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NSA's job recruitment woes

You think you have workforce issues, read this story from BusinessWeek about the National Security Agency.

The NSA: Security in Numbers [BusinessWeek, 1.13.2006]

The techno-spy agency has a greater need than ever for American math talent, but recruiting in the age of Google is a lot tougher

The story is a Web extra piece coming off of the magazine's cover story this week headlined, "How math will rock your world."

The crux of the larger story is that the math 'geeks,' for lack of a better term, today are mapping out ad campaigns and building new businesses from mountains of personal data.

But here is a piece of the NSA Web-only story:

The job offers arrived in plain envelopes. For decades, the mathematicians who accepted them stole off to Washington and the hush-hush National Security Agency, the nation's top techno-spy center. Through the cold war, NSA math whizzes matched wits with the Soviets: Each side protected its own secret codes while trying to break the other's.

Math is more important than ever at the NSA. Chances are, the world's growing rivers of data contain terrorist secrets, and it's up to the agency's math teams to find them. But to land the best brains, the NSA must compete with free-spending Web giants such as Google (GOOG ) and Yahoo!. This is leading the agency to open up its recruiting process.

"We have to look at new and innovative ways to find talent," says Cynthia Miller-Wentt, chief of the NSA's recruitment office. The agency is even co-sponsoring math and programming contests run by TopCoder, a Connecticut company whose matches attract geeks from all over the world.

PATRIOT PITCH. There's a second hitch: Unlike the tech companies it must compete with, the NSA can hire only U.S. citizens. This is a severe constraint. About half of the estimated 20,000 math graduate students at U.S. universities are foreigners. They're off bounds, as are the bountiful math brains in India, China, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the WSJ reports that the Silicon Valley is seeing job growth again.

What does this mean for federal IT people? Well, probably more stories from people like us, but will there be anything else?

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Jan 16, 2006 at 12:15 PM


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