As abuse of the H-1B visa program continues to take its toll on U.S. IT workers, it appears likely that it will be some time before government action to halt that abuse will have a demonstrable impact on the IT employment landscape in this country. So it's important for U.S. IT workers to consider ways to insulate their career paths from that abuse in the meantime.
I spoke last week with Evan Lesser, managing director of ClearanceJobs.com, a unit of IT employment services provider Dice.com that focuses on jobs that require a security clearance. I've written in the past that getting a security clearance is a great career move for any number of reasons, including the fact that it eliminates a large pool of contenders, including workers here on H-1B visas, from the competition. Lesser said he agreed with that 100 percent:
The primary requirement to have a security clearance is that you must be a U.S. citizen, so the H-1B candidates who are coming from overseas cannot receive a security clearance, flat-out. It doesn't matter how good their skills are, they can't get one. You will find some of them working within government and for government contractors. But it won't be for anything that requires a security clearance.
What's especially encouraging is that IT job openings that require a security clearance are growing significantly, because the U.S. government is rapidly expanding its cyber warfare capabilities. According to Lesser:
What we're seeing more and more of, in the past six months or so, is that the government is looking to the contracting base to find candidates who are appropriately skilled with more offensive roles with regard to network security. Most of the opportunity now revolves around defensive positions-prohibiting attacks, noting when an intrusion happens, and what can be done to defend against it.
The growing opportunity, Lesser said, is in offensive positions that require a certification in ethical hacking:
We're seeing a lot more of these positions where the candidate has to have certified skills in ethical hacking and malware reverse-engineering. Those are really leaning more towards the offensive side of things. When you consider that in the context of the Stuxnet virus from last year that was apparently intentionally perpetrated as an attack on Iran and possibly a few others, it kind of puts everything into perspective a bit. So the government is definitely looking more for people with a Certified Ethical Hacker certification. Those positions are getting more and more in demand. The certifications that follow around defensive positions have been the most prevalent to date, but the government is now looking at building essentially a workforce of cyber warriors-people who are not just defending, but they're actually attacking.
A crucial first step in taking a career path that involves obtaining a security clearance is to get an IT certification. Department of Defense Directive 8570 stipulates that all government employees and contractors with privileged access to U.S. government computer networks must be certified. ClearanceJobs.com has compiled a list of the top 10 certifications most frequently held by technology professionals with a security clearance: