Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Des Moines for InfoSec

About two weeks ago I started posting that my company was looking to fill a new position on my team. Since I feel this is a great opportunity for anyone interested in pursuing a challenging, and it means that my team can hopefully get an incredible team member, I thought I would promote the good things about the Des Moines Iowa area, and working for Principal Financial Group.

The job posting can be found here.

Why Des Moines?

I moved to the Des Moines are about 5 years ago from the Middle Tennessee area where I had lived for about 5 years, previous to that I had moved from almost 8 years of living in the KC area to the central Iowa area. I always liked the laid back, atmosphere of Central Iowa, but coming from KC I missed the excitement and opportunities that a larger city has to offer. When we moved back to the midwest from Tennessee, we were aiming for Kansas City, but I landed my first real IT job in Des Moines so we put down roots.

While it has taken me time to realize how much I actually love the area, and the potential that offers for a family, and building of a solid info sec career field, it has grown on me. One of the biggest hurdles I have been forced to over come is that this will NEVER be like Kansas City, Chicago or Nashville, and I am finally ok with that. What Des Moines has instead is the ability to become an incredible technology city for its size and location.

There are a lot of options available to the family moving to the Des Moines area to keep them entertained and engaged without the feeling of always being in a rush to get somewhere. Des Moines has an incredible farmers market, full of produce and goods from local merchants. This is home to numerous sports teams that feed into various professional clubs, such as the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bulls, and Phoenix Suns. We also have Arena Football, Soccer and Hockey teams. We also have college teams in the Big 12, and the Big 10 nearby.. Including the team that gave Oklahoma State their first loss in 2011.. There are two major lakes nearby, Saylorville and Gray’s Lake that offer fishing, boating, trails and numerous other aquatic events. Des Moines is also home to the Science Center of Iowa with an IMAX Dome Theatre, Botanical Center, Living History Farms, and Adventerland Amusement Park. There is always something to do with two kids, or just a romantic night get away.

Live music in Des Moines ranges from small settings, outdoor festivals, to large arenas. We have a wide mixture of talent come through here every year; George Strait, Bob Seger, ACDC, Reba, Mercy Me, Wilco, David Allan Coe, Staind, Tech N9ne, Queensryche, Big Sean, Primus, Janet Jackson and many others. For festivals we have 80/35 Music Fest, LazerFest plus the State Fair Lineup.
Cost of living in the area has remained lower then Kansas City, Nashville and even the coastal cities. For example, I just filled up with Midtier fuel at $3.02/gallon, milk is running about $3.10/gal for 2%. Movie tickets are about $7/adult, large popcorn is $4.50, pop is $4.00.

For me, my career in infosec is tied to my passion of digital forensics, incident response, and malware analysis. I realize as of right now that this is going to be a difficult but not completely out of the question. To start with we have Iowa State University, offers the Information Assurance Center, which is one of the original 7 NSA certified centers of academic excellence in information assurance, they also host the IT Olympics, with is a CDC event for High School kids, and support the local community college CDC competitions. DMACC offers the Electronic Crime Institute which is a two year program for infosec which specializes in digital forensics. 

Des Moines is also home to multiple global companies; The Principal Financial Group, Wells Fargo, Nationwide, GuideOne, ING and many others. We have the largest percentage of employment in the Financial Activities, yes we have a smaller population, but we also have A LOT of financial companies. Since we are an agriculture state we also have a booming bioscience industry that needs protection. There are plenty of Federal Government jobs in the area, such as the USDA Labs in Ames, The Iowa Forensic Labs in Ankeny, and there is an FBI Fusion Center in Des Moines. We also have Silicon Prairie that helps showcase the technology startups that are forming out of the area known as Silicon 6th, not to mention the Technology and Research Incubators in the area. 

With the need of a robust information security industry needed in the area I am surprised that an established company has not chosen to open a location in the area. I can think of a half dozen that based on their philosophy, vertical markets, and professionalism would make a great addition to the financial and agribusiness sector in central Iowa. We also have the talent capable of supporting the development of a solid Forensics and Incident Response company in the area.

Of course there are some drawbacks when it comes to Infosec. With the proximity of Kansas City, Chicago, and Minneapolis/St. Paul we are over looked by some of the cool conferences and events, would love to see a SANS, or a GFIRST conference make a stop here, but I do not see that happening. Technology User Groups are available, but attendance and support varies from meeting to meeting. I am in the process of working to remedy this, I have started to establish BSidesIowa for 2012, and looking at options to get more InfoSec traffic to come this way. I can’t do it alone, but if I do not attempt to start the fire it might not happen. We also are in the process of starting a hackerspace.

We also are not going to have everything a larger city has, but we are close enough that a weekend road trip is not out of the question. We have an international Airport that can get employees out to the coast quickly if needed. 

Don’t take my word for it, here are some other reviews of the place:

Why Should I work at Principal?

I have worked a wide range of careers and companies since I graduated from High School. These have ranged from digging trenches and laying drainage tiles, manager of arcades, lighting and sound production for a theatre in Nashville, to my current path of an Info Sec specialist. I have worked with enough companies to see the good and the bad, and what I expect as an employee.

When I started at Principal it was pre-housing market bubble crash, financial bailout and increased unemployment. Principal tries very hard to be transparent to its employees, making sure we understand the motivators of Senior Management and the decisions that impact the employees. They might not always make the easiest choices, and people will complain, but I feel that over all the management team here does an outstanding job.

