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U.S. Cyber Ambassador: ‘What’s Happening Here Is Working’

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jan 19, 2024
Two Cybersecurity Professionals Working on Monitors.

U.S. Cyber Ambassador: ‘What’s Happening Here Is Working'

Technology in the digital age has reshaped the world, changing everything from the way people learn and work to how they access health care. 

It also plays an outsize role in U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy. During a recent visit to The University of Tulsa, Nathaniel Fick, the first U.S. ambassador at large for cyberspace and digital policy, underscored the importance of cyber technology and its impact on the world. 

“You can’t practice any kind of diplomacy today — no bilateral relationship, no multilateral relationship, no functional relationship, no climate work, no human rights work, nothing — without tech being a part of it,” he explained. “The U.S. government tech portfolio is probably the most important portfolio in the world, and we have it at an incredibly consequential time.”

In addition to advancing digital diplomacy, Fick’s office at the U.S. Department of State oversees matters relating to cybersecurity policy; digital policy (including the internet, cable, data centers, and satellites); and critical and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnology. 

Speaking to an audience of students, faculty, alumni, and cyber entrepreneurs, Fick lauded TU’s master’s degree in cyber security program; U.S. News & World Report has ranked the program No. 23 nationally, and the National Security Agency (NSA) has designated TU a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Education. Fick noted that the school is producing students who embody the exact kind of leaders the nation needs.

“What’s happening here is working. It’s widely recognized around the country, across the government, as one of the real centers of excellence,” he said. “The U.S. government needs you. We need people with technical expertise. We need people with commercial sensibility. We need people who are committed to the good of the nation, and who want to give all or part of their career to it.”

Opening Doors

Globally, the cybersecurity job market is booming — some estimates place the number of available jobs in the millions, including hundreds of thousands in the U.S. alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that employment of information security analysts will grow by 32% (over 50,000 new jobs) over the next decade.

TU’s cyber program has a curriculum focused on helping students hone a well-rounded technical and professional skill set; this is why graduates of the program are highly sought-after by a range of employers, including federal agencies, national laboratories, and the private sector.

Fick encouraged students entering the job market to think of their job search and the interview process as a two-way street. 

“You are hiring your boss as much as your boss is hiring you,” he said. “The people you work for are the people you’re going to learn from and they’re the people who are going to open the next set of doors for you.”

He emphasized that those doors may open in unfamiliar places and unfamiliar ways. Fick, a Marine Corps veteran and former CEO of a cybersecurity firm, noted how his career path has been fairly nonlinear and advised students to adopt a flexible mindset in navigating their careers. 

“One thing does not in fact really lead to the next thing in a predetermined way,” he said. “So if you’re sitting here and thinking that you can craft this step-by-step path, it just doesn’t work that way. That’s a great thing. Don’t be dissuaded by that. It means you have the freedom to take it one step at a time.”

The US: The Tech ‘City on the Hill’

According to Fick, his office is also charged with helping to ensure a more “rights-respecting, inclusive tech future” and setting an example for the rest of the world on those fronts.

During a question-and-answer session, Fick weighed in on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — a comprehensive data privacy and security law adopted by the European Union in 2018 — calling it a “first cut” at data privacy regulations.

“It is imperfect. I would not recommend we or anyone else copy and paste it,” he said, adding that some form of federal data privacy regulations in the U.S. is essential. “It’s important from a privacy standpoint. It’s important from a citizen’s rights standpoint. … We’ll get there. The legislative process is messy and slow.”

Fick’s office is also involved with crafting cyber deterrence frameworks to guard against malicious foreign intelligence services, which have contributed to “rampant and widespread disinformation and misinformation” in U.S. elections, he said. 

“I think most citizens would be horrified if they actually knew how much of that social media content is weaponized by foreign intelligence services. They have done an incredibly adept job at pitting us against each other.”

The goal, and in many ways the primary purpose of his office, Fick explained, is to create greater security — and greater consequences for misbehavior — by building strong coalitions with U.S. allies. He invoked a playground analogy to explain the strategy behind U.S. cyber diplomacy: “It’s easy for a bully to pick on one kid. It’s hard to pick on 40 kids.”

The U.S. is a beacon to the rest of the world when it comes to tech, he noted, highlighting the nation’s leadership on everything from cybersecurity and diplomacy to the development and governance of technology.

“People around the world look to us as an example, look to the United States as the city on the hill when it comes to tech innovation, and that’s a superpower for us,” he said. “My job in this role is to make sure that we are at the table, everywhere and all the time, with allies and partners, building common positions.”

Recommended Readings

Cybersecurity Defense Strategies: The Role of Cybersecurity in National Security

Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: What’s the Difference?

The Importance of Cybersecurity Leadership

Sources:

Cybercrime Magazine, “Cybersecurity Jobs Report: 3.5 Million Unfilled Positions in 2025”

GDPR.eu, “What Is GDPR, the EU’s New Data Protection Law?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Information Security Analysts

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