If you ask anyone in California’s cybersecurity education community who has made an impact on students and the industry as a whole, “Coach Paul” is likely to be one of the first answers.
Not only does Paul Johnson coach some of the best cyber teams in the world, but he is also a tireless advocate for the positive impact cybersecurity education can have on students from all walks of life. He’s seen his students embrace cyber as a pathway to high-paying, intellectually-rewarding jobs that are helping to keep the world safe from cyber threats.
Johnson was recently named CyberPatriot XI Mentor of the Year and has built the CyberAegis juggernaut in just five years. His teams consistently take home top honors CyberPatriot, the California Mayors Cyber Cup, and other cyber competitions at both the middle and high school levels.
“We live in an amazing age now where you can sit down at a computer, and with no experience, an hour later you can have your own Android app that you programmed running on your smartphone,” Johnson said. “Working with very sharp, high-achieving, competitive students and successfully competing at the national level is extremely gratifying.”
By day, Johnson is a Senior Staff Cyber Systems Engineer at Northrop Grumman in San Diego. The Northrop Grumman Foundation is the presenting sponsor of CyberPatriot. Johnson’s son was interested in cybersecurity, so he decided to jump in.
His first information session at Del Norte High School had three students, but the program quickly grew to more than 100 students in a student-led team structure known as CyberAegis. Students serve as mentors to each other, which allows them to grow as leaders and learn soft skills to complement what they are learning about technology.
As the program grew, Johnson saw an opportunity to expand beyond the confines of one school or school district to build something with an even greater reach.
“I formed a non-profit corporation, CyberAegis Team, Inc. to more easily procure equipment such as servers and networking equipment to provide students hands-on experience,” Johnson said. “Our website was entirely designed and implemented by my students.”
Johnson also places a focus on bringing women into cybersecurity. About 40 percent of the CyberAegis teams are women, which is higher than the overall competition makeup. An all-female team from Oak Valley Middle School competed in the CyberPatriot XI National Finals earlier this year.
In addition, seven CyberAegis members received the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing Award last year. Johnson encourages women to lead recruitment events and speak publicly about their success in cybersecurity to help increase diversity in the field.
“Females are given fewer opportunities than their male colleagues,” said CyberAegis team member Lilly Hu. “If more young women become involved with IT and cybersecurity, we can change such stereotypes. Having more women would encourage support for one another.”
The model of professionalism Johnson fosters pays off in the form of internships and full-time jobs.
“My students are routinely sought out by companies such as Northrop Grumman for internships as they’ve found that my students can immediately start making significant contributions on day one,” Johnson said.
Beyond professional success, CyberAegis students also praise Johnson’s supportive personality. In fact, the father of one CyberAegis team member commuted from San Diego to Atlanta after his job was transferred just so the student could continue being part of the team.
“Coach Paul has been a tireless advocate for his teams and is a model coach in the state on how to manage and nurture multiple teams allowing them to advance and flourish,” said Scott Young, president of SynED, which hosts the California Cyber Guild.
For more information about Johnson and CyberAegis, visit cyberaegis.tech/.