Looking for tech talent? Broaden your search, IC chief says

The nation’s 18 intelligence agencies should look beyond the nation’s capital if they want to get and keep the best cyber workers, said Adele Merritt.

Intelligence agencies must look “beyond the Beltway” to bolster recruiting for cyber talent, according to a top official. 

“There's a lot of amazing talent throughout the nation, who [are] really interested in getting into this work,” said Adele Merritt, the chief information officer for the office of the director of national intelligence, during an Intelligence and National Security Alliance event Thursday. “As we are recruiting for the future…oftentimes I hear it phrased as ‘us versus them’. This is an all-of-us problem because we're all competing for the same resources.”

Attracting and retaining tech talent in the IC is not a new challenge but one that has gotten more attention in recent years. Merritt said one way to broaden the talent pool is to “demystify” the IC’s work by engaging with college students. 

“For those of us who are inside the beltway, we all know somebody who's in the community. So we've heard about this,” but that’s not the case for everyone, she said. It’s important to explain the “basics” like hiring portals and how to prepare a resume for a government job “because oftentimes, they only see it on TV. So they don't know the whole depth of the technical capabilities and the opportunities that they have.”

And cybersecurity isn’t just for computer science majors, she said. 

“When you think about spear-phishing, which is a challenge that we've been facing for how many years, there's a strong psychological component to that. Because people are compelled to click those links. Sometimes they can't help themselves. And so you don't just need computer scientists sitting around the table trying to solve cybersecurity problems, we need to put folks with a variety of backgrounds,” Merritt said.

It’s a sentiment—along with embracing emerging technologies—that has been echoed by intelligence and defense officials. The National Security Agency is embracing new workplace dynamics, like a flexible workday, to recruit more than 2,500 workers. Moreover, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency spearheaded hybrid telework and has been building a wireless campus for its St. Louis headquarters, and Fleet Cyber Command has experimented with having reservists, even those who don’t have clearances yet, to help solve urgent cyber problems.

“We have to change,” Gen. Paul Nakasone, NSA’s director and head of U.S. Cyber Command, recently told Defense One. “We have to do and account for what our workforce really wants and needs in a type of an environment to work at.”