Carlos Chueca studied international affairs as an undergraduate at Florida International University in Miami, but, now– a few years out of college and with six years troubleshooting security issues at the Apple Store under his belt–he’s looking to break into cybersecurity.
Chueca is attracted to cybersecurity because he knows it’s a fast-growing field. He also sees how important digital security is to people every day at the Apple Store.
“Every day, people come up to me and they tell me, ‘My life is in here,’” he said, gesturing to his phone. “It sounds dramatic, but it’s true.”
So, when Florida International alerted its alumni about the first-ever governmentwide tech and cybersecurity hiring event in Silver Spring, Md., this week, Chueca bought a plane ticket.
“I have two little sisters and I have a mom who’s been sick the last couple years,” Chueca said. “So, I want to be in a career that’s long term. I want to find a place and stick to it and build my career from there so I can help my family.”
Chueca was one of about 2,500 job seekers who signed up for the federal hiring event and one of roughly 1,200 who attended the job fair’s first day Monday, according to an official tally. A similar number might attend the second and final day of the fair Tuesday, officials said.
The attendees visited booths for 33 federal agencies, including five intelligence agencies, some of which had authority to make on-the-spot job offers to candidates that had gone through a pre-screening process.
Chueca had mixed results during his job search Monday. Some agencies weren’t considering candidates without computer science degrees, he said. Others seemed open to hiring someone with his qualifications and work experience, he said, but couldn’t proceed unless he applied for those jobs online.
Chueca’s plan was to apply for those jobs on the federal site USAJOBS.gov in his hotel room Monday night, then return to those agencies' booths Tuesday for a fuller conversation.
Another fair attendee, Zahin Hasan, said he wasn’t the right fit for a lot of jobs being offered but made good connections with hiring managers.
Hasan’s work experience is in social media and marketing rather than information security, he said, but he interned with the General Services Administration while in college and with the Food and Drug Administration during grad school. So he has a good understanding of government work.
“I’m not the same cyber and tech background as everyone else, but I actually had some hiring managers say, ‘You know, I think you’d be a good fit for this office,’ or ‘I’ll refer you to that manager,’ so it actually went pretty well,” he said.
Overall, the government has about 500 cyber and technology jobs that could be filled by job fair attendees, acting federal Chief Information Officer Margie Graves told reporters Monday. Agencies are also keeping resumes from the event so they can reach out to strong applicants when new jobs open up, she said.
Open job positions at the fair include data architects, computer scientists, cyber analysts, engineers, mathematicians and project managers, according to a news release. The jobs range from General Schedule level 7 to level 15.
Many of the agencies at the fair are using special authorities that permit expedited hiring for cybersecurity jobs and allow agencies to work around other hiring restrictions, acting federal Chief Information Security Officer Grant Schneider said.
The Health and Human Service Department, for example, had already made a handful of job offers by 1 p.m. Monday, including for certain cybersecurity jobs and at least one program manager position, HHS Chief Information Officer Beth Killoran said.
About 30 percent of HHS's cyber workforce is currently vacant, according to an estimate by the Professional Services Council.
“Because of the hiring freezes we’ve had, we’re behind,” Killoran said. “So we have enough capability to maybe not hire all of them, but to at least hire our top priorities.”
The hires are still contingent on clearance investigations and other paperwork, but Killoran said she hopes to have some new employees on the job before Christmas.
The Education Department had not made any job offers by Monday afternoon but had spoken with applicants from as far away as Texas, Chief Information Officer Jason Gray said.
Some of the applicants were former teachers who’d moved into technology, Gray said. One hailed from a school that suffered a ransomware attack, sparking the teacher’s interest in protecting schools nationwide from similar digital attacks.
Job applicants at the fair hailed from 40 different states, but were weighted toward the Washington, D.C. metro area, acting federal CIO Graves said.
Federal tech officials will be assessing how successful the job fair was over the next several weeks, she said. If they determine the return on investment is high enough, they’ll likely repeat the experiment, she said.
A future job fair might be held in a different part of the country or be done in concert with a technology or cybersecurity conference such as the RSA conference in San Francisco, she said.
“As citizens expect better services and as cybersecurity threats increase, we know that we have the imperative to modernize,” Graves said, “and to do that we need engineers, data scientist developers [and] cyber specialists.”