Winning the Game at McAfee: How Gamers Become Cybersecurity Workers

By  on Jun 14, 2018

This blog was written by Jeff Elder.

When Austin Ortega was 12, he and his brother fought over who got to play video games like Gorillas and Commander Keen on an old family computer his parents had bequeathed to them. Then one day, they broke it. Their dad brought to their Grapevine, Texas, home a stack of floppy disks, dropped them in front of the boys, and told them to fix it. They did.

“I think it took like 14 floppy disks. They took a while to install,” says the McAfee technicalsupport engineer, who references gaming in every class he teaches to new employees. “Video games probably pushed a lot of us into an IT job,” says Ortega, 32. “We were sitting in front of a computer for hours, anyway. We might as well get paid for it.”

Ninety-two percent of cybersecurity managers say gamers possess skills that make them suited to a career in cybersecurity – and 75% would consider hiring a gamer even if that person had no cybersecurity training or experience.

Welcome to cybersecurity in 2018, where “Winning the Game” is more than a metaphor for beating attackers. Gaming today is part of a strategy to attract scarce workforce talent. And once cybersecurity workers are hired, gaming can help keep them sharp, keep them happy, and keep them, period.

In our recent report, Winning the Game, 950 cybersecurity managers and professionals in organizations with 500 or more employees were surveyed to gain insight into innovation, employee-satisfaction, and gamification.

The corroborating evidence to Ortega’s experience is stacked up like 14 floppy disks:

  • 92% of managers surveyed say gamers possess skills that make them suited for a career in cybersecurity
  • 80% of extremely dissatisfied employees who report their organization does not use gamification say they wish they did.
  • 77% of senior managers say their organization’s cybersecurity would be much safer if they implemented more gamification.

At McAfee, we see that at our company’s main offices in Santa Clara, Calif., and Plano, Texas, and with employees around the world.

“Video games brought me into computers and more technical areas of interest,” says Conor Makinson, a quality assurance engineer in Cork, Ireland. “Personally being one of the ‘young cybersecurity workers,’ I think that some games can really help develop mindsets that are beneficial to working in security.”

This is part of our public outreach to tech workers, a workforce in very high demand. Our chief information security officer told security’s biggest trade show about the benefits of gamification last week. “I’m a gamer,” said Grant Bourzikas at a session on recruiting talent at the RSA Conference in San Francisco. “I hate losing a game three times in a row. I have to win, and my wife is mad because we’re late, but I am focused.” Bourzikas looks for that focus and tries to channel it in our security operations center, where games are part of the work.

All those hours trying to beat a game may have actually been an investment in your career. (Hear that Mom and Dad?)

And building games may take Ortega’s floppy disk challenge into the 21st century. “I actually made flash games, first-person shooter games, and role-player games when I was in high school, and it definitely increased my interested in tech and coding,” says Catherine Gabel, demand generation specialist in Silicon Valley who joined McAfee it its Skyhigh Networks acquisition.

Gaming, like its dark-arts cousin hacking, has global reach. Nam Nguyen, a McAfee sales engineer, grew up gaming in South Vietnam, beginning at age 10. “I spent all of my lunch money on it.” He sees great potential for gamifying cybersecurity. “You have to find out new ways to beat the game, and the same is true in cybersecurity.”

Bourzikas and Chatelle Lynch, McAfee’s head of human resources, are already looking ahead to seek out the future of cybersecurity talent, and see much of it engaged in gaming. Austin Redlin, 17, agrees. “Gaming did, in fact, spark an interest in computers for me,” he says. “I began to want to understand what everything meant in a computer.”

Redlin is headed to the U.S. Marine Corps’ military occupational specialty school for Communications and IT. Is a career in the cybersecurity industry in his future? Well, it runs in the family. His mom, Deb Redlin, is executive assistant to McAfee Chief Technology Officer Steve Grobman.

Gaming and cybersecurity go hand in hand, the young Redlin said – via snail mail to his mom from Parris Island, South Carolina. Boot camp, even in 2018, is still one place that doesn’t tolerate games.

Jeff Elder was a member of the McAfee Digital Media Team.

Winning the Game at McAfee: How Gamers Become Cybersecurity Workers