Justin Giboney, an information systems (IS) professor at the BYU Marriott School of Business, understands that providing opportunities for students to hone their skills outside the classroom is essential for career development. In an IS course he teaches called Red Team vs. Blue Team, Giboney requires students to compete in four cybersecurity competitions during the semester.
The course invites students from majors across campus to participate in cybersecurity competitions—often referred to as Capture the Flags (CTFs), because players compete to find “flags” or strings of text hidden in programs. “The class challenges students to compete, which is where people learn functional skills,” says Justin Applegate, a cybersecurity student taking Giboney’s course.
Giboney organizes the course so students such as Applegate have as many chances as possible to practice technical skills. Students present more than half the lectures in class so their peers can learn from a variety of competing styles. When unfamiliar problems arise during CTFs, the students who participated in that competition pass on what they learned and teach their classmates how to solve the problem.
“From the start, I have loved the competitions,” says Applegate who has been programming since middle school. With Giboney’s support, Applegate started the CTF club on campus where students compete with each other outside the class. Applegate himself regularly participates in competitions, and his enthusiasm and persistence have paid off. He is sponsored by the Department of Defense as part of their Smart Scholarship program and is one of thirty cybersecurity athletes on the US Cyber Team and represents the US at global competitions. He credits his success to the many CTF competitions he has participated in.
Giboney, who coaches students for CTFs, says that the positive impact of participating in competitions extends further than just the results on the scoreboard. “Competitions push students’ secular knowledge, instill them with confidence that blessings come to those who act in faith, and allow them to share BYU’s uniqueness with the world,” Giboney says.
Giboney’s coursework and coaching made a difference for Applegate at the National Cyber League Challenge during the fall 2022 semester. “About 12 hours before the competition finished, I knew I was going to place in the top 10 because that's where I was located on the scoreboard,” Applegate says. Going into the last hour, Applegate was ranked top five before the scoreboard was hidden. “When the results were revealed, I was stoked,” Applegate describes. “It was so cool to be in the top five and show that the last couple of years of studying and competing have paid off.”
"It's not just a classroom experience," says Giboney. "Competitions give students real-life scenarios and provide them the ability to try a wide spread of things—it gives them practical experience and makes them stand out to future employers."
From the classroom to competitions, Giboney is thrilled when he sees his students succeeding.
Written by Liesel Allen