Photo used by permission via Flickr's Creative Commons, by gam9551 / Flickr

Pittsburgh’s tech professionals have a remarkable range of scientific knowledge. And many of them have a deep understanding of their business landscape.

But how many are skilled in protecting their work and their growing companies from potentially crippling cyber attacks?

On Wednesday, the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information announced the launch of a new Professional Institute aimed at helping mid-career tech professionals in rapidly changing fields develop their job skills.

For their first cohort of students this fall, the institute will offer courses dedicated to one of the nation’s most critical tech challenges: cybersecurity.

“The technology industry, in general, has a skill deficit,” says Professor Leona Mitchell, director of the new institute. “When you look at cybersecurity, the ramifications of a mistake there are much more serious.”

Despite malicious cyber crimes making national headlines in the last several years, a survey from the Center for Strategic and International Studies released in January found that 82 percent of tech employers interviewed reported a shortage in cybersecurity skills in their organization.

“The need only gets more intense every year,” says Mitchell. “Hackers have become much more sophisticated.”

The University of Pittsburgh is one of the top research institutions in the country for cybersecurity. Dozens of experts in both the underlying tech and the overlying policies are spread across Pitt’s School of Law, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, which as founded in 2017.

“Cybersecurity is one of our strengths as an institution,” says Mitchell. “We want to be front and center in solving this crisis.”

Applicants to the institute can choose between the Graduate Certificate program in Cybersecurity, Policy and Law or the shorter Cybersecurity Professional Education option.

The curriculum and schedule, which emphasize evening classes and online assignments, are designed to accommodate working professionals. The first classes begin this fall, with 20-25 students admitted in each program.

“This program is built in such a way to be as flexible as we could make it,” says Mitchell.

While computer security is the main focus for the coming year, Mitchell says the long-term vision is for the institute is to offer courses in a variety of fast-moving tech disciplines. Already, Mitchell and her team are consulting with local industry leaders on what other critical skill gaps Pitt can address.

“We need to sustain a competitive regional economy,” says Mitchell. “The only way to do that is to have a skilled workforce.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.