First Group of Military Vets Graduate from Facebook Cybersecurity Course

Army veteran Andy Cary celebrates his graduation from a cybersecurity course for former military personnel at Facebook alongside twin brother, Brian, who also works in IT. (Sara Hossaini)

This Saturday marked graduation day for 33 former military men and women participating in Facebook's first-ever cybersecurity course for veterans.

Graduate Kyle Gomez seemed amused by the contrast between Facebook's rooftop patio at its headquarters in Menlo Park -- with its modern furniture, scenic view and fancy spread -- and his four years in the Army.

"They do a lot to retain their talent," Gomez says of the trappings of the tech industry, "versus the Army where it's like, 'I want you to stand at this guard post and then think about what you want to do for the next 12 hours.' "

It was the lonely nights with his laptop that sparked Gomez's interest in computer science and brought the current De Anza Community College student, and nearly three dozen of his fellow veterans, to Facebook Cybersecurity University, which was created in collaboration with Codepath.

The students, who all had to have some background in IT or computer science, met every Saturday for seven hours for 12 weeks, learning the basics of cybersecurity, like trying to hack into systems to learn their vulnerabilities.

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Brian Cary came to the graduation ceremony to cheer on his identical twin brother, Andy, who enlisted in the Army at 17, without telling him first, he complains.

"My reaction was, 'Why?!' " Brian says. "We don't come from a military family."

The boys grew up tinkering with technology together alongside their other, slightly older brother.

"I built my own computer before I could drive," Andy says. For Andy, the Army was a place to form his own identity, while getting work experience right away.

After Andy spent a year in Iraq and three stateside as a communications specialist, "the AT&T of the operation," the 34-year old Carys are once again following a similar path in IT. Brian is a software engineer at Marin Software, and Andy now works in IT for Stanford University.

While Andy says working at Stanford could be a dream job if made permanent, the cybersecurity workshop gave him a crash course into other, more urgently needed skills.

"Ultimately, it's such a broad and deep field, you can't be an expert in everything. But this was really good exposure," Andy says. "I see myself continuing with learning on my own with the long-term vision of getting into cybersecurity."

Courtney Kivernagel was one of a handful of women at the event. She says the camp was "amazing" and revealed a grit and tenacity she didn't know she had, not even after six years in the Air Force.

"This was harder than basic training in some aspects," Kivernagel says, "just because some of the problems they threw out at you... [They were like,] 'Into the deep end, here you go.' "

Kivernagel hopes the training will help land her a job in the new battleground of cybersecurity. It's one Facebook, which has been the target of much criticism over its role in facilitating Russian interference in the elections, knows well.

Facebook's Head of Information Security Programs and Operations Betsy Bevilacqua says the company is doing its part to train specialists to take on future cyberthreats.

"Not just for Facebook, but also for the broader cybersecurity community," Bevilacqua says.

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Bevilacqua says the cybersecurity industry is facing a shortage of 1.5 million professionals over the next two years.

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