We sat down with Dr Abu Barkat Ullah from the University of Canberra about educating in an ever-changing cyber world.
As the cyber security industry rapidly grows and changes at a rate far higher than any other, the new wave of students are key to national security.
Courses need to keep up with emerging technologies, changing job needs and increasingly complex problems in cyber. It’s an exciting job for academics like Dr Abu Barkat Ullah, Associate Professor of Cyber Security at the University of Canberra (UC).
‘This is a very rapidly changing environment, where we can see the cyber security threats coming up every day in different aspects, different ways and using different techniques,’ says Barkat.
‘Technical skills are really important, but that technology is growing exponentially. So today we are using one technique or tool for attack and defence. Something can come up tomorrow and the previous one’s going to be outdated.’
This constant need to keep up makes Barkat’s career as an educator always interesting.
‘For me, cyber security is fun. It's fun in a way that every day you'll not be bored in teaching the same thing,’ he says.
‘You'll be excited with different aspects of cyber security. I've been in academia for a long time. But what I feel is in cyber security; people are more interested in collaboration. And that makes me very happy when I see the whole ecosystem is working together to address this national and the global needs.’
Meeting changing needs in education
In his previous role as the founder head of Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) Centre for Cyber Secuirty, Barkat helped developing the curriculum for certificates in networking and Cyber security – the first CIT cyber courses.
Where technical subjects were being covered by other institutions, in his current role at UC, he looked to fill in the gaps in Cyber security management and working as the convener for graduate certificate in cyber security management course. He educates people on how to understand and minimise cyber risks, threats, vulnerabilities and communicate them. He is also conducting research in different areas of cyber security.
He says it’s important all the institutions work together to cover the breadth of careers to fill the gaps between what employers need and what workers are looking for.
‘What I feel is in cyber security and my industry collaborators and my colleagues are also saying is that they are mainly looking for the aptitude and attitude of the new workforce,’ Barkat explains.
‘Are they curious? Are they interested in problem solving? Are they interested in attention to detail? Are they keen to learn to technical skills? Are they good collaborators? Are they good communicators? Are they good colleagues – do they have a caring nature? Because cyber is very much a critical area where one person cannot solve everything he has to, or she has to work as a part of the team. And the communication is really important because they need to translate the technology to a story for executives, our business managers and sponsors.’
A promoter of potential
Barkat sees potential in people and in the education system for cyber. Where a student might not naturally understand a certain aspect like technology, he sees where they could excel – perhaps in communication, analysis or management.
‘If we can teach the ecosystem; look, we have got the technical skills, but as long as they're collaborative, they learn from others. They're adaptive minded. They respect the team members' opinion. Because sometimes, someone can be wrong, but in how we address it, someone can be right. Those skills are really, really important.
‘One of my ex students, she was a retail manager and she was very much scared. She said she did not understand infrastructure networking, but she has got other skills: very good communication skills, problem solving skills. We just needed that time to provide her that support or mental strength to look in the workplace.
‘You don't need to solve all the problems by yourself. You'll be part of the team. Others can very good in threat hunting, ethical hacking or networking skills. You can be a risk analyst, security compliance consultant.
‘She is doing an excellent job as a security, senior security consultant role currently.’
With the evolving roles in cyber and the need for people to join the industry, Barkat’s always looking for skill crossovers and training options. This lateral thinking about our future cyber needs makes Canberra cyber education a creative and interesting career option.