Cybersecurity and the Hybrid Workforce

Milton Mueller describes his vision for policy makers who combine technical and human skills

October 02, 2019 | By Colin Stricklin
Milton Mueller, professor of Georgia Tech School of Public Policy, describes his vision for policy makers who combine technical and human skills.

Milton Mueller, professor of Georgia Tech School of Public Policy, describes his vision for policy makers who combine technical and human skills.

As an internationally prominent scholar specializing in the political economy of information and communication, Milton Mueller is a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Public Policy and heads up the Policy Track of the Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity (OMS Cybersecurity) program. It’s a field that has captivated Mueller for decades.

“I became fascinated by the relationship between technological change and social, legal, and economic change around the time of the AT&T divestiture,” recalls Mueller. “This was back around 1980. It's been a long-standing interest, supported by a dynamic field that never stops changing.”

Mueller’s current research covers a wide range of topics, including the governance of social media, digital free trade, the concept of sovereignty as applied to cyberspace, and the creation of a global institution to perform authoritative public cyber-attributions (read: identifying who is responsible for a cyberattack). It takes more than a single expert to shape these complex policies, no matter how expert in the field. And that is precisely where Mueller’s interest in developing a hybrid workforce comes into play.

“Technical people may not always understand the legal and political rights that might constrain certain kinds of policies,” he explains. “Think of the encryption issue, for example. That’s a highly technical issue, but how does it break down in terms of policy? It is not just a matter of what is technically required for governments to break through encryption, it is also a matter of when should governments be allowed to break it? Those aren’t just technical questions. Those are social and political issues that have to do with people's rights, privacy, and civil liberties.”

Underlying Mueller’s observation is a keen awareness of current workforce trends. One such trend is the current push towards “hybrid jobs.” These positions are areas of expertise that involve combining technical and human skills into new roles. As these new jobs emerge, it is now imperative that education programs become hybrid as well.

At Georgia Tech, the OMS Cybersecurity program launched in August 2018 with the Information Security Track. The Policy and Energy tracks of the program launched in August 2019. And thanks to its inherently interdisciplinary nature, the OMS Cybersecurity degree supports hybrid models.

“We focus on the security aspects of the internet and information technology fields,” says Mueller. “The Policy Track in particular came about because we began to realize the degree to which this revolution caused by technology is not something that is a matter of pure coding or engineering. It's a matter of a social relationships, economic relationships, and of law and policy.”

Mueller points to the Equifax breach as an example of one such issue. “There were some highly technical problems that led to the breach, but why did that breach take place? People break into these companies and steal large quantities of data because of the value of the data. There's an underground market for that data, and so we see that there are strong economic incentives. This data has potential value to a foreign power, and so we must contend with political incentives as well. So in essence, what's driving the problem is not just the technical vulnerability, but the economic and political incentives that make people do these kinds of actions. And if you're going to eliminate or counter those incentives, you're talking about organizational and policy changes.”

What does that have to do with the hybrid workforce? Mueller conjures a hypothetical, freshly-graduated coder to illustrate his point. “If we're just training people to do an entry-level job, they will probably get an entry level job. They might not get it faster if they’re holding an MA. But it's what happens after that —the trajectory upwards -- that we're addressing. Somebody who has our kind of a master's degree is not going to get stuck in that entry-level position, that technical dead end where you keep doing the same thing over and over again. Imagine what happens when the technology changes: You're obsolete! You're out of a job. But if you have a broader picture of where the field is going, and if you know what problems and issues are driving the overall situation, then you're in a much better position long term.”

The question that prospective students must ask themselves is simply, What do I need to know to succeed? For Mueller, the answer is straightforward. “Our program was designed to target those longer term needs specifically. If you're a techie computer science major in the information security track, you have to take the policy core course. And that's because we realized that, if you are purely a techie, if you're just pushing code around and you're not aware of these organizational, political, and economic problems that are driving many of the security issues, you are less likely to advance to higher levels of the field.”

In addition to the OMS Cybersecurity program, GTPE also offers short courses, certificates, and a boot camp to emphasize a multi-faceted approach to effective and sustainable solutions for security risks, regardless of domain or industry.

Georgia Tech Professional Education is a leader in innovative educational delivery, designed for working professionals in tech, business, and leadership. Our connection to the marketplace — coupled with our world-class faculty, researchers, and subject matter experts — provides an unparalleled prospective to education innovation, industry trends, future work, and lifelong learning. To uncover additional insights into the demographic, social, and technological disrupters of the 21st century workforce, visit our Future of Work page.