People with Passion: Ignite’s CISO, Shawn Edwards, on developing the next generation of Cyber Security professionals

Welcome back to Ignite Technology’s People with Passion blog series where we’re featuring our team members from across North America who make an impact both at work, and in their lives within our communities. We’re a diverse team, all experts in our own fields, who share a mission to create better ways for people to work using technology. With our goal of Connecting People and Ideas through Technology, people are key.

The ever-rising rate of open roles in cyber security is leaving many organizations under-protected. As a result, talent advisors everywhere are being tasked with trying to match candidates to job descriptions that are full of requirements that few can meet. Reality simply can’t seem to meet demand, but that could be changing.

Shawn Edwards, our Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), lives with his wife and daughter in a place called Goulds – a rural area just southeast of St. John’s city centre in Newfoundland. He’s also a major advocate for cyber security education and bringing folks into the hands-on work, early.

But before we dive in, a bit about Shawn:

His daughter has just turned three years old, but Shawn decided he wasn’t quite busy enough … so he’s added an adorable golden retriever to the critter crew (goats, and a pony are included) living happily in his backyard.

Growing up in a military family, Shawn moved around a lot. His parents had roots in Newfoundland, so when he was 12 years old his dad got his final posting in St. Johns and the family moved back permanently.

“My dad really encouraged me and my brothers to get into technology,” Shawn says. “From very early on he introduced us to computers and I think he got us our first one in 1986.”

As he started to close out his military career, Shawn’s dad had enrolled himself in a course at the College of the North Atlantic to start learning the trade with the goal of starting his own family business.

Sadly however, Shawn’s dad learned he had cancer shortly after his enrolment and was unable to finish the course, passing away shortly after his diagnosis.

“It helped me plan my career and path forward. After a few years on a waitlist, I was accepted to take the same course my dad had taken and I kind of picked the goal back up where he left off in becoming a Computer Support Specialist,” Shawn says.

And when he finished the course? “I went on my work term and that’s where my career in cyber security really took off.”

A successful work term turned into 16 years of elite expertise.

Shawn started with a company in aerospace and aviation where he worked his way up from Desktop Support all the way to the Director of Security & Compliance.

In his college program, they covered server administration and networking mostly, but Cyber Security wasn’t really a topic for discussion back in the early 2000s. In fact, Shawn says that at the time, usually only banking or military organizations were having that conversation. But because he specialized in aviation and aerospace, he was able to gain a significant amount of security knowledge on the job that’s been invaluable.

Gaining exclusive security experience over the years with that company, Shawn wanted to find a way to help close the gap for commercial, and other organizations to access this knowledge base, as security had quickly evolved into an issue impacting everyone – no industry excluded.

“People needed access to more proactive, secure IT structures for their business. We want them to have the same level of security as military organizations, because the reality is that in today’s digital-first world, everyone needs it.”

That’s why Shawn joined our team to help stand up our cyber security offering in 2018. Since then, he’s served our customers and our team with expertise on the daily, while helping build up the next generation of cyber security professionals to bolster the talent pipeline and grow the industry. You know … in his spare time.

Education for cyber security is here, and it’s thriving.

Completing an IT program and getting right into cyber security at a company has been virtually impossible up until the last few years. Like Shawn, new grads often had to work their way through various levels of IT gradually, through many years and positions before finally getting their hands on security projects.

But this model isn’t sustainable, and education specific to cyber security is finally widely available, so now we can recruit the next generation of professionals to fill these open roles and fuel the industry with qualified candidates.

Shawn dedicates time to a focus group for the College of the North Atlantic where they’re developing and refining the curriculum to meet evolving needs and standards across cyber security, keeping the province on the leading-edge of knowledge sharing. He says it’s been years in the making, but that soon we’ll see students coming out of post-secondary programs with the new knowledge set.

And it’s not just Newfoundland. The University of New Brunswick really pioneered Cyber Security Education in Canada and are incredibly tech focused.

Now, we’re seeing this specialized education become available in post-secondary institutions across Canada, which is a vital first step to more sustainable resourcing across the industry.  

From the moment they’re hired, kickstart the next generation of cyber security pros with hands-on experience.

Churning out young cyber security talent from post-secondary institutions is one thing, but mentorship and creating a culture of continuous growth, learning and curiosity at your organization is just as important to build a sustainable talent pipeline.

When someone starts their career with Ignite Technology, Shawn and team make sure they’re set up for success and have the bench strength of the group behind them to support them in diving into our own environment. We try to get their hands on real security issues, vulnerabilities, and alerts right away to start building their experience and confidence.

“We bring in junior resources to work on the security operations side of things and gain experience – with the current team to lean on for guidance. We’re even working on an arrangement with the college here to bring on a set number of students for their work terms each year,” he says.

To keep up with demand and the future of work, we need to keep bringing new talent on board and help mould them into the next generation of security experts.

If you’ve got a knack for Technology and are looking for a new opportunity, please visit our Careers page to learn more about Ignite’s open roles.

If you need a hand securing your digital services, an expert to supplement your team, or help meeting regulatory compliance in your industry, get in touch with us today for a Security Assessment or Discovery Call.

 Sarah Allen

~ Sarah Allen – Content Coordinator, Ignite Technology

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