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Erik Huffman poses for a portrait in an office at SecureSet Cyber Security Academy in Colorado Springs, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Gazette)

Editor's note: This story is part of an occasional series profiling young professionals in the Pikes Peak region.

Erik Huffman has long had an interest in technology and computers — "they were always cool to me," he says.

He's fascinated, in particular, by cybersecurity. "I love the challenge. It's a constant puzzle. Things are changing and attacks are changing and technology is innovating."

But in recent years, he's discovered an even great passion — teaching. "There's nothing like it for me," he says. "I love teaching and furthering the body of knowledge."

Those passions came together in Handshake Leadershipq, a business Huffman started in 2011 and based on the principle of "purpose over profit." That's a mission that has helped propel his business while netting him several honors, including the 2018 Pikes Peak Region Small Business Young Entrepreneur of the Year and a Mayor's Young Leaders award.

Finding a passion for teaching

Huffman, 33, is a Springs native; his mother works at Fort Carson and his father is a software engineer at Schriever Air Force Base.

"My dad, he's done I.T. ever since I can remember," Huffman says — a fact that helped contribute to his interest in the field. After graduating from Mesa Ridge High School, he earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from College America, followed by a master's in project management from Colorado Technical University. Last year, he completed his doctorate in management from the University of Phoenix.

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He progressed from student to teacher when he got a call from College America asking if he would be interested in teaching night classes there; he was working in I.T. for Walgreen's at the time.

"I fell in love with education then," he says. "I quickly realized that's what I wanted to do."

Huffman went on to become an associate dean at College America, then was lead associate dean for technology at Independence University for just under a year. Since June of last year, he has been lead technical instructor at SecureSet Cybersecurity Academy.

Shawn Murray, president of Murray Security Services, a Colorado Springs-based cybersecurity company, recommended Huffman for the SecureSet job; Murray got to know Huffman when he was the College America associate dean and was struck by his drive and passion. When Murray guided Huffman to the Colorado Springs chapter of the Information Systems Security Association, Huffman didn't simply regard it as a resource but became an active participant and then a board member.

"A person that's passionate about what they're doing, they want to be involved in their community and they're doing things outside their regular 9 to 5, that's Erik," Murray says.

At SecureSet, Huffman has made "a lot of excellent strides over there, changing curriculum, changing culture," Murray says. "Everywhere Erik goes, he brings a wealth of personality and positive reflection."

An evolving business

His job at SecureSet has not stripped Huffman of his commitment to Handshake Leadership (handshakeleadership.com). Its original focus was on organization and leadership development; it operates similar to the doctor-patient model. An ailing organization — "profit's down, morale's down, we're having trouble innovating" — comes to Handshake Leadership, Huffman says. Once those "symptoms" are shared, Handshake Leadership provides a research-based set of solutions.

Handshake Leadership has evolved, though, to include a growing education and cybersecurity role; Huffman and his consultants have been working with Widefield School District 3 to train teachers in K-12 to become "cybereducators." Huffman also has worked directly with the kids, visiting classrooms and taking part in a tech expo. 

"I hope what we are doing is transformational," Huffman says. The last several years have certainly been transformational for Huffman, a self-described introvert who has stepped out of his comfort zone in his many roles; he even spoke at NASA about research in cybersecurity.

"I'm definitely not the same person I was," he says.

Kevin Duren, executive director of secondary student learning for School District 3, has known Huffman since Huffman was a student at Mesa Ridge and Duren was assistant principal of discipline — which is not to say that Huffman was ever a problem student, Duren is quick to say.

"He was just one of those kids who was always above the fray of issues and had good goals in life. For some reason, he found his way to me just to talk about his goals and aspirations, and I would give him clues to focus on and keep working toward."

Duren has sat in on several sessions Huffman has taught. "His excitement, his energy, his passion for what he is teaching comes through," Duren says. "All of the teachers who have gone through the classes with him have all said he's made it so much more enjoyable."

Handshake Leadership is working to develop a certification for secondary cyber teachers, which ideally would become an industry standard, Huffman says. His ultimate dream is to expand beyond the Springs while developing a secondary school with a cybersecurity focus, "like a secondary charter school, with Handshake Leadership being all around the country and we can go out to schools to train teachers."

Whatever Huffman does, Duren will be watching. "He's just one of those guys who has great ideas and the opportunity to build those dreams into reality. I can't wait to see what he does in the future."

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