The day you decide you’re done learning, you’ve decided to change careers. For high school students, particularly, I would say, pay attention in math class. One of the things that trips a lot of our students up is binary math. Pay attention in math class. Pay attention in English class. Learn to write. You will be writing reports. You won’t be writing research papers, but you will be writing reports. Your employers will expect you to be able to express yourself in standard English.

 

TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree and a certificate of completion in Cybersecurity at the East Williamson County, Fort Bend County, Harlingen, Marshall, North Texas and Waco campuses, as well as online. The program is recognized as a Texas Skill Standards Board program by the Texas Workforce Investment Council.

According to onetonline.org, digital forensic analysts in Texas can earn a median salary of $84,220 a year. The website projected that there would be a 20% increase in the number of such jobs in the state from 2020 to 2030.

For more information about TSTC, go to tstc.edu.

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