The future is bright for careers in tech. With job growth across the field, tech workers are in high demand.  What’s more, tech careers have higher than average salaries and job satisfaction. So what can you do in a tech job? You could analyze data related to scientific research, engineer website and mobile applications, research and optimize companies’ marketing, develop video games, or work in cybersecurity for a government organization. When it comes to tech careers, the possibilities are endless.

 However, tech jobs aren’t for everyone. As with any career, there are skills you need to develop in order to thrive in tech. If you’re interested in a tech career, start by practicing analytical, problem-solving, and project management skills as well as learning programming languages and common operating systems. There are many academic competitions that can help you learn and master these skills.

Competitions for a future in tech

American Computer Science League – Computer science contests for grade 11 and 12 
CyberPatriot – Online cyber defense competition for teams of K-12 students
Cyber Robotics Coding CompetitionVirtual 3D robotics tournament for grade 6-8
Future Problem Solving ProgramCreative problem-solving competition for grades 4 – 12
Imagine Cup (Microsoft) –  Global team computer science competition for students over 16
MakeX Spark Online CompetitionCreative design competition for ages 6 to 13
National Cyber League – Cybersecurity competition for high school students
ProjectCSGirlsTech and social issues focused competition for girls in grades 6-8
REACH ChallengeTeam design-thinking project for middle school and high school students
STEM Fuse: Got Game Competition – Video game design competitions for grades 5-12
Technovation Girls – Free tech-based team competition for girls ages 10 – 18

Find more tech-focused competitions in the Institute of Competition Sciences (ICS) database. Upgrade to a premium account for additional tools to help track your progress in competitions and get special discounts on ICS-managed programs!

Back in 1983, the film War Games introduced the world to a new hero. He wasn’t big and strong. He wasn’t fast or athletic; not even a little bit. He probably couldn’t have thrown a football if his life depended on it or made contact with a fastball.

He did not look like the traditional hero in any way.

The character played by a young Matthew Broderick was most certainly a hero. If he was not able to figure out how to defeat "Joshua," the super-computer, nuclear war would have destroyed the world. But since he knew what to do when Joshua asked, “Shall we play a game?” the world lived on.

A War of Secrecy 

Computers have come a long way since War Games was filmed, as has their potential for good and unfortunately, evil. People may not need to be as concerned about rogue networks launching nuclear missiles anymore. But the possibility of fiery death raining down from the sky is only one of the many problems people could face.

One that every American is aware of today is the 2016 Russian cyber-attacks on the electoral system prior to the 2016 Presidential election. The world will probably never know the full extent of the attacks, but according to one Bloomberg report, they were enough for then-President Obama to personally call Moscow to voice his concerns and pose sanctions on Russia.

The same report claims that election systems in 39 states were affected in some form by the Russian intrusions. Russian officials, of course, deny any involvement but have conceded the possibility a criminal element in Russia could have been involved without the government’s knowledge.

Cyber-attacks and incidents are becoming more and more common.

  • May 2017: approximately 45,000 computers in 99 countries were attacked by ransomware. The ‘weapon’ is believed to have been part of a cache of cyber-weapons stolen from the NSA.
  • June 2017: a ransomware-attack crippled thousands of computers across the Ukraine. ATMs to stop working, radiation monitors at the nuclear plant in Chernobyl failed, etc. At least 2000 organizations were affected as well as some international businesses.
  • July 2017: hackers attempted to hack the business and administration systems of several nuclear facilities but failed.

These computer attacks have disrupted normal business operations to the point where some companies lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and have disrupted the lives of millions of people. It seems like every other month there is a new announcement of a company’s data being breached where we’re all asked to change our passwords again.

“Cyber criminals are becoming more industrialized and more organized,” Derk Fischer, a partner with PwC in Germany who deals in the delivery of cyber security assessment and consulting services, said in a statement (h/t Fox News). “What we’re seeing is the emergence of a new kind of ‘industry sector’ that thrives on the complex connectivity that characterizes the Internet.”

The global cost of cybercrime in 2015 was an estimated $500 billion. According to one study that questioned 383 organizations, the average cost of a cyber-attack was $4 million worldwide and $7 million in the United States. Costs are highest when the healthcare industry is involved (security-intellience.com).

And it’s only going to get worse!

According to current estimates, someone is made a victim of cybercrime every 18 seconds. There are 1.5 million victims a day and 556 million a year (go-gulf.com). Each year there are an average of 27 trillion malicious attacks.

The global cost of cybercrime is expected to reach $2 trillion by 2019 (securityintellience.com).

