Students from local high schools work on challenges during NM's Risk Management Capture the Flag activity
December 19, 2017
Written by Katie Kuhn, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
When it comes to hosting an IT United job shadow for high-schoolers, Northwestern Mutual goes by the motto “show, don’t tell.”
“To have a successful future as a digital company, we need a lot of software engineers coming through our doors,” says John Knecht, Client Digital Experience Engineer Leader. “That’s why we cultivate local talent through our STEM Outreach program, which includes a job shadow experience, and why we try to make all of our STEM learning opportunities as hands-on as possible.”
As part of the recent job shadow experience, fifty students from Reagan, King, and Washington high schools went to Northwestern Mutual in November to learn what life is like as a software engineer by…playing a game. The company’s Information Risk Management Capture the Flag is a Jeopardy-style activity with an online interactive board of challenges in various categories. Challenges range in difficulty, and each challenge introduces the contestants to a different cybersecurity and risk management topic.
Students from all three schools were split into random teams of four and got to work. Challenges included exploring a program with authentication credentials embedded into a website, and using the source code to identify the problem and fix it. Another challenge presented students with encrypted text, and they had to figure out how to decrypt it.
The goal of all challenges was to show students how to work well in teams and leverage their problem-solving skills in the world of IT security.
“Students loved it,” says John. “What really impressed me was the exercise lasted about two hours before we broke for lunch, and one team chose to use their lunch to finish the rest of the challenges!”
During the day, students also had a chance to talk with Northwestern Mutual’s IT leadership about careers in IT, and how they could work at Northwestern Mutual in the future.
“We gave them a tour of the new downtown Tower and Commons,” shares John. “Northwestern Mutual is investing in and building a culture that positions us to be a leading employer of digitally skilled professionals. We offer an environment where creativity and collaboration are encouraged. We even have games throughout the campus and other fun ways to break up the work day. I think students left with a feeling that Northwestern Mutual would be a great place to experiment, learn and grow their future careers.”
John’s advice to young people considering an IT profession is to start early and develop a strong understanding of an application programming language. He also suggests pursuing a technical degree, like software engineering or computer science. “What we look for at Northwestern Mutual is strong problems solvers with a foundation in software programming and the ability to innovate.”
“We’re working to make Milwaukee a tech destination,” says John. “Part of this effort is partnering and working with local schools to ensure they are providing a curriculum that will develop a pipeline for software engineers.”
In addition to the annual job shadow, Northwestern Mutual hosts a high school summer technology minicamp, and has a number of other programs that reach students elementary to high school.
“We know that both our company and community will benefit if we prepare our local students for success in a digital future, which is why we are committed to getting students interested in pursuing careers in technology from a young age,” says John.
Are you an IT professional? Learn more and get involved with IT United.
Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (NM), Milwaukee, WI and its subsidiaries.