Growing up in Frederick, Maryland within driving distance of the National Security Agency, Foretrace founder Nick Ascoli didn’t plan on pursuing a tech career. He went on to attend Penn State University like his older sister had done and planned to study business.
He quickly realized he needed to study something else.
“I spent my first year in it and decided it wasn’t for me,” he told Technical.ly. “I went to my academic advisor and said, ‘This sucks.’ I showed my advisor a cybersecurity major I found. My advisor said I should not switch, but I switched and my GPA instantly shot up. It was the best [decision] I ever made.”
After graduating and working as a consultant at Security Risk Advisors for three years, Ascoli founded Foretrace in January. The Philly-based cybersecurity startup is a B2B software-as-a-service company that uses the same tools and techniques “bad guys” use for reconnaissance to build a monitoring system that companies can access to address cybersecurity blind spots.
Ascoli launched Foretrace in Philly for a particular reason. National agencies like the FBI or NSA may not be nearby, but local college programs are preparing the cybersecurity professionals of tomorrow. Drexel University offers a cybersecurity master’s degree and a BS in computing and security technology, and Penn State offers a BS in cybersecurity analytics and operations, which Ascoli earned. Such programs are rare, he said — meaning there’s an opportunity to hire talent locally.
“At the majority of educational institutions you have to major in information technology or computer science with a specialization in cybersecurity,” he said. “These differ as roles in cybersecurity. There’s a difference between a cybersecurity technician and cybersecurity analyst.”
A Burning Glass Technologies labor insight report revealed that in 2018, there were 10,000 local cybersecurity roles that needed filling, and that number is estimated to have grown. Staffing firm Robert Half Technology found in 2020 that cybersecurity and cloud-based skills have been continuously ranked as the highest sought-out abilities in tech employees in the last few years. Still, as Technical.ly reported last year, talent with the relevant skill set can be hard to find. Leaders in industries from healthcare to retail are realizing they want a defense plan for their data. It’s why reskilling bootcamps focused on cybersecurity have become more prevalent, either for those looking to add on to traditional higher ed or folks looking for a mid-career change.
So, yes, cybersecurity is experiencing significant growth as a field ripe with opportunity. A Drexel spokesperson told Technical.ly that the university graduated 96 people from its College of Computing & Informatics’ cybersecurity bachelor’s program over the last three years, an average of 32 per year. Among those who responded to a post-grad survey, 97% were employed, and 85% were employed in a cybersecurity-related job.
In addition to Philadelphia being close to two university cybersecurity programs, its low cost of living compared to other major cities makes it appealing to launch a cyber company here, Ascoli said, and he believes more cybersecurity firms will grow here.
While Foretrace is only getting started, Ascoli noted that there is a thriving local cybersecurity scene supported by groups and meetups of other professionals, students and enthusiasts who compare notes and share ideas about new trends in the field. B-Sides Philadelphia, for instance, captures much of the discussions at larger conferences. Ascoli said these events help maintain the culture around cybersecurity on a local level.
“A lot of professionals comprise meetup groups,” he said. “There’s a no-sales, non-corporate ethos. The aura around it is very mysterious and exciting. Local cybersecurity professionals, students and enthusiasts meet up to network and find jobs.”
Michael Butler is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-