ACES Alumni Start Cybersecurity Company

After graduation, most students accept job offers or continue their education in graduate school. Toby Lin ‘17 and Franz Payer ‘17 are not most students. They decided to take a project they had been working on through their undergrad years and make it their full-time job. Thus began Cyber Skyline.

Toby and Franz were part of the first ACES cohort that began in 2013. They both finished the Living-Learning program in 2015 and continued on to graduate with the ACES Minor in 2017.

This all kicked off because of one unexciting spring break. While bored over the break his freshman year, Franz began to build a platform that would run challenges for ACES students to practice and learn cybersecurity skills. He was the lab chair of the student board that year and wanted to give students more opportunities to do hands-on work.

Franz had previous cybersecurity experience in high school. He had worked for a government contractor and was a speaker at the DEFCON security conference--all before entering ACES. He wanted to share his experience with other ACES students, so he became the ACES Lab Chair to promote more hands-on skills development.

Halfway through building the prototype, Franz realized that it could be a competition. They ran some workshops with other ACES students until they were satisfied with the platform’s capabilities.

From spring break their first year to March 7 their sophomore year, they worked to put on the competition. It was a whirlwind up until the very last minute, but in the end, everything came together and they hosted a successful competition. Franz and Toby went on to host the same competition for their junior and senior years as well, maxing out the rooms they reserved each time.

The biggest struggle for them was building legitimacy at first. It was difficult for two college students with very little experience to attract sponsors to help them fund their event. But as they went on to prove their abilities through successes, they were able to expand. They even became providers for other cybersecurity competitions.

This project began to take up more and more time. Toby remembers, “Pretty much outside of school time, homework time, and video game time, it was focusing on this.”

Once they graduated, they were able to take this side project and make it their full-time job. Franz said, “It was just supposed to be a fun side project and we just wanted to run a competition and then after we ran that competition we realized ‘Hey! There are people that want to bring this into the commercial space and to bring it to many more students’—much more than the 200-300 students we can fit into a single room.”

Cyber Skyline is now an online cybersecurity assessment platform that is directly in your browser. It doesn’t require anyone to download software to use it. They provide cloud-based simulations for competitions, trainings, and skills screenings for companies.

Over the last year, they have continued to grow, make new connections, and achieve new successes. The competitions that they run continue to grow. They now partner with the NSA on their Day of Cyber, which is an education initiative to inspire the next generation of cybersecurity leaders. And on top of their many accomplishments, they even have clients in Singapore and Australia, making them an international company.

So far, they have put through 75,000 experiences on their platform across all their events and programs, and that number is always growing. “It’s a much larger reach than I was ever expecting,” Franz said.

But they’re not stopping here. They have goals looking forward for the company. They want to eventually be able to create a complete profile of someone as they advance through their cybersecurity education and career. They envision students in high school and college using their platform for practice and skills assessments. Companies would be able to do pre-screenings of applicants where they would get a chance to see them demonstrate their technical skills before interviews. It would also be a way to keep learning as a professional working in the cybersecurity field.

Their advice for new and current ACES students? Toby says, “Try to do something you’re uncomfortable with…Do something different.” If he had stayed doing what he was comfortable with, Cyber Skyline would never have been born.

Franz says to “make use of all the resources ACES has available.” ACES’ partnerships can give students the leg up or the foot in the door that they need to land that first internship and begin building their professional networks.

ACES was where Toby and Franz met and grew their technical skills. Their passion and drive lead them to do the marvelous work they have accomplished.

To learn more about Cyber Skyline, visit their website.

Published June 19, 2018