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Drilling down on the numbers behind Baltimore’s tech and cyber jobs growth

"We have the oil": Tech leaders see a foundation in Maryland for cybersecurity and data science to drive even bigger job gains.

Capture the Flag competitors at Cyber Maryland 2018. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is a part of's How to Get Hired month. Join on March 14 at our NET/WORK Baltimore tech jobs fair.

Texas is looking to lay claim to an area with an eye on a coming boom, but this time, it doesn’t have the oil.

When it comes to cyber — shorthand in many circles around the state for cybersecurity and data science — longtime investor Bob Ackerman says states are looking to invest plenty to create their own workforces. But the resource that others don’t have is in Maryland, and it’s not in the ground: It’s the people working for federally affiliated agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL), the many firms that work with those agencies and, increasingly, tech companies building new products.

“We have the oil,” said Ackerman, who founded AllegisCyber in Silicon Valley and expanded the firm to Maryland in recent years.

Professionals working in this field number more than 109,000, according to numbers compiled by DataTribe, the Maryland-based startup studio that seeks out those professionals working in government to build companies, where Ackerman is a cofounder. The state also boasts the number-one concentration of STEM professionals.

And those talented engineers are operating at a higher level.

“If you look in the world today, where is that concentration of expertise — the most advanced expertise in the world — it’s in Maryland,” Ackerman said.

As for the next generation, the state will graduate 7,200 more in computer and data science, and has awarded 10,000 bachelor’s degrees in cybersecurity since 2015 at institutions like University of Maryland Baltimore CountyUniversity of Maryland College Park and beyond.

It’s why cybersecurity is frequently touted among Baltimore’s tech strengths, and why it’s also seen by plenty of economic development leaders as an area to build on. Though not the only part, it’s a significant part of the overall tech workforce. For’s How to Get Hired Month, we pulled some numbers on that bigger picture.

In all, the Baltimore metro area estimates 61,410 people working in computer and mathematical occupations as of May 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. All but 2,630 of those jobs are in IT-related fields. For its part, Maryland had a total of 124,630.

If job postings are a sign of growth, the totals have brought an increase in recent years. According to data compiled by IT trade association CompTIA and job market analytics company Burning Glass Technologies, there was a 39 percent increase over 2017 in the number of ads in IT-related fields between fiscal year 2017 and 2018, up to 49,508 postings. “Emerging” tech job postings also grew 34 percent over 2017, with 3,991 ads.

Top postings were in software development and engineering, systems engineering and administration and network engineering.

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The growth is a trend that’s been playing out over multiple years, said Katie Plankey, Baltimore branch manager for human resources consulting firm Robert Half Technology. But it remains an emerging area of the economy as companies adapt to the new processes found with technology.

“We’ve seen significant growth in the Baltimore tech market in recent years,” she said. “Companies are in search of skilled candidates, but are having trouble finding and bringing them into their organization. Because the market is so tight we are seeing many companies bringing in contract workers to help with specific projects because the hiring process can take significant time and energy.”

As businesses embrace tech, there’s a need for tech talent at companies of all kinds.

“Right now, we are seeing more and more development and design roles open — such as UX/UI designers and developers, as well as mobile developers and web developers,” Plankey said. “Companies are focusing heavily on ensuring that their website and mobile user experience is giving them a competitive advantage in the market.”

In the cities in our immediate proximity, Baltimore’s number of job postings are dwarfed by D.C.’s 188,566 openings in 2018, and Philly’s 70,000 openings. That’s perhaps fitting, seeing as how it has a third of the population of both of those statistical areas.

As a category, these jobs are among the highest paying, with an average tech job pay in the city of $102,324, according to data compiled by AgileCraft. But it’s not quite up with the highest-paying, as San Jose, Calif., retains the top spot at $132,371 — though as we often hear, the cost-of-living is much lower here than Silicon Valley. (As we reported during Office Trends month in December, the real estate also runs cheaper than other cities in region.)

Both hiring and cost of living were factored in when CompTIA ranked Baltimore among the 20 cities on its Tech Towns Index in the fall.

