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IBM Research’s Dr. Palmer on Teaching Cybersecurity

Dr. Charles Palmer recently spoke to TheNewNewInternet about how he as a long-lived, self-proclaimed computer geek ended up working in cybersecurity at IBM Research and how his students–or victims as he jokingly calls them–at Dartmouth keep him on his toes.

“I had 24 victims this year – it was way cool,” Palmer said. “I had about a dozen grad students and a dozen undergrads. The thing I really enjoy about teaching at Dartmouth is that the students there are extraordinarily bright and it is a challenge to stay ahead of them. It’s really invigorating to go to class and be asked a question you are not even sure you can answer, and then be able to work with the students to figure it out.”

When asked about whether he has seen an increase in interest in cybersecurity among his students, Palmer said the course he teaches seems to be one of the most popular ones offered.

“[The security course] is one of the more popular courses they have,” he said. “It is not even a part of the core curriculum. I had students who were not majoring in computer science who had taken enough computer science to meet the prerequisites and were signed up for the course even though their plans were to go on to do things in other fields, like economics or public health.”

Palmer said all of the students from his classes are very aware that many fields of study are increasingly connected to the world of cybersecurity.

“It’s not just about geeks, it’s not just about IBM or HP or whomever; it’s about protecting the infrastructure that runs the nation,” he said. “When the bad guys come, they are not going to attack the military or the government directly. They are going to go after the critical infrastructure, and that’s where we need to spend our resources.”

As for those who want to go into the cybersecurity profession, Palmer said individuals used to thinking outside the normal confines of tradition, the free thinkers, are highly valued in cybersecurity.

“Take physicists, for example: They are smart in math and all of that other stuff, but they think really well and they’re excellent problem solvers,” he said. “A lot of the folks that I hired were physicists, just because they had that ability to look at a problem perhaps in a completely different way and then ask you a question that you never even considered.”

Curious, creative, good at puzzles or problem solving, organized, integrity are some of the things IBM Research is looking for, Palmer said and added:

“I guess, finally, it is increasingly important that we have good communication skills with, as my sister-in-law puts it, the ‘normals’ (meaning non-computer security geeks).”

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

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