Samuel Brebner & Celina Stewart, two recent graduates from Brown University, recount their 9/12 success in 2015: 

In March 2015, we competed on team BrownSecure from Brown University and won the Atlantic Council’s Cyber 9/12 competition for national security cyber policy.  Participating and winning the competition made a significant impact on both our academic and professional careers and helped land us jobs as Junior Specialists with McKinsey & Company’s Cybersecurity practice.

Our strategy for the competition was to approach the issue of cybersecurity from both a technical and political standpoint. Our team of undergraduates reflected this approach. Samuel completed degrees in Computer Science and Political Science, approaching cybersecurity from both technical and non-technical academic lenses, and had been a semi-finalist in the competition in 2014. Celina studied International Relations and History, looking at cyber as an international defense and development concern. Our other team members had similar backgrounds with one focused on the technical side and the other focused on the political side of cybersecurity.

The approach to the competition stemmed from our coursework at Brown University. We both had participated in a course called Cybersecurity and International Relations. The professor, John Savage, strove to bridge the divide between technical and non-technical students by teaching the complex technical aspects and political implications of cybersecurity. Professor Savage enforced this through group projects that required students with technical backgrounds to team up with students with policy backgrounds to look at and propose new cybersecurity standards. This was especially instrumental in our preparation for Cyber 9/12 as it allowed us to form policy responses that acknowledged geopolitical norms while advising technical best practices to address the scenario.

The dual approach to problem solving has carried over into our professional experience. At McKinsey and Company, much as when we competed in Cyber 9/12, we utilize technical and analytical problem solving skills to resolve client’s cybersecurity concerns: assessing current capabilities and vulnerabilities, prioritizing assets, and helping our clients think through their own escalation scenarios.

Winning this competition showcased our ability to problem solve on a team and bring the best of our backgrounds together to resolve a conflict, a valuable asset in our jobs now. The competition was a great way to learn how to approach complex problem solving and gain access to a great cybersecurity professional network. If you are interested in a career in cybersecurity, competing in the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge is one of the best steps you can take!