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West Point cadets gain cyber experience in Silicon Valley internships

As cybersecurity becomes integral to military operations, learning the basics is imperative for the next generation of cyber warriors, signals intelligence analysts and network operators.  While cadets at the service academies receive coursework in these subjects, gaining practical, real-world experience is especially valuable.  That’s where Vidder, a small Silicon Valley-based network security startup, comes in.

Vidder has partnered with the Army and the Defense Department to accept cadets from West Point as  summer interns, learning the ins and outs of cybersecurity from industry professionals.  Although cadets receive training in military aspect of cyber, the opportunity at Vidder offers a way to gain hands-on experience to supplement skills learned in the classroom and the opportunity to explore specific disciplines in greater depth. 

 “We really want to complement formal class work,” Vidder founder and CTO Junaid Islam told GCN.  Commanders want to make sure the officers in training have a complete view of the supply chain of cybersecurity and understand how software, systems and networks are built, he added.  Cadets already have an understanding of how cyber is used on the battlefield, but  the internship gives them the opportunity to learn how software is developed. That experience will help them in the field, if they have to make a change to software or work with industry partners. 

Hannah Whisnant, a West Point cadet interning with Vidder this summer through the Advanced Individual Academic Development program, told GCN she had a “semi understanding” of cyber prior to her internship with Vidder.  Whisnant, a double major in math and computer science, had taken cryptography courses as well but didn’t really have a good grasp of how concepts learned in the classroom applied in the real world. 

For Jayleene Perez, another cadet majoring in information technology, said she was interested in the makeup of networks as well as the collaborative process of maintaining networks, a hands-on experience unavailable in the classroom setting.

Whisnant, who wants to join the Army Cyber Command upon graduation, said while her computer science major is not security focused, her time at Vidder has helped her address that area.  She added that she will explore what she learned about hacking and cryptology on her own during her remaining time at West Point. 

In addition to giving interns real-world experience, the program is helping build partnerships between the Silicon Valley and the Pentagon, which has been attempting to harness industry’s technology expertise for military challenges – most notably through its Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.   

Islam said he hopes to continue this partnership with the Army and believes that making cyber a permanent career track within the service is a positive step. 

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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