Engineering Academy Field Trip: DHS Students Visit SF

Alexandra Stassinopoulos, Editor-in-Chief

On Tuesday, February 14, fifteen DHS students went to the cybersecurity firm RiskIQ in San Francisco. At RiskIQ, the students participated in the first stop of “The Alliance Cybersecurity Converge Tour”, a new initiative designed to bring high schoolers, particularly minority students, into the cybersecurity fields. Because there are so few women in this field, the DHS seats were open only to girls in the Engineering Academy or PLTW classes to encourage their future participation in this industry.


For those who are little in the dark about what cybersecurity actually is, Junior Abi Kim, an AP Computer Science student who went on the field trip, gave me a brief overview:


“All of our information is stored on a computer– names, passwords, addresses, credit card numbers and security codes. The point of cybersecurity is to protect the user’s information and to prevent other users from getting that information. Cryptography, basically the making of codes, and firewalls are two measures that cyber security uses to protect the user’s information.”


The day at RiskIQ started with a panel of executives working in cybersecurity and the pathways they took to get there. The panel was diverse, consisting of the former Chief of Pentagon Security, Larry Whiteside, Jr., Mr. Ng, Supervisory FBI Special Agent, as well as executives of RiskIQ and Gary Warzala SVP, Chief Information Security Officer, Fifth Third Bank.


Although the members of the panel had different paths to cybersecurity, all of their journeys  had several key things in common. The most important one is the fact that they all stumbled onto their dream careers purely by chance; not one of the panel members started college with any desire to work in cybersecurity. Instead, by a lucky combination of networking and job choices (one member started his first job in computer security simply because he wanted to work in a place with air conditioning) they ended up in this field. Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon story for members of the cybersecurity fields. Currently, there is a cybersecurity underemployment; that means that there are approximately 1.5 million jobs for which firms simply can’t find someone to hire. The purpose of the panel, and Alliance Cybersecurity Tour as a whole is to increase awareness of the field and interested recruit high school students.


After the panel, students had the chance to talk to the speakers one-on-one during a networking break. During this time, Mr. Whiteside and Mr. Ng told stories of some the wackier cases they’d cracked during their cybersecurity careers, including tracking down black hat hackers and finding the leaders of the Silk Road, an illegal online drug market.


At the end of the field trip, students got to play a virtual capture the flag, where they captured or stole a country by answering cybersecurity trivia questions. The game lasted almost two hours, with DHS teams taking both first and second place.


All in all, the field trip was both fun and informative.


“I really enjoyed this field trip because I think it was really interesting to be exposed to this environment, particularly because it was one that we wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to at school,” said DHS student Ashley Chon, who along with Neha Harpanhalli, took second place in the capture the flag competition.


“I had a ton of fun,” agreed Senior Ana Vokoyavich, who was a member of the winning team with freshman Aditi Jagannathan. “I learned a lot and it helped me look at cybersecurity in a different way. I always thought it was this really boring stuff, but it’s a lot more creative than I thought it would be. And I had a lot of fun with capture the flag, because it really challenged me and there were a lot of problems that I couldn’t answer right away and it required a lot of deeper thinking.”


The 2017 Alliance Cybersecurity Converge our will be taking place in fourteen other cities this year (San Francisco was their first stop). To find out more information about the tour, click here.
If you’re a DHS student interested in STEM fields, check out the robotics club or Mrs. Chou’s website (click here). For female students, there are a lot of other opportunities aimed at just girls, including the Girls Who Code club and GetSet, a set of science workshops aimed specifically at girls which you can sign up for at the beginning of next year (talk to Mrs. Nobida in the career center).