The global market for cyber security generated $63.7 billion in 2011. Six years later that number is up to $120.1 billion—and it is only expected to get higher.

A new Generation of Cyber-Cops

To stop these attacks, the world is going to need the best and brightest computer hackers and programmers in the world to help fight the good fight. It may not be glamorous or as sexy as being a secret agent—but the need is apparent and growing. It may not involve pulling the damsel in distress out of the fire, but it is heroic nonetheless. Rather than pull her out of the ‘fire,' you can keep it from happening in the first place.

Think of the impact you can make on just a single identity theft victim. Now imagine stopping an attack that had the potential to affect millions. What sort of impact would that make? The good thing is an ever increasing number of students are getting engaged in the fight as more and more programs are being created to help students understand cyber-security.

In today’s education system, Cyber-Security, is not typically on the roster of courses. However, for the passionate students across the country who are taking on this monumental task, the benefits are immense! Careers in the Cyber-Security space are one of the highest paying and highest in demand jobs in the technology industries!

To be the kind of person who can solve cyber-crime, requires an extraordinary amount of technical knowledge and know-how. These students don’t just learn it by listening to lectures in the classroom, they’re the ones jumping head-first into leading Cyber-Security Challenges. ICS has researched a slew of cyber-security competitions. Here we review a few that are helping build a new generation of “white-hat” security heroes to save us from the next big attack. And these academic competitions aren’t limited to students already involved, you too can try your hand— and your skills – at any or all of these great competitions!

 

The Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge

The Cyber 9/12 Challenge is not a straight-up hacking or coding challenge but tries to get students to see the bigger picture. Can they understand the technical issues going on and then analyze how they impact national security, international relations, and security studies?

Can you understand what is happening when a cyber-attack occurs and craft the necessary public policy to address it?

Students are tasked with responding to a cyber-attack, but they are also challenged with understanding how policy can change and evolve in relation to a crisis. As part of the competition, they will have to recommend policy changes, present them, and be able to justify them. As the attack evolves, they will need to be able to modify their recommendations as necessary and be able to explain why.

An important aspect of the challenge will be explaining the roles played by the government, military, law enforcement, private companies, and civilians.

This competition will not test your hacking skills, but it will give you a chance to apply them in a theoretical sense and understand the larger impact. It’s not a competition for the next CTU analysts on the front lines, but for the computer savvy future senator.

 

US Cyber Challenge

The Center for Internet Security runs the U.S. Cyber Challenge and does not mince words when it comes to the purpose of the competition. The cyber workforce is in need of talented individuals. What better way can there be to identify the right kind of people than to host a competition for them?

High school and college students that think they have what it takes can compete in a ‘Cyber Quest’ online. Those with the highest scores are invited out to a special week-long camp. As part of the camp experience, they will undergo specialized training by industry professionals, take part in workshops, a job fair, and a ‘Capture the Flag’ competition.

The camp experience wraps up with an awards ceremony that is often attended by cyber security industry pros and government officials.

If you would rather be on the frontlines of the cyber-war than the guy devising a policy to combat cyber-crime, this is the competition for you. Not only do you get to test your skills against the best the country has to offer, but Mom and Dad will love it because you could get a job when the contest is over!

 

CyberPatriot

The Cyber 9/12 Challenge identifies future cyber-policy makers. The U.S. Cyber Challenge identifies the next internet soldiers ready to join the battle against cyber-related crimes. CyberPatriot, the National Youth Cyber Education Program, takes it a step further. Its goal is not only to identify those with the right aptitude but to encourage kids to pursue careers in cybersecurity.

Created by the Air Force Association, CyberPatriot has aspects for children of all ages. Kids are introduced to the principles of cyber security and its importance through the Elementary School Cyber Education Program. The AFA began hosting CyberCamps in 2014. Last year they hosted 75 of them across the country.

Like the U.S. Cyber Challenge, CyberPatriot wants to test the skills of tomorrow’s IT professionals and does so with the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. The competition is open to kids in middle school or high school in the United States. In each round of the competition, teams are given images of an operating system and are tasked with finding the security issues and hardening the system while not losing critical services.

CyberPatriot is a little different in that it wants to teach you before testing you. But in the end, it wants to know the same thing as the rest—who has the skills needed to get the job done?


The future is yours

Picking a career path is a daunting task at any age. What interests you now may not in a year—or five years. What better way can there be to find out if cyber security is a path you want to get started on then to learn about it and test yourself in an exciting competition? You may find yourself quickly on the path to becoming one of the 21st century’s great cyber-security heroes. So go ahead, get in the arena. We guarantee it will lead to something amazing.