Jay Gehringer spent 27 years as a high school band director before making the transition into cybersecurity education. He knows firsthand the value that comes from being well-rounded and having expertise in multiple areas.
As a cyber coach and mentor at North Hollywood High School, he passes that lesson onto his students as they prepare for college and the working world. Cybersecurity impacts every part of the economy, and cybersecurity professionals need to be experts in technology and their industry.
“If you want someone to do cybersecurity for your oil refinery, you want them to be a petroleum engineer, but you also want them to be interested in their cybersecurity,” Gehringer said. “You need content knowledge in whatever area you’re working in, not just knowledge about cybersecurity.”
Gehringer encourages his students to consider double majors in college and reiterates that they don’t have to give up their passion for another field just because they are interested in cybersecurity.
His own career path mirrors some of these same ideas. He majored in music but took programming courses during college. He continued to learn about computers as a side project while he was a band director and eventually made the transition into teaching technology full-time.
Gehringer heard about CyberPatriot through a school district press release and thought he might be able to help out. He began coaching in 2011.His experience shows that anyone can become a cyber coach, regardless of their background or experience.
“99 percent of what I know about teaching cybersecurity, I didn’t know when I started,” Gehringer said. “I took Cisco courses, did a lot of research online, talked to kids who had figured things out and got some help from other instructors along the way.”
Gehringer’s students are three-time CyberPatriot National Champions, winning in the Open Division in 2014, 2017, and 2018. As a coach, he’s careful not to overemphasize the success and helps his students keep their performance in perspective.
“Kids naturally like to do things well and at a high level,” Gehringer said. “With the support I’m able to give my students, they’re instantly one of the better teams in the country. I’m always reminding them that, while winning is important, it’s not the only reason to participate in these competitions.”
North Hollywood High School’s CyberPatriot teams are run as part of the Beyond the Bell after-school program. Gehringer said this approach helps him reach students who might not have room in the school day for cybersecurity education.
“It gives me access to kids who are taking a very heavy academic schedule,” Gehringer said. “Kids who are interested in cyber generally are not doing sports or performing arts. When mom was trying to get them to go out and play, they wanted to sit inside on the computer. CyberPatriot gives them an opportunity to work as part of a team.”
As his teams continue to achieve success, Gehringer uses that notoriety to spread the word about the potential cybersecurity offers as a career path. Once parents understand what it is, he says, they instantly see what he’s known for years.
“I like cybersecurity as a career because it’s not a job that’s going to get exported overseas or taken over by a robot,” Gehringer said. “A lot of parents are stuck on their kids being a doctor or lawyer, but that changes pretty quickly when you start talking about their kids coming out of college with multiple job offers before they graduate.”
Gehringer’s students will defend their national title at the CyberPatriot XI National Championship in Baltimore April 8-10.