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DHS bigwig 'adamantly opposed' to degree fetishism

'Security experts don't need college degrees'

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RSA 2013 HR and in-house recruitment types should get rid of the myopic idea that to work in IT you must have been to university, says a Department of Homeland Security honcho.

Many "corporate and government jobs actually require a college degree or equivalent work experience," DHS deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity Mark Weatherford, told El Reg at security circus RSA on Monday. "I am adamantly opposed to that idea."

Though many of these jobs specify that equivalent experience is acceptable in lieu of a degree, "there's still an expectation" among bureaucratic organizations that wannabe security workers will have gone to university.

This expectation can make life difficult for candidates, Weatherford said, noting he'd been in interviews where otherwise sparkling candidates were probed about their lack of university experience. "They just melt," he said.

Getting organizations to understand that a college degree does != [not equal] brains could help plug holes in IT security employment.

"The first step to solving this problem is a cultural one," Weatherford said. "You do not need a college degree to be successful in our business."

In fact, the people who don't go to college may even benefit by being able to apply their hormone-drenched selves to something other than rote learning, gaming the system, and attempting to drink brake fluid.

Instead of college, these people "spent those four years breaking things and fixing things and figuring out how applications and operating systems work," Weatherford said in an earlier keynote speech at the conference. "Probably the five smartest people I know in our business have never been to college."

But the heating up of the IT industry combined with the slow awakening of the US economy from the doldrums could already be changing this bias, one recruiter said.

"It's changed more with emphasis on the economy than on certain industries," Chris Castillo, vice president of technology operations for San Francisco Bay area recruiter Premier Staffing, told The Register. "When it was really easy to get a lot of candidates [degrees were] a screening process to eliminate that candidate pool or half of the pool right off the bat."

But as the market is improving and the overall number of candidates gets smaller, companies are changing their ways, he said, stressing that this shift has only occurred in recent months.

Google, he pointed out, used to have a de facto HR policy of only hiring people who had been to colleges.

"Last year companies were still being somewhat selective, but it's really changed significantly," he said. "Larger corporations tend to be a little more picky, but again that's just because they use it as a screening tool."

So, readers, does a degree count for anything more than a way to halve that pile of resumes, or does it give you a bit more confidence in a candidate? ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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