There was one sour note amongst the good feelings as the S4 community met in early March – – some were missing because they had been laid off. Talented, innovative professionals who had their choice of jobs not too long ago. 

The OT security job market faced a short downturn immediately after Covid, and it rebounded quickly. The downturn and job losses this time have been less abrupt, but longer and deeper. Many out of work for months or taking jobs that they don’t want to make ends meet.

Macroeconomic Issues

I remember a meeting around a large conference table in Singapore in August of 2022. Someone asked if the expected recession would affect OT security. Experts opined around the table, no, no, no, no OT security is understaffed and too important. I was the lone yes, of course it will.

It seemed basic to me. OT security is not immune to across the board cuts of people and budgets. Sure it’s important, but so is making the product, maintaining equipment, paying people and vendors, and many other business tasks. In fact, as much as it hurts our case, historically not spending money or hiring people for OT security has had a minimal impact on the businesses. 

OT Security Vendors Slow Down

When interest rates were low and VC money was plentiful, the OT security vendors pursued headlong growth. Their hiring soaked up any talent that freed up or was looking for a change (or more money). Many of the people looking for work now would have had a choice between multiple offers.

Why have they slowed down? 

  1. Some of the sectors they sold into are also facing budget freezes or cuts. This is leading to postponed new projects and delays in expansions of pilot projects.
  2. These vendors now are more wary of spending as they look to push off the next VC round until conditions are better. 
  3. When they were pursuing fast growth they made hiring mistakes. More around what they needed than the people selected. For example, we thought we would need this large inside sales / field engineer / software developer force, but what we really need is more incident response / channel marketing / in-region support. 

The consulting practices, 1898, Accenture, EY, IBM, KMPG, etc., also were soaking up a lot of available talent. It seems they have slowed down hiring, and in some cases laying off or moving people to other practices, as well.

The Dip

OT Detection products are the largest, and perhaps only, OT security market at this time. It was likely, maybe inevitable, that there would be a dip in a product that requires as much talent and resources to get the benefits. 

Even when the salespeople are being honest about the required resources, and often they are not, the demos and pilots with technical assistance can be made to look almost magical in what they see. Dealing with and getting value from larger deployments is difficult and resource intensive.

It’s bad timing that this dip happens concurrently with a macroeconomic downturn. It’s temporary. These products, this market, is not going away.  Vendors, service providers, and asset owners will all get better and come out of the dip.

The Future

This is a painful blip in the OT security job market. I’m not going to predict how long it will last, but it will pass and then the raging competition for the still small number of OT security professionals will resume.

This is a great time for asset owners in sectors that are not suffering to build up their OT security team. They won’t be wildly outbid by the vendors. Get them into the fold, show them the importance of the mission, maybe get them off the travel or startup treadmill, so they will stick around when the OT security job market roars back.