There are a lot of lucrative and fulfilling jobs in the world, but not all of them are cool. You may love waking up every morning to continue your career in accounting, but it isn’t cool. Does a job need to be cool? No. Is it cool to be cool? Absolutely. We have all seen a movie where a computer genius clacks away at a keyboard, fending off a hacker or cyberattack. Having a career in cybersecurity is cool. But do you know how to start a career in cybersecurity?
All jokes aside, having a job in cybersecurity can be an ever-interesting and changing experience. Not only can the career path be mentally fulfilling, but it can provide for a reasonable amount of wealth. Overall, it’s an industry that’s both needed and growing. The more information we keep online (which is basically everything at this point), the more need we have for cyber defenders.
See? Even the name is cool.
Welcome back to our series on how to follow career paths. Today, we will discuss how to start a career in cybersecurity. Let’s get into it.
What is Cybersecurity?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics theorizes that cybersecurity jobs (i.e. information security analysts) will increase by 33% by 2030. For comparison, the average growth rate for all occupations is 8%. Cybersecurity is a career path that is not only blossoming, but exploding into a tree of jobs and occupations.
But what is cybersecurity? Is it chasing down hackers with swift keyboard strokes as we see in media? Is it pushing up your glasses and cracking down on incoming viruses and malware?
Ultimately, cybersecurity is the protection against attacks on information technology (IT). This realm may include computers, servers, mobile devices, networks and other forms of data. Simply put, it’s the protection of digital information. As we move into a world where everything is stored on computers and clouds (the internet ones), protecting it becomes crucial. A quick jolt into a cloud server can allow attackers to find information worth billions. We need knights to stand against it.
The average cost of data breaches in 2021 was 4.24 million USD, the highest in IT history. That’s a lot of cheddar for businesses. Of course, they are willing to pay a pretty penny to avoid these tragedies.
Like any career path, cybersecurity breaks down into a plethora of different roles and specialties. While it would be impossible (and a waste of your time) to define them all, we will note the most common ones.
Top-Five Cybersecurity Jobs and Their Average Salary
- Penetration tester: $102,405
- Security engineer: $111,691
- Cybersecurity manager: $132,180
- Security architect: $153,751
- Chief information security officer: $170,928
Salaries are provided by Glassdoor
Engineering and Architecture
Security engineers are the ones ahead of the game. They build the castle walls, not necessarily defend the fort.
Basically, the engineer understands the different threats that may arise. They work to create and implement defense systems against the threats before they arise. Ultimately, this isn’t the role that battles the hackers, but the ones that try to prevent any issues from happening.
Furthermore, the architect looks over an entire infrastructure. They are the head engineers. They work to make sure the entire defense system is properly functioning and effective.
Like engineers, cybersecurity consultants overlook the entirety of a company’s security system. They are experts in both the offense and defense of cybersecurity. They are often brought into a company to test the defenses, which may involve a plethora of different techniques and jobs. The consultant may be asked to attack the system, improve it, or plan out one from scratch.
Consultants are the specialists brought in to oversee another team or system. They often have extensive experience in the field.
The cybersecurity tester does exactly that. Testers are paid to attack defense systems to find holes and reachable sections. It’s backward engineering. They figure out what is wrong with the system so that the engineers can retroactively fix it.
The tester is paid to hack into systems all day. How crazy is that?
Like every department in the working world, cybersecurity teams have management. The cybersecurity manager is much like the architect. They are the expert and backbone of the security system. Furthermore, they overlook and lead the rest of the security team. They are likely to delegate tasks, create schedules and oversee all production.
A manager is a manager is a manager.
Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is the highest paying job in the cybersecurity field. This work is a form of management overseeing the entirety of cybersecurity for a large company or database. It’s an executive position, overall.
These are the knights you think of. The incident response team is the cybersecurity fighters on the frontline. Though defense systems created by engineers and testers may be great, they are never foolproof. When someone gets through the castle walls, the incident response team is there to fight them.
In cybersecurity, incident response is called on to help protect the system after a breach. Whatever needs to be done to save data, the team can do.
Furthermore, the response team may be there after the attack. They may be called in to try and find exactly where the attack came from. Digital Forensic Investigators work with law enforcement to find the culprits in cyber-crimes. No, seriously. This role exists.
Now that’s cool.
What Degree to Receive?
This is usually the part where we say that a degree isn’t necessary. While SEO and real estate jobs may not require degrees, cybersecurity does. While it is never impossible to obtain a job without a degree, cybersecurity is a difficult field to break into. In fact, any IT-related job will require some type of schooling. Ultimately, companies want to hire the best when it comes to protecting their data. A background in the field through education is a great start.
While some on-site training may be required to start a career in cybersecurity, the necessary degrees vary. While there are collegiate courses aimed toward cybersecurity (like Information Security), they are not necessary.
After polling a plethora of cybersecurity job postings, we found that the average job calls for a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Luckily, there are a ton of different courses in the IT field. Anything with the basis of computer science and programming will fit into the realm of cybersecurity. Ultimately, you want to have a background in computer programming and engineering.
Furthermore, most high-level cybersecurity jobs call for a master’s degree. But you can work on that after starting your career.
How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity: Best Degrees to Receive
- Computer Science
- Computer Programming
- Hardware Engineering
- Information Technology Management
- Machine Learning
No Degree? No Problem
As we stated, obtaining a degree in IT is a surefire way to leap above the competition. IT jobs, like cybersecurity, rely on a multitude of computer-based knowledge. A lot of which you would learn from a college program.
If you cannot get a college degree, or have a degree in an unrelated field, your hope is not lost. Fortunately, a decent amount of entry-level cybersecurity jobs do not require a degree. Unfortunately, they will require a bit of experience (at least 1-2 years).
So, how do you make this work?
Luckily, there are cybersecurity boot camps offered at most universities. These quick foundational courses usually span a few months. They will get you a headstart on your career. Then, you can look for internships or small businesses to help bolster your resume.
Certifications are a fantastic way to build your resume. Fortunately, there are a plethora of certifications available in the cybersecurity field. Not only do certifications show your expertise in the field, but they show your commitment to furthering your applicable education. Anything you can add to your portfolio will help you land a gig, especially if you are deciding to forgo a college education.
Here are a few certifications available in the field:
- CompTIA Security+
- CISSP — Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- CISM — Certified Information Security Manager
- CISA — Certified Information Systems Auditor
- GIAC — Global Information Assurance Certification
- CEH — Certified Ethical Hacker
Does that all sound like gibberish? Yeah, it does to me, too.
Luckily, OnlineDegrees.SanDiego.Edu broke them all down here.
Unfortunately, a lot of these certifications require years of experience in a related IT field. There are also vendor-specific certifications through companies like Cisco and Symantec. The big step here is to find out exactly what you need and how to get it.
For example, if you are attempting to start a career in testing cybersecurity, you may want to get a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification. To test for this certification, you must have two years of correlating experience in the security field or go through a dedicated course. The dedicated course is offered by EC-Council and takes 40 hours. This certification is considered to be entry-level, for it doesn’t take much back experience in the field.
Ah, unpaid work. It sounds like an absolute disaster. A waste of your precious time. But think not, rockstar! An internship can help you break into the cybersecurity industry.
We broke down the pros and cons of internships here, but let’s recap.
Due to cybersecurity being such a vast and growing field, there are always a plethora of internships available. While interning requires candidates to have a flexible schedule and personal budget, they can be extremely helpful in attaining a career in the cybersecurity field.
Ultimately, if you do not have former experience in a related IT position or field, then you need to start somewhere.
The concept of needing the experience to gain experience has plagued entry-level workers for decades. Unfortunately, this concept is continuing to grow in the working world. Yikes.
If you are currently attending college for an IT degree or have already done so, an internship can be your way into a door. Not only does it help you network (we’ll get to that), but it will help you bolster your resume. It may not be a lost effort after all.
Moving from IT to Cybersecurity
Maybe you are already working in the IT world. Maybe you see the rise in cybercrime and want to throw on your IT security gloves. How do you start a career in cybersecurity if you already have a career in IT?
Well, you are in luck. Fortunately, transferring between career paths is much easier than breaking into it. It may not be as simple as stepping between roads, but it’s much easier than someone without IT experience.
Firstly, look into your contacts. Did you go to college with someone that now works in cybersecurity? Do you have a cybersecurity department at your current workplace? The first step in changing directions is to see where opportunities lie. You can scour through job boards, but you are already within the IT field. Find out what jobs are available from within.
Furthermore, you are already on the right path to furthering your education. As stated, most cybersecurity certifications require experience in relevant IT fields. If you have this experience, you can start researching cybersecurity practices and achieving certifications. Boom.
Also, you may want to get another degree. It’s timely and costly, but a master’s degree is a shining star on your resume.
Secondly, see if there are any learning opportunities within your current network. Does your cybersecurity department need some help? Maybe you can volunteer and pick up some tools of the trade.
You are already in the industry. Start asking around. There are opportunities everywhere.
Network, Network, Network!
We can sit and try to tell you how to start a career in cybersecurity all day, but like any career, it starts with who you know. Whether you are a fresh face or a veteran in the IT world, you need to meet useful acquaintances.
Asking others how to start a career in cybersecurity is crucial, too. Consequently, no one jumps into a career without knowing a few people. Networking is important for any profession.
Connect with other IT security workers over social media and forum platforms, reach out to experts for advice and send emails to other specialists for help or tips. Build a network of other people for education and advice. This networking may always lead to references, new skills, or potential job openings.
Furthermore, keep an eye out for cybersecurity conferences, workshops and online meetings. There are always a ton of ways to meet other professionals in the field. Go meet people, ask questions and be pleasant. You never know where your new friends may lead you.
Take Other Entry-Level Jobs
Let’s circle back around to our certification section.
A lot of certifications in cybersecurity require a few years of experience in a relative IT field. If you have acquired a degree in IT (i.e. programming or engineering) and cannot find a job in security, you are not jumping off your career path by taking another IT gig.
Henceforth, taking a related IT job and gaining a few years of experience in the field can help you gain further certifications, knowledge and connections to help you switch into cybersecurity.
Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with taking a faintly-related IT job in order to work your way up the ladder.
Becoming a cybersecurity worker is all about what you know, how you implement it and who you know. It takes personal dedication and time.
Secondly, if you are interested in the field, take some time to research the different specialties within the industry. Once you find which one you want to start with, start looking for the qualifications for job postings. Not only will this research help you get an idea of what the job really is, but it will give you a rough guide on how to start.
Consequently, you may need to obtain further education, internships, or certifications to start your career in cybersecurity, but nothing worthwhile is easy. If you are passionate about your future, then learning and working in the field should be enjoyable. If you don’t enjoy the work, you shouldn’t be starting the career in the first place. It’s that simple.
Finally, we can tell you how to start a career in cybersecurity all day, but it’s null and void. The biggest tip is to start. Just start.