Stephen Parsons, CEO of Irish cyber security start-up Viso, discusses how he manages to hire talent in a notoriously staff-intensive industry.
“Retaining people is the most important thing to me because if I lose them, it will take a similar effort to replace them,” says Stephen Parsons.
As CEO and co-founder of Dublin-based cyber security startup Viso, Parsons is one of many, many employers looking to hire cyber security talent right now.
Over the past few years, much has been written about the cybersecurity workforce shortage.
A report by Cyber Ireland and Cyber Skills last May showed that Ireland could increase its cyber security workforce to 17,000 by 2030.
But there was a big caveat to that prediction, and that was whether the country could build a supply of the right skilled people.
Parsons has read that report, and he stays up-to-date on what’s happening in the tech industry’s hiring landscape. He needs to stay competitive.
A creative approach to hiring
He says that as a start-up, it’s important for Viso to be “creative” in hiring and that it needs to have a really good culture so people don’t burn out and move on.
Perhaps ironically, a big part of Viso’s business model is providing resources to SMBs who either can’t afford cybersecurity teams or can’t get staff due to talent shortages.
“What we’re doing is effectively providing resources to people that people can’t get,” Parsons says. “So we’re doing this as a service for small and medium businesses because they don’t have the ability to get people. If you are a small business with a few people, there is no way you are going to hire someone for security because it will cost you too much. You just can’t afford it. And you don’t really need them full time. You only need them part-time.”
“So that’s really the whole hole in the market that we’ve gone after,” he explains.
It has proven to be both an effective business model and a rewarding job for people working in cyber security.
Parsons says startup employees like that they get to work with “different organizations and different industries,” and they also get to work on things they might not experience if they were working in a different type of role.
However, Viso is having trouble finding skilled workers for the roles it needs to fill. After recently raising €250,000 in funding, the company plans to hire 22 people within three years.
Viso currently has 12 employees and is actively looking to triple that number to support its continued growth in Ireland, the UK and other markets.
In late January, SiliconRepublic.com reported that the startup had a team of 11, but that it continues to add more employees.
The company was founded only in 2021. It has two offices in Dublin and all of its staff work in a hybrid office-teleworking model.
The hiring process is an uphill battle all the time
Its staff are located in different countries around the world, which means that Viso is “fishing from the same pool” as thousands of other companies clamoring to hire cybersecurity staff.
“Honestly, it’s just a constant hiring process, it’s a daily part of this stage,” Parsons says.
Fortunately, he has a pragmatic and friendly approach to the rather difficult task of recruiting new employees. It may not be a Sisyphean battle, but it is a difficult one.
He says he is grateful for the efforts the government and groups like Cyber Ireland are making to raise awareness of the need for an established pipeline of cyber security workers.
He notes that Viso is already in contact with some universities in Dublin to accept graduates of their cyber security programs. Many Irish third level cyber security courses have been launched relatively recently. It’s another sign, Parsons believes, that Irish interest groups are waking up to the fact that the country needs skilled workers.
When he was studying cyber security, he had to travel to the UK. Now, that has changed. However, the problem of hiring skilled people remains. It will take several years before the Irish graduate pipeline has enough experience to be of real value.
How about hiring outside of the regular graduate pool? Last year, we spoke to Conor O’Neill, the Irish founder of pen testing company OnSecurity, about his hiring of people from online hacking communities.
Parsons says that while he likes that some companies think outside the box and hire people from non-university backgrounds, that’s not really an option for Viso because of the nature of the work he does.
Pen testing and providing CSO knowledge as a service are quite different in terms of the type of people needed. Instead, Parsons prefers to rely on a community network of people working in cyber security in Ireland to provide him with solid recommendations on who to hire.
“We are a quality-based organization. we don’t want to just throw grades into our customers. They should be provided with an expert that we know will do a good job.”
As for Viso’s structure, there are two analysts working and learning from one security manager. The idea is that the security manager trains analysts who later become security managers.
“I’m not naive enough to think our boys are going to be with us forever,” Parsons says. “You know, we’re building the CSOs of the future because there aren’t enough CSOs out there.”
While he wants to retain staff and fill the roles needed to grow the company, he also recognizes that people will want to move on and take CSO roles at larger companies.
Those big jobs still come up more often in the UK than in Ireland, says Parsons, but he wants his staff to have the confidence and skills to take advantage of those opportunities.
“We’ll shake their hands and say we’ve done a good job and hopefully they’ll recommend us to their friends and colleagues… It’s all about continuous development, especially in our industry.”
What about the short term plan? It still depends on the network and Ireland’s “very small” cyber security community to keep it close to the ground.
“So far we have used our network very well. And it’s not just people we know, it’s kind of a second bond,” Parsons says.
“We use a good supplier and partner network that we use and say: “Look, who’s pretty good in this field?” or start conversations that way, but it can be a long busy piece.
“I’ll also have two or three people that I talk to regularly about future (rentals) so when the time is right and they’re available, we’ll get them out.”
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