That report also pointed out that some of the largest tech employers in the area are companies that do work with the federal government.

And that brings us back to cybersecurity and data science.

Those companies, and the government agencies they work with, didn’t arrive overnight. It’s the result of sustained investment from the federal government to build up capabilities for national security purposes, AllegisCyber’s Ackerman said.

To Ackerman, there’s a lot of similarity between the investments in research and technology that are being advanced in Maryland’s agencies, and the post-World War II tech development around Stanford University and other institutions that helped to spawn Silicon Valley.

“There’s this really interesting parallel between the foundation of Silicon Valley and what we believe is the foundation for the focal point of cyber innovation in the U.S., and probably the world,” he said.

Along with all of the government presence, Ackerman said, the expertise in developing the capabilities necessary in cybersecurity and data science at the “nation-state” level is ahead of the commercial sector.

Yet lots of those professionals still work in government jobs, or for services firms. So while there’s plenty of talent and opportunity presented by technology that could be used to secure data and infrastructure for civilians, Ackerman said it remains a potential resource — oil in the ground — when it comes to the potential to drive economic growth.

There have been examples that raise the profile, as cyber companies Sourcefire, Tenable and RedOwl have seen notable exits and Baltimore hosts clusters of emerging companies populated with talent from NSA and APL between the city and bwtech@UMBC. Ackerman said there remains a need for more resources that can build the product-oriented businesses that will ultimately drive big job growth.

But it takes “building a capital ecosystem and an innovation ecosystem that knows how to transform and leverage that experience into market-leading companies,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman is among those working to build that up. He said he used to recruit from Maryland’s talent pool, encouraging engineers to move to Silicon Valley. Now, with DataTribe, Silicon Valley resources are flowing to that talent in Maryland.

So far, it’s produced startups such as Dragos and Enveil with founders that are alums from government labs based in mid-Maryland. With a move next year to Baltimore’s Port Covington development as part of an effort known as Cyber Town USA, DataTribe and Allegis are looking to create a central address for startups, as well as cyber operations teams from larger companies. With such an address, it gives the talent that’s here a place to congregate, and those from outside who are looking to drill down a place to go.

“We have to create an environment that is welcoming to entrepreneurs, that is welcoming to talent and that encourages talent to move to Maryland to help catalyze this innovation process,” he said.

Part of that is also getting the name out. It’s why DataTribe started the “Where Cyber Works” marketing campaign, and the Maryland Department of Commerce is seeking to plant a flag for the state with a coordinated delegation at next week’s RSA cybersecurity industry conference in San Francisco.

A rendering of the Port Covington development's "Chapter 1" phase, that will include Cyber Town USA.

A rendering of the Port Covington development’s “Chapter 1” phase, that will include Cyber Town USA. (Courtesy photo)

To grow, there also needs to be a workforce that can staff these companies beyond the initial days. And like the tech workforce as a whole, cybersecurity jobs data feels the push and pull of supply and demand.

According to data from Burning Glass’ Cyberseek, Maryland has an employed cybersecurity workforce of 31,386. Yet despite a “very high” concentration of cyber workers, that data states there also remains a very low supply of workers to fill the more than 15,000 jobs that remain open. That mirrors a national trend.

It’s also an area that Maryland’s existing foundation can help address. The education institutions and centers of excellence that train the talent in cyber warfare can also be enlisted to fill the ranks of growing companies, said Col. Ken McCreedy, USA (ret.), the former commander of Fort Meade who is now the Maryland Commerce Department’s senior director for cybersecurity and aerospace.

“One of our principle advantages is the quantity and quality of our workforce,” McCreedy said.

That where educational institutions that are part of the decades-old foundation come in: Along with the universities, community colleges, apprenticeship programs and workforce training programs run by the state and others often zero in on cybersecurity, and startups in the state, such as Cybrary and Point3 Security, are developing training-oriented products.

While there can be a lag because those workers need to catch up to the advanced skills that industries needs, McCreedy said the investments and programs being made are designed to grow what’s already here.

“I’m optimistic about what we’ve got in the pipeline,” he said.

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