When I first started at Principal, we had perks such as Free Drinks Monday, Family Fun Packs, Christmas Gifts and a few other minor ones that have phased out due to the economy. Out of everything that we have lost I think I miss the Family fun Packs the most. These packs gave employees options of how to do something with their family, this could be Tickets to the State Fair, Adventureland Amusement Park, Iowa Cubs Game, Show at the Civic Center, or a few other options.

Looking back at some of the quarterly department meetings, and yearly reports it appears that Principal was anticipating the impact of a financial crisis and worked to shore up its investments to minimize the impact of the fall out. We still lost a few employees due to lay offs, but there were other levers that were pulled to maintain a solid workforce without severely impacting the employees. We all gained more responsibilities, streamlined processes and hunkered down.

For the last two years Principal has taken steps to bring back perks to the employees, reward us for our sacrifices and actually listen and act on our yearly employee opinion surveys. The management team usually looks at 2 or 3 pain points identified in these surveys and works on improving them over the next year. They also announce to employees what these pain points are and attempt to solicit ideas to improve them. Principal is also big on personal development, but it really depends on how important development is to your direct leader on how much external development you might be able to receive. Usually in late spring or early summer Principal hosts Development Weeks where they bring both external and internal speakers in to help develop the employees. Topics cover time management, stress mitigation, talks with Senior Management, and a myriad of other topics that change year to year.

For external development, Principal offers tuition reimbursement, and in the case of my team we try to send one or two people out for major training (SANS, EC-Council, Linux) every year. I was given time off last year to attend GFIRST, and utilized training for my attendance at BSIDESKC. My leader is also very accommodating with my hectic class schedule.

My Team
For lack of a better word, we are awesome.

In reality this is a team that has been through a lot of development, set backs and growth in the last 3 years. This is the strongest I have seen us as a team, and I know that we will only get stronger.
The team that I am on is a great group of guys, we have a myriad of talents and skill sets that we bring to the table, we have finally started to get a good working groove since we acquired a new leader about 2 years ago. With him being very technical and knowledgeable about the threats and risks we are facing has allowed us more visibility to the CISO and upper management, allowed a more security focus direction when dealing with the business unit, and getting our team the training we need. He has allowed us to excel and take risks, knowing that he supports us in our choices. Of course he also expects us to have researched and tested the options before us before we make a choice and run with it. The team is made up of fathers, farmers, firefighters, recent college graduates, hackers, defenders, technical gurus, soon to be empty nesters, beer snobs, and many other traits that have meshed very well.

Don’t take my word for the company; here is what others are saying:

As you can see Des Moines and The Principal have a great opportunity for those willing to relocate and take a chance. It might take a little bit to get used to the laid back atmosphere and incredible corn fed beef, pork, and turkey. Or the incredible hunt for deer, duck, geese in the area. Given time this area will grow on you, you will learn to love the laid back atmosphere, the wonderful opportunities, and the ability to experience all 4 seasons... some times those seasons all might hit within the same 48 hours... 

If you have any questions feel free to ask. 

We have something for everyone, below is a list of everything we offer. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Sporting options
    • Chicago Cubs Minor League Team
    • Iowa Energy (NBA Development League for Bulls and Suns)
    • Iowa Barnstormers (Arena Football)
    • Buccaneers (United States Hockey League)
    • Menace (Soccer Team)
    • Drake Relays (track and field)
    • Principal Charity Classic (golf)
    • Hy-Vee Triathlon (Olympic qualifier)
    • Des Moines Marathon
    • Ragbria - Cross State Bike Ride
    • Live Horse Racing
  • Culture
    • Civic Center of Greater Des Moines
    • Temple of Performing Arts
    • Des Moines Playhouse
    • Des MOines Metro Opera
    • Ballet Des Moines
    • Des Moines Symphony
    • Jazz in July
    • Wells Fargo Arena
    • Multiple smaller venues
    • Simon Estes Riverfront Amphitheater
    • Des Moines Art Center
    • Pappajohn Sculpture Park
  • Attractions
    • Des Moines Botanical Center
    • Science Center of Iowa
    • IMAX Dome
    • Blank Park Zoo
    • Great Ape Trust
    • Adventureland Park (Amusement/waterpark)
    • Living History Farms
  • Festivals and Events
    • Iowa State Fair
    • 80/35 Music Festival
    • World Food Festival
    • Farmers Market
  • Trasportation
    • Enclosed Skywalks
      • Over 4 miles
      • one of the largest in the US
    • Crossroads of 2 Interstates 
      • I-80 (East/West Omaha-Chicago)
      • I-35 (North/South Kansas City-Minneapolis)
    • Public Bus System
    • Greyhound, Jefferson Lines, and MegaBus
    • Amtrak Station 40mi south
    • International Airport
  • Education
    • Main Campuses
      • Drake University
      • Grand View University
    • Other Facilities
      • Simpson College
      • William Penn
      • Upper Iowa
    • Other Institutions
      • Des Moines University
      • Iowa State University (Ames, IA)
      • University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA)
      • DMACC
  • Parks and Recreation
    • Principal Riverwalk
    • Brenton Skating Plaza (Outdoor Ice Skating by the river)
    • Gray's Lake (Massive lake near Downtown)
    • Jester Park (Horse Back Riding)
    • Saylorville Lake

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