That greener (industry) grass may hide some rabbit holes

If cybersecurity is the new “plastics” for surefire jobs and career advancement, federal cyber people looking to make the jump to industry should think twice.

Two developments in the past week:

  • FireEye, headed by cybersecurity star Kevin Mandia, told investors it will lay off up to 400 people, or 9 percent of its workforce. This ZDNet analysis explains why.  The company’s services business is seeing lower demand. Its customers are experiencing fewer attempts at large-scale breaches in favor of ransomware attempts. Those are easier and faster to mitigate. The company lost $139 million and analysts were expecting profits. And Mandia’s emphasis is now on profitability.
  • Cybersecurity giant Symantec, after an announcement two years ago, has completed its acquisition of Blue Boat. Blue Coat’s CEO, Greg Clark, takes over as CEO of Symantec. the merger creates a General Motors of cybersecurity. Now comes the rationalization. CRN reports, that’s likely to include 1,200 layoffs. Big mergers always  entail cost cutting. Typically they happen in finance and accounting, marketing, HR and other functions of which a company only needs one. But engineering and other essentials aren’t spared either. I found it noteworthy that occasionally Clark likes to peek in on software code and tweak it.

These companies aren’t being evil. They’re trying to be good stewards of their stockholders’ investments, their customers’ faith and their balance sheets. I point out these developments merely to say that even cybersecurity is a business.  Every week, it seems, another survey comes out showing the vast, unfulfilled demand for people trained in cybersecurity. The surveys and the dutiful headlines they spark might be largely true.

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Cybersecurity, though, is not a fixed, unchanging thing. Services that were new and technically advanced become better understood and turn to commodities, or companies engineer them so that one person can do what used to take several. Products gain imitators, flattening out the fast growth that might characterize them when they’re new. And, companies merge, creating redundancies.

Organizations’ need for cybersecurity will never go away. Yet even go-go industries have ups and downs, business cycles, mergers and acquisitions — all of which can mean layoffs or reductions in force. Running on the lush green grass always feels good until you step into a hidden hole.