The United States doesn’t have nearly enough people who can defend the country from digital intrusions. We know this, because cybersecurity professionals are part of a larger class of workers in science, technology, engineering, and math–and we don’t have nearly enough of them, either. We’re just two years into President Obama’s decade-long plan to develop an army of STEM teachers. We’re little more than one year from his request to Congress for money to retrain 2 million Americans for high-tech work (a request Republicans blocked). And it has been less than a month since the Pentagon said it needed to increase the U.S. Cyber Command’s workforce by 300 percent–a tall order by any measure, but one that’s grown even more urgent since the public learned of massive and sustained Chinese attempts at cyberespionage last month…

It gets worse. To become a cyber professional working in government, your record has to be exceptionally clean. That rules out pretty much any U.S. teen who’s written a malicious script or vandalized a website. America’s cyber competitors, meanwhile, aren’t nearly so scrupulous down in HR.

“We do exclude individuals who cross the line, especially advertently,” said Sanders. “We should be letting them know there are things you shouldn’t do if you expect to go into cybersecurity.”

To snag kids before they stray into trouble, as well as to raise interest in STEM jobs generally, recruiters are beginning to reach for younger and younger prospects. Two years ago, Microsoft released a study finding that 80 percent of current STEM students at universities chose their field when they were in high school, or even earlier. A fifth said they’d made up their minds as early as in middle school.