NEWS + ADVICE
Veterans, Cyber, San Antonio with Denim Group’s Joe Krull
An interview with Joe Krull, Director of Denim Group in San Antonio. Read the first part of Joe’s interview Veterans are both Uniquely Qualified and Completely Unprepared for Civilian Cybersecurity Careers.
How is San Antonio Uniquely Qualified to be Cyber City USA
Three reasons plus a bonus:
1) Low cost of living. It’s much cheaper than the Washington, DC, area and has a lower cost of delivery of services. The real estate is still quite reasonable in the San Antonio area and if you are a cybersecurity professional you are making a pretty good salary. So the differential is quite noticeable.
2) We have many federal government agencies represented here in San Antonio and it is growing by the day. All of the Air Force Intelligence is here, Security Hill, a couple of wings, 24th and 25th. It is a big backbone of what we do and because of this military DNA our area is very similar to the National Capital Area, but it is manageable because we all know each other.
3) We also have one of the highest concentrations of security certified professionals (CISSP ) in the country. San Antonio always ranks in the top 4 regions of the country with the high CISSP concentrations.
4) We have 275 days of sun. There’s a relaxed and casual lifestyle down here, and it’s very rare to find anyone wearing a suit. This appeals to a lot of our veterans as well as the tattoo and earring crowd of the pentesters who love this area. For example at the Denim Group we have a flexible dress code, but by no means does anyone follow it to the letter.
Where Does the The Denim Group fit in the San Antonio Cybersecurity Ecosystem
There are about 100 companies in San Antonio that do some form of cybersecurity. Denim Group having been around for 14 years, is one of them. Most of our principals and directors played some kind of community role so we are heavily involved in volunteer activities. We have also become one of the de facto clearinghouses in town for people looking for a cybersecurity job.
John Dickson, one of our principals is the committee chair for the Chamber of Commerce’s Cyber Committee. We play a big role in the community as an employer, a referrer, as a trainer. We work with a lot of companies to help them solve problems around security so we build long term relationships rather than a project based role.
What’s the Cybersecurity Bootcamp for Veterans
We saw that there were many veterans and civilian government retirees that were working for the various branches of service here in San Antonio were getting exposure to a lot of very sophisticated technologies and threat scenarios, but they would up and leave because there was no reason to keep them here. So despite our low cost of living and wonderful weather, it just didn’t feel like there was enough here to keep them interested in continuing their careers here. We had heard that many of them were interested in becoming entrepreneurs and taking some of the ideas that they had and building a business around it.
I was approached by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and by the committee chairman to see what we could do about it. I had the pleasure and honor of serving in Israel for three years working with startup companies in security. The model there is they have a unit in the Israeli Military called 8200 which is their NSA. This unit is famous for taking young officers and NCOs when they come out of 8200 and connecting them with a network of ex-8200 that they can work with to develop startup companies and venture capital.
So when I came to San Antonio 13 years ago, I started talking about this concept. It took about 10 years to get anybody to really listen. We are loosely based on that Israeli model. Brad Morrison from Innove and I took this on totally as a volunteer project. The San Antonio Chamber gives us a location and support to do this. We find peers that have been in military service that have successfully created companies and we get them to come in on Saturdays four times a year to be volunteer instructors.
The other piece of this program is once they commit to the program which is a very simple application to make sure they have been working in the right areas- we then mentor the participants when they need additional help. So in addition to the quarterly meetings, if any of the entrepreneurs need assistance they come in to meet with Brad or me and we help them or pair them up with one of the volunteers. For example, when Chris Gerritz, CEO of Infocyte, went to his first venture capital meeting we did a Shark Tank for him. I played a Mark Cuban kind of role and critiqued his business plan apart to prepare him for when he went to present to his potential investors.
We have another company that’s benefiting from our Cyber Bootcamp as well called Maelstrom Labs. One of their advisors was a senior civilian official of NSA. So between him and us, Maelstrom Labs is going to be uniquely qualified to really be successful. It’s all about networking.
Helping others in the cybersecurity community has been a passion of mine for several years. I work with universities and am on the Board of the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC). I deal with students all over the country and during the competition – which is a three day event – I pose as the CEO of the company they are working for in the competition scenario. I dress up in a suit, make them come into a conference room, and I make them speak to me. They start talking about ports, servers and firewalls and I shut them down, and say, “Hey you work for me, but I have no idea what you are saying, so back up and explain this to me in some terms that I will understand.” We have been doing this for 6 years now and we are finding that this is making a big difference in soft skills.