Tech Wonderkind Works to get Other Teens into Cyber Security

Ishan Jadhwani is something of a wizard. He can hack into the networks of major tech companies, circumvent wi-fi restrictions to access his favorite Netflix shows, and write code for his very own apps. And the 16-year-old does it all while balancing two cyber security jobs and his schoolwork at Riverside High School.

“It’s a huge passion for me. To be honest the work doesn’t feel like work. If I could work on it every minute, if school wasn’t there, I would do so,” he said.  

He’s so highly skilled that he’s led workshops for the IRS, the DIA, the DHS, and CIA employees, teaching about network penetration testing and other cyber security protocols. 

“Ishan is a phenom,” his former teacher Jenifer Marden said, recalling him as a freshman in her cyber security class two years ago. “Here’s this 14-year-old kid bringing real-life examples into the classroom, telling us about how he does bug bounties for fun.”

Bug bounties are awards given to hackers who ethically find and report vulnerabilities in a company’s networks and programs. Jadhwani said his bounties are confidential, but he’s earned a good chunk of change infiltrating networks of popular companies, spanning from the automobile industry to fast food. There’s a decent chance that the average consumer benefits from Jadhwani’s fixes daily.

In 2020, Marden was nominated for the National Cyber Security Teacher of the Year award. Representatives from the White House came to observe Marden’s class. She said they were so blown away by a presentation from Jadhwani on using software to crack passwords, that Marden and Jadhwani were invited to present at the White House. But the pandemic hit, postponing the invitation. Then, the administration changed. But Marden hopes Jadhwani will still get to showcase his talent to the nation’s leaders.

Jadhwani holds 15 cyber security certifications, including the highly sought-after CompTIA Security+ and Amazon Web Services Certified Solutions Architect certifications.

“I was probably one of the youngest if not the youngest to get that one. And once I got that it was very motivating to go for other certifications,” he said of the Amazon credential.

Jadhwani built his first computer when he was 10 years old. But, unlike most pre-teens, he didn’t have much interest in using it to play video games. 

“I had a really strong interest in how computers work, so I actually bought a computer so I could learn hacking, because hacking was a really cool topic to me,” he said.

Jadhwani’s parents own and operate Intellectual Point, an IT solutions and training company for the education industry where Jadhwani works after school, leading a team of 10 programmers. He balances his role as senior director of Technology Services with a part-time gig at Government Acquisitions Inc.

“I go into a fully armed data center and manage the lab there. It’s a lot of work, but I really have to allocate having goals and milestones and have a calendar that I keep consistent with,” he said. “Some days I’ll get off my job at Intellectual Point around 9 p.m. and stop by the data center to rack some servers.”

He admits that with his busy schedule, there isn’t much time to focus on getting his schoolwork done.

Gen Z’ers take on the Invisible War

Jadhwani said he feels a sense of urgency to teach others about cyber security. He devotes most of his free time to instructing fellow teens pursuing educations in IT.

“I’m extremely worried,” he said of the cyber security landscape. “Just looking at the way cyber threats are handled today and the insane workforce gap that we have. I feel like we are not putting enough presence on the fact that we need more qualified people to hone against these cyber security threats.”

Marden echoed that sentiment, saying that the unemployment rate for cyber security workers is 0%.  According to the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, 2.7 million cyber security jobs are unfilled.

Marden begins each of her courses at Loudoun Valley High School by showing students the abundance of jobs available to professionals, with no college degree required.

“I want them to see, ‘oh my gosh, I don’t know what cyber security is, but holy cow there’s this thing called cyber security analyst and all I need is a high school diploma and I could be making $50,000 with these certifications,’” she said.

Marden said it’s important in her role of teacher to produce professionals who can take on the ever-evolving threats to society in cyberspace.

“They are happening in the United States daily. They could be small threats or they can be big threats,” she said. “With what’s happening with Russia and Ukraine right now you can see it. The cyber threats that happened there trickle into our world, and so it’s a big, big deal.”

She pointed to the ransomware attack of the Colonial Pipeline in May 2021, that thwarted portions of the gasoline supply chain, sparking a temporary surge in gas prices on the East Coast.

“People don’t understand what it is until it impacts you financially. I think we’re going to see more and more of these types of attacks, and we need more and more people defending us against cyber attacks,” she said.

Stocking the IT Pipeline

On April 19, Google Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, alongside Gov. Glenn Youngkin, announced the company would give $250,000 to the organization CodeVA, an affiliate of national computer science education nonprofit Code.org, to establish seven computer science lab schools across the state. If the program is approved by the General Assembly, the schools will emulate CodeRVA Regional High School in Richmond, which serves students from over a dozen school divisions. At CodeRVA, subject matter is integrated with computer science-based learning. 

The schools will span across the state in every region, including at Loudoun County High School.

“CodeRVA is an excellent example of how innovation and partnership can benefit our students and improve their opportunities. This school is a model for Commonwealth innovation schools and demonstrates that we can move beyond a ‘one-size-fits-all’ education,” Youngkin said at a recent event at the school.

But Jadhwani said that teens can get a great education outside of the classroom, too. He recommends teens pursue online credentials required for internships or jobs.

“You have to be on the job to get that experience. There’s no school in the world that can get you all of that. By having those credentials, it gives you a level of credibility with recruiters to get those opportunities,” he said.

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