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Cryptography with the NSA?

  1. Jul 23, 2010 #1
    So here is my situation:

    I am planning on graduating March 2011 with a B.S in Mathematics, as well as a B.S. in Physics. My interest in physics has waned greatly, and my desire to go to grad school for either subject is non-existent right now. I took a look at the NSA, as I heard they hire a ton of B.S. level mathematicians and am interested in pursuing a career with them. I have taken all the courses my college had to offer on abstract algebra and number theory (some of my favorite subjects in mathematics) and even did some research with a professor into studying Lie Groups. These subjects seem to be the core of cryptography.

    Now, I contacted the NSA since the trouble is, I don't have my degrees yet so I can't really apply per-se and say I have them. But I feel like I would be qualified for the job and it does appeal more to me than anything else at the moment (I'm not really into business math). They gave me the normal spiel about "we cannot help you. Talk to your career guidance office". So... I did. They recommended an internship but the problem is, I am going to be out of college and an internship won't pay the bills (the NSA ones don't last long).

    So, in short, my question is: how can I get my foot in the door with the NSA before I graduate and resort to living on the street because I have no work lined up? I want to graduate and have a 40k/year job ready to go to. I don't want to wait 2 years for my application to get processed while I flip burgers at a local fast food joint.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 24, 2010 #2
    You're taking far too much for granted, here. In the current climate, a lot of graduates would be grateful to just land any job when they finish their degree - nevermind making demands like having a 40k job 'ready-to-go'.

    Unfortunately, there isn't always a way to set yourself up with the ideal situation. If you have to get a job 'flipping burgers' while you wait - then that's what you need to do. Especially for something like the NSA where the recruitment process is likely to take a long time.

    In any case, I don't really see what the problem is - why can't you just apply before you have the degree and state on your application what your expected result is going to be..? This is exactly how graduate recruitment works here anyway (UK), people will apply for a job in the December before they graduate - graduation is in July - with their expected degree result, and if they get a job offer it will have a condition of them meeting some requirement for their degree grade.
  4. Jul 24, 2010 #3


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    You'll "get your foot in the door" by applying like everyone else. Apply online, and talk to one of their recruiters at a career fair (they attend tons of them). Get your conditional offer of employment, and that's your foot in the door. You won't have a final offer until the clearance process is over, which almost certainly wouldn't happen by next March even if it started today. NSA is very competitive, and their clearance process is ridiculously long and capricious. By all means apply, but make sure you have plans B, C, and D, even if you get a COE.
  5. Jul 24, 2010 #4
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  6. Jul 24, 2010 #5
    Thanks for the responses; yes I realize that the NSA has a terribly long clearance process, and that even if I got a COE now in July I wouldn't have a job by next March with them.

    I wasn't aware that I could apply before I had a degree and just say "I will have degree by X time" Knowing that helps me a lot. I guess I'll start tossing my resume around now.

    Dickfore, I'll drop math and be a shepherd now :)
  7. Jul 26, 2010 #6
    You may also want to check into/apply to some other federal agencies. If you're set on going into the work force, a government job certainly cannot hurt and the more you apply and test for, the more likely you'll be to land a position somewhere. I'm not exactly sure how likely it is that you'll become a cryptanalyst with just a bachelors degree, but I suppose it's worth a shot.
  8. Jul 26, 2010 #7
    I would suggest you look for other federal agencies and work your way through.

    You're going to need a job during your clearance process, since it's too late now.
  9. Jul 26, 2010 #8
    Well how it works is you take "classes" and are taught the material while you work. It's a few years training program so I'd essentially end up with a masters level understanding of the subject before I really became a 'cryptanalyst'.

    I'm currently looking at actuarial stuff because that seems more within reach by March graduation.
  10. Aug 6, 2010 #9
    I am wondering - if you work for the NSA doing cryptanalysis for 10 years or so and then want to enter the private sector, what kinds of jobs would be available to you?
  11. Aug 6, 2010 #10
    Private security firms, possibly hardware and software manufacturers (think Cisco, Microsoft, Apple etc..) and even general IT..
  12. Aug 6, 2010 #11
    Ah I guess there could be some good gigs out there. I meant to ask before, it seems like if you are a cryptanalyst for a while and possibly earn an MS in applied math or something like that, you probably will have developed pretty good programming skills in general. So might you also be able to go work as a software engineer on something unrelated to cryptanalysis?
  13. Aug 16, 2010 #12
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  14. Aug 19, 2010 #13

    Yes, this is certainly true. Although, I'm sure there would be no shortage of private sector jobs in information security if you were a cryptanalyst for 10 years prior.

    I believe cryptology in general to be a very good field for applied math people. Personally, if I have an opportunity to go into cryptology after finishing my masters, I'd go in a heart beat. I wouldn't be so keen to do that for just any field of work...
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