HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - President Obama considers cyber threats one of the biggest economic and national security challenges faced by this nation in the 21st century.
Here in the Tennessee Valley, students as young as 15 are learning the fundamentals required to keep everything from small businesses to the nation secure.
Huntsville City School leaders realized that if cyber security is essential to our nation's success, that it will be a major job creator as well. Two years ago they implemented cyber security classes at Grissom High School and New Centuries High School, as well as Cyber Patriots teams that compete nationally.
The schools have partnerships with the Army to offer resources and insight into what types of skills they are looking for in the military.
"They get introduced to networking, data encryption, and how different axis controls work," explained teacher Chris Sutton. "Cyber Security covers a broad range, so I can only show them parts of it, but they can have the opportunity to see the different things they can do in a career and match interests with aptitude."
James Braum was proficient in computer programming before he ever finished junior high, and once he got to high school he started taking all the computer sciences classes he could.
Now as a Junior at Grissom High School he has his sights set on one of the most critical fields of the 21st century.
“The end consumer needs to be proficient in order to protect themselves from the various threats there are, and it’s important for businesses," said Braum. "Every business wants their product to be secure.”
Businesses like Google, Boeing, and Facebook, and of course the Federal government.
Sutton says former students have already gone on to study in the field.
"I have one that has his security plus certification, several that have worked as interns, and one at UA-Huntsville."
Sutton says whether their future jobs be with a big-name business or with the federal government, the students know protecting against a cyber threat is a worthwhile pursuit.
"If they find an interest now and begin learning they will begin down a path that could last their lifetime," said Sutton.
That perspective also serves to keep the students honest. While the skills they learn could help them hack into someones computer or Facebook account, they don't.
"While they have those skills, they know if they do something like that it could follow them and prevent them from gaining security clearance and advancing in their career later on."