Breeding Talent For Cyber Security in Kenya the AfricaHackOn way

Skunkworks was the very first gathering of the Kenyan Tech community formed in February of 2007
Skunkworks was the very first gathering of the Kenyan Tech community formed in February of 2007
Skunkworks was the very first gathering of the Kenyan Tech community formed in February of 2007

Article by Tyrus Kamau

Approximately 8 years ago, the skunkworks mailing list, a Kenyan oriented ICT mailing list, was brought to life on the Valentine’s day of 2007. It was a pretty exciting moment for me since I had just graduated from campus with nowhere to have highly technical discussions around the subject. Given my interest in cyber security from back then, I decided to show off my meager knowledge by creating the pseudonym ‘fyodor‘. My first post to the group was how easy it was to break into ATM machines which was rather misinformed seeing that I had based my assertion on a fictional story I had read a while back. I got a good amount of tongue lashing and ridicule because I had under estimated the knowledge resident with the techies then

Towards the end of 2007 and several enemies later, I was finally invited to give my very first talk on cyber security to the very guys I was winding up. I was rather skeptical about it but eventually I chinned up and gave it a go. Impressively, people did listen to what I had to say and there was no egg on my face at the end of it all. Details of this historical speech can be found here .

Granted, over time I became more cognizant of what to discuss and more importantly focus on the cyber security landscape within our borders. Now, if everyone I know in the trade took the same amount of time to build confidence, skill, focus and commitment, I guarantee you it would take years to get the right people in the market. With the advent of the AfricaHackOn, one of the agendas right at the heart of the initiative is Capacity Building.

I had the honor of working on our Cyber Security Master Plan back in 2012 and one of the pillars includes building a sustainable manpower in this field. A cursory look at the syllabus administered by our universities indicated that this topic is covered in passing with not enough emphasis laid on growing talent and skill around it. To bridge this gap, a group of us who’ve been in the trade for a while decided to go back to our schools and hunt for talent. Not for ourselves, but for the industry which is in dire need of competent and qualified IT security professionals.

The bootcamp lever takes the form of a 2-3 day hands on training for students. It aims at sparking that curiosity which most of us can relate to. The spark that ignites that fire in the belly, the one that keeps you awake poring over tons of material which one day will propel you to being the best there can be. It’s always refreshing to see the gleam in the students eyes.

Just like any other profession, cyber security attracts both the good and the bad. Far too many people who are practicing it have little or no clue as to what they are doing besides name dropping and parroting Wikipedia articles. The problem with this is that, for a young profession, it can be riddled with too many people drawing salaries where they shouldn’t be. Furthermore, this is an area that requires full time dedication and commitment which can’t be translated to another ordinary 8-5. It also calls for aggressive research which is always time consuming and unrewarding, but forward looking pays quite handsomely.

If you glance around news articles about cyber security, you’ll be quick to realize very few people talk about the specifics that go hand in hand with the subject. This too is a reason why we want to breed highly brilliant cyber security professionals who will also represent and critic the industry with facts and figures, not imagination.

Since it’s inception, the AfricaHackOn has held 3 amazingly successful bootcamps; Strathmore’s iLab university, Oshwal College and JKUAT. With every bootcamp we always have an additional one or two members to the AfricaHackOn which proves that we are doing the right thing. Moreover, we also try not to have the same faces presenting during our conferences by giving the new entrants an opportunity to show off. In a cyclic manner, the next bootcamp is organized and executed by a some students who attended the previous bootcamp, making it a learning experience. This helps calibrate the upcoming professionals along the lines of understanding the gaps, being part of the solution, earning gainful employment and also breeding entrepreneurs in this field. So far we have been at it alone, with support from the hosting universities. However, we are in talks with some leading technology companies in the country and from abroad on how to increase the depth of the bootcamp all the way from training to industrial placement.

As a lead up to the bootcamps, we shall be hosting our 2nd Annual Cyber Security conference, which unlike other summits, doesn’t bore you to death with Powerpoint giants. We make it interesting and fun to follow as well as informative. We show off the fruits of our initiatives and open the doors to budding young adults for opportunity. Do join us on 31 July 2015 at the iHub, 4th floor, Bishop Magua Center. Tickets are up for sale here,

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