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Chicago Matures Its Cyber Posture Amid IT Transformation

CISO Bruce Coffing on recruiting a more diverse cybersecurity workforce and the unique challenges of locking down systems in a city the size of Chicago.

Chicago CISO Bruce Coffing
Safeguarding Chicago is no small task. A company with revenue the size of the city’s budget would be on the Fortune 250 list, said CISO Bruce Coffing. Now in the midst of an IT transformation, the nation’s third-largest city is working to further mature its cyber posture, expanding both capabilities and headcount over the next few years. As he guides these efforts, Coffing is putting a focus on recruiting diverse talent.

1. What are some of the unique challenges of defending Chicago?

I’d liken Chicago to a large conglomerate corporation, in that we’ve got 30 to 40 departments, depending upon how folks count. And they’re all, by and large, different lines of business. … The needs in some cases are very different — it’s not like a corporation or an organization that has one line of business and they do one thing. That I find challenging in a good way. It makes for very different business presentations to have with the various departments.

2. What do your cyber plans look like?

We’ve been looking to invest broadly in our information technology capabilities, to better deliver for our constituents. And one component of that is cybersecurity. So, we’re definitely expanding, both from a headcount perspective, but also our capabilities perspective. … If you look at your traditional people, processes, technology [framework], we’ve got good technology skills. And being able to strengthen our people and our process in support of those capabilities, that’s where we’re really going to be able to grow over the next few years.

We’ve been doing some work around refreshing and updating our job descriptions and our titles so that they more accurately reflect the work that is done in 2023, 2024 — as opposed to titles that have been around for the last 20 years or so. We’re starting to be able to deliver on that and realize some of the benefits. That also coincides with our ability to start pulling people into those new positions, both internally and externally.

3. How are you building more workforce diversity?

A diverse workforce strengthens the whole, because people bring different perspectives to the problem, and it helps in creating stronger solutions, whether that be diversity of race, diversity of religion or diversity of work experience. People who are newer to the security field and have experience in other fields also bring different perspectives that are valuable to the solution.

Also people who haven’t grown into technology, but for whom it’s been native. … We’ve got that in folks who are entering the workforce now out of community colleges and universities. Technology has been such an important part of their upbringing that they look at problems differently.

Having a balance of that across all these different aspects of diversity helps strengthen the solutions that we’re crafting and also helps us relate to the workforce better … because we have that microcosm as a part of our security program.

4. What’s your recruiting strategy?

I don’t have a silver bullet answer. … The secret sauce is in, how do we attract talent to the government space, irrespective of background? We can’t compete with the private sector when it comes to pay, and we’ve got different vacation and benefit components.

The challenge for me is, how do I get out into the Chicago tech and cybersecurity community and spread awareness that the city of Chicago is a destination for folks, wherever they are in their career — whether they’re starting out and they want to get a bit of experience or they’re later in their career and they’ve got that “giving back to the public sector” itch. … Whether you want to come and get a few years of experience or the pension aspect of public service is attractive and you want to spend a big part of your career here and achieve that.

We have to make ourselves attractive to all candidates and find a way to get that message out there that the city of Chicago has a cyber program, we’ve got an IT program, we’re growing, and we’ve got great opportunities for people to come and learn and contribute.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.