TULSA -- For Darren King, whose free computer security education comes with two years of compulsory service at a federal agency, money will not determine whether he'll stay longer with Uncle Sam.
"It depends on how they treat me, what agency I end up working for and what kind of work I'll be doing," said King, a former Army helicopter pilot instructor who's pursuing a master's degree at Purdue University. "I'll take a lower-paying job if I get to work with the best and latest technology."
Many of King's Cyber Corps classmates also place other considerations -- excitement, patriotic service and high-tech toys B above the huge salaries they could earn guarding computer systems against hackers in the private sector.
That's fortunate for the organizers of Cyber Corps Symposium 2002, a five-day conference lasting through Wednesday at the University of Tulsa. The convention, dubbed "Forging a Commitment to Defend America's Cyberspace," aims to inspire King and others to careers in public service.
The government awarded the first Cyber Corps grants last May to students at six universities in a program designed long before Sept. 11 to fill a deficit of computer security experts at government agencies.
That's a crucial endeavor, because terrorists will soon learn to exploit vulnerabilities in major systems, from air traffic and banking to spacecraft navigation and defense, officials warn.
Howard Schmidt, vice chairman of President Bush's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said adequate systems security requires more than four times the number of experts currently working in the public and private sectors.
"It means that some of the key things we need to have done on the protection side are just not being done," Schmidt said, adding that much of the government's computer security work must be contracted out to private firms.
While Cyber Corps' roughly 300 students will soon add their skills to the effort, it's just a start to a problem that also includes too few skilled teachers.
"It's a very, very small pipeline, while at the other end, you have a great demand," Schmidt said.
And Cyber Corps' contribution will be limited if most of the students take their free education and their two years of work experience and cash-in in the corporate world, said Sujeet Shenoi, a professor who heads the University of Tulsa's Center for Information Security. …