From ‘Call of Duty’ to Sense of Duty: How a Rio Grande Valley Student Used TWC-Funded Cybersecurity 8 Week Bootcamp to Launch Ethical Hacker Career

Photo: TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez (right) and newly hired Booz Allen Hamilton employee Jared Stephens (left) pose for a photograph.
Photo: TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez (right) and newly hired Booz Allen Hamilton employee Jared Stephens (left) pose for a photograph.

Typically, when you land your first serious job you feel grateful someone wants to hire you—even if your salary requirements and expectations aren’t all that incredibly high.

Also, typically, when you hear the term ‘bootcamp,’ connotations of rough military training, heavy boots, intense drills, camouflaged faces and threatening drill sergeants come to mind.

When Jared Stephens attended his first bootcamp in Mission, Texas June 2017—there were no hard boots or roaring drill sergeants. In fact, the experience was entirely pleasant and life changing—enough to later catapult him to a position on an international cyber team with a leading Fortune 500 company.

“I didn’t know I could get paid to be a hacker one day,” said Jared. “In fact, I didn’t know there were jobs such as ethical hacker and penetration tester in cybersecurity. I now know the certification the bootcamp offered makes a difference to the international clients we work with.”

In an industry that is growing exponentially, in retrospect, if Stephens is testimony to anything it’s that cybersecurity bootcamps can potentially solve the problem of a severe shortage of core technology workers in cybersecurity IT and advance your career.

Today, employers across Texas and the United States are seeking thousands of core technology workers in cybersecurity to fill current and future staffing needs. In 2016, tech industry employment in Texas grew by more than 11,000 jobs, according to CompTIA’s Cyberstates 2017 report. Even with this new hiring, employers posted job openings for more than 42,600 tech occupations in Q4 2016.

In 2017, the U.S. employed almost 780,000 people in cybersecurity positions, and hosted approximately 350,000 cybersecurity openings, according to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

According to the Labor Market and Career website, information security analysts’ employment rate is expected to increase in Texas by 32 percent and the average annual Texas wages is $92,891. Move to the Capital Area, Rural Capital, Deep East Texas or the Gulf Coast and that salary average increases to $100,000 plus.

After bootcamp and certification, Jared Stephens received an offer letter from Booz Allen Hamilton in March 23, 2018. It read, “At Booz Allen Hamilton, we’ve got a lot of technology, talent and resources, but we’re missing something. You.” Stephens was offered a full-time senior consultant position in San Diego, California as a Cybersecurity Tester with a handsome compensatory starting salary, and told that he would be “an essential part of [their] mission to leave the world a better place.”

How did 24-year-old Jared Stephens find himself in the lucrative field of a cybersecurity IT related career? The answer lies partially in a cybersecurity bootcamp connected to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

In Summer 2017, Jared attended a cyber bootcamp connected to a High Demand Job Training (HDJT) state grant provided by the Mission Economic Development Corporation (Mission EDC) in partnership with Workforce Solutions, the local workforce development board (WFS), CompTIA and TWC. This grant was part of a statewide effort to support collaborations between Workforce Solutions partners and local economic development entities to create occupational job training programs to improve the skill sets of individuals for jobs in high-demand occupations in Texas communities.

“This bootcamp was focused on filling a need in professional certification of IT workers in cybersecurity,” said Alex Meade, Mission EDC CEO.  “The demand for certified workers encompassed and continues to encompass all industries in IT departments and companies that provide IT services to businesses both large and small.”

Obviously, there was a recognized need to provide the availability of IT related bootcamps to residents in the Rio Grande Valley. This partnership program provided a total of 40 participants who met WIOA basic eligibility requirements with a rigorous 8-week cybersecurity bootcamp utilizing a new partnership with CompTIA.

“This kind of collaboration provides high-tech customized training for high-demand cybersecurity careers while increasing business’ competitiveness in the global market,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “I couldn’t be happier for Jared Stephens, and his cohort. He’s a credit to the program and a testimony that camps like this really do work. I look forward to eventually meeting more individuals like Jared who have been given the same chance and opportunities in other cities along the border.”

Jared’s real interest and passion for cybersecurity and coding, meanwhile, started with video games and a game entitled ‘Call of Duty.’ It was through ‘Call of Duty’ that Jared first witnessed unethical behavior, adversaries and computer hacking. He wondered what else one could do with signed code?

“I observed what these hackers were doing and wondered how they were doing what they were doing,” said Jared.

It would lead to his becoming a Computer Science college major for a period at Texas A&M in 2012.

Though he left college before graduating, he remembered his “Call of Duty” days and unethical hacker friends and was determined he could make a lot of money writing code and program—which led him to major in Computer Science and minor in Physics. Having left college without a final degree, Jared eventually applied to bootcamp to gain the certification he knew would help his own sense of duty.

Certification does matter. As part of the summer boot program, Jared and his cohorts completed a series of CompTIA vendor-neutral skills certifications for technology professionals that are widely sought after by companies all over the United States and the world. All cohorts and participants received the CompTIA series of professional certifications, including A+, Network+, Security+, and Cybersecurity Analyst+ certifications at graduation which ensures they are more than a little marketable.

One grant, multiple benefiters. There were 39 other fellow classmates who benefited from the grants. Jared stated that one of his fellow cohorts—Amy Martínez-Nagy—who he has remained friends with—also started as a vivid enthusiast of video games as he did.

“Initially, Amy struggled in bootcamp at the beginning because most of it was new to her,” Jared stated. “She never had any cybersecurity experience previous like I did, but now she works for the City of San Juan in IT as a Level II specialist. This camp was really great for her.”

As cybersecurity threats grow both in numbers and in risks they pose to organizations, the plan is to help build capacity in South Texas so that future cybersecurity certification boot camps such as this one may continue.

All we can say is we’re impressed with Jared Stephens and with these grants that support organizations like Mission EDC and CompTIA—where do we sign up?

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The Value of Job Search Skills

A recent study by professors at Penn State found that job seekers who learn how to search for a job are 2.67 times more likely to get one than those who don’t. The study looked at data from more than 9,500 job seekers in nearly 50 job search classes and training programs.

The job search skills taught in these programs included identifying job leads and presenting one’s self well in resumes and job interviews. The odds of getting hired increased even more if the job search training included motivational aspects, such as social support (4.27 times), goal setting (4.67 times), and proactivity (5.88 times higher).

Lack of job search skills, rather than lack of occupational skills, is a key factor in job search failure, according to the researchers. Job search training “could become more effective by combining both skill development-focused and motivation enhancement-focused techniques,” said the researchers.

– “But I know how to look for a job.”

Do you? Like everything else, the job market changes, as do the way people get into it. In fact, the people business might be second only to technology in terms of ongoing reinvention. Sure, general themes remain, but when you’re competing against many others as skilled and motivated as you, you owe yourself (and deserve) every little advantage.

– “Ok, so how do I “learn” how to search for a job?”

We’re not talking about formal training. It’s usually a case of brush up on this and get a tip or three about current trends. And your nearest Workforce Solutions Office can be a great resource as they offer classes and seminars on searching for a job, interviewing, resume writing, using, and many other topics.

Friends and family can help too. Find out what they know, what they see and hear, what HR departments at their places of employment are seeing and doing.  And, check out other posts on this site and other blogs and publications/forums/groups focused on employment tips and trends.

Job search is about competitive advantage and every little bit counts. Good luck. Hits A Decade

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since TWC held a press conference in the North Austin Workforce Solutions Office to announce the launch of

We’ve come a long way since then, listing 5 million jobs, connecting 55 million employers & job seekers, and directly filling 2.1 million of those jobs. We’ve also weathered natural disasters, a national recession, and had to roll with huge changes in how employers hire and people find jobs. Suffice to say it’s been a busy 10 years.

Over these years we’ve been lucky to be part of the employment solution for many, and we have many to thank. None more important than employers and job seekers who put their trust in the public workforce system, and none more critical than local workforce solutions staff who deliver those solutions. Thank you, for your business, your patience, your dedication and your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

So with an eye to the future and knowing that technology advancements, recruiting practices, and user expectations and behaviors have all changed, today we find ourselves at another cross-road. To remain relevant we must rethink our expectations of what is, and what it needs to be, and for that we need your help. Please take a minute to comment on this post and tell us what you’d like to see from the system in the years to come. Your input is greatly appreciated.

The Changing Face of the Public Workforce System

I learned a new word yesterday: Rubicon.

Rubicon is a river in northeastern Italy and holds historical significance as the river crossed by Julius Caesar in 49 BC, a forbidden act at the time that led to civil war within the Roman Empire. It also means point of no return, and it’s that definition that makes the word relevant to this post.

The public workforce system is in the middle of a redefinition; one might even say at its Rubicon. The system as a whole is quickly approaching the critical point where it either re-invents itself or risks becoming irrelevant and/or redundant to employers and job seekers. And specific to that Rubicon, I was fortunate earlier this week to sit in on a presentation given by two Texas workforce boards who excitedly talked about how they’re reinventing themselves in ways that matter to their customers.

Workforce Solutions Southeast Texas (@SETWorks) and Workforce Solutions Lower Rio Grande (@WFSolutions) talked passionately about implementing things like Live Chat, mobile applications, social media, job mapping, customer service tools, push notifications, and more. And even more exciting than the presentation was the electricity the conversation generated in the room. All the things discussed were low or no cost solutions, and in most cases easy to implement: Real solutions that solve real problems in realistic and tangible ways, at a time when, now maybe more than ever, is exactly what the public workforce system needs.

There are far too many good things being done by workforce boards across Texas, and the nation, to relate here. I encourage you to reach out to your nearest office or board and tell them what you need, or let us know via a comment to this blog. As we approach our Rubicon, what do we have to get right to ensure the public workforce system is providing real solutions that matter to and benefit you? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Who Can Help You Find A Job?

I came across an article yesterday about how the workforce system can help people get jobs, and I’d like to share that as our post for this week. It was written and posted by Angela Colley of Money Talks News. It begins by talking about BLS’s latest employment figures but then transitions into trying to answer the question; if you’re looking for work, who can help you, and how? And interestingly enough, the help she describes is a list of 7 things the public workforce system does (can do) to assist people looking for work.

As a point of clarification, generally speaking the workforce system does not get people jobs; that is, we can’t make hiring decisions for employers, they have to do that themselves. And even though our success is measured in terms of how many people get jobs, our real contribution is doing everything we can to ensure that the folks that come to us and that we’re working with are ready to go to work, informed about how and where to find jobs, and are pointed to the right people and places for specific jobs we know about and are a good fit. Don’t get me wrong, it is slightly more complicated than that, but for my purpose here, boil it all down and that’s what we do: assess, prepare, and direct. We can get you in the door, but you’re the only one who can really “get” you that job.

So have a read. And if you or someone you know is looking for work, give the Texas Workforce System/Texas Workforce Solutions a chance. The 7 things detailed in the article ARE what we do for job seekers: all day, every day. Click here to find a workforce solutions office near you.