The cybersecurity industry has a 3.4-million-person shortage—that’s a massive opportunity for job seekers.1 Have you ever wondered how to build a meaningful career in cybersecurity? Or, if you are a business leader seeking to grow your cybersecurity team, do you know what to look for in a strong candidate? Read on for answers to those questions.
In this continuously evolving field, setting yourself apart as a cybersecurity expert includes a combination of formal education, certifications, practical experience, and continuous learning. Let’s explore the many paths to success.
Traditional majors include computer science, information technology, information security, cybersecurity, or a related field. Essential courses to take are the basics of programming, network fundamentals, operating systems, introduction to cybersecurity, cryptography, and ethical hacking. However, even if you already have an undergraduate degree in another field, you can still move into a cybersecurity career.
- Master’s degree in cybersecurity or related fields: Higher-level classes can help you hone in on specific areas of interest, such as digital forensics, advanced cryptography, or cyber threat intelligence
- Ph.D. in cybersecurity: This is the next step for those interested in research, teaching, or high-level consulting, but again, it’s not the only path.
Beyond the degree
A college degree isn’t a strict requirement for getting started in the field. There are work experience programs, and some people leave the military with excellent cybersecurity training. There are also certificate programs—the equivalent of learn-to-code boot camps. Quite a few mid-career individuals are choosing to change vocations because cyber is such a hot industry. It’s never too late to get into cybersecurity, regardless of age or education.
Internship, Co-op, and Apprenticeship Programs
Gaining practical experience is crucial. Many colleges and universities partner with companies that offer student internships and co-op programs. This provides exposure to real-world challenges and solutions in cybersecurity.
It’s important to note that these programs are also open to people who aren’t currently students, especially apprenticeship programs. Companies are eager to train workers to fill gaps. Some industry veterans even say cybersecurity changes so fast that much of what students learn in school isn’t always relevant just a short while later. That’s why continual real-world, on-the-job training is so necessary.
Industry-recognized certifications provide the knowledge, training, and competitive edge job candidates need. Colleges offer courses that align with these certifications, but you can also take these certifications on your own. Some top vendor-neutral cybersecurity certifications include:
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- CompTIA Security+
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)
Cybersecurity is a broad field, and as you progress, you might specialize in areas like penetration testing, digital forensics, incident response, security architecture, compliance, and risk management.
Many colleges participate in cybersecurity competitions such as Capture the Flag (CTF) events. These events offer real-world challenges and are excellent for hands-on experience and networking.
Projects in labs or through personal initiatives can be invaluable. These might involve setting up a secure network, penetration testing on controlled environments, or analyzing malware. Your undergraduate degree sets up a strong foundation for everything that comes next
After establishing that solid knowledge foundation, many aspiring cybersecurity professionals begin to wonder about the trajectory of their career paths. The corporate world offers many opportunities and roles for those with the right qualifications. Let’s take a look up the corporate ladder to understand the potential progression for someone dedicated to a cybersecurity career.
- Cybersecurity Technician/Analyst: Involves monitoring networks and systems, identifying vulnerabilities, and responding to minor security incidents
- Security Consultant: Assists businesses in assessing their security posture and recommends strategies to mitigate risks
- Penetration Tester: Also known as “ethical hackers,” they test the strength of an organization’s defenses by trying to exploit vulnerabilities
- IT Auditor: Reviews and ensures compliance with an organization’s IT controls, standards, and policies
- Cybersecurity Engineer: Designs, implements, and manages the security infrastructure
- Incident Responder: Focuses on managing and mitigating security breaches or attacks
- Security Architect: Develops a network’s overall security design. They ensure all parts of an enterprise’s IT infrastructure are secure
- Forensics Expert: Investigates cyber crimes and gathers evidence for legal cases
- Security Assessor: Evaluates and verifies an organization’s security measures
- Security Manager/Director: Oversees security teams and sets strategy, ensuring all cyber defense initiatives align with organizational goals
- Cybersecurity Risk Manager: Evaluates overall risks to the organization, making sure all security efforts balance with business objectives
C-Suite and Executive
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): The top-tier role in cybersecurity, CISOs develop and implement organization-wide cybersecurity strategies. They are responsible for the overall direction of security efforts and communicating risks to the board.
- Chief Risk Officer (CRO): CROs evaluate the overall risks, which include cyber threats, and determine the strategic direction.
The cybersecurity industry requires professionals to be highly skilled and always on their toes. Amid rapid technological changes, continuous learning is a cornerstone of a successful career. It’s not just about the technical skills, although hard credentials are valuable. A cybersecurity expert also needs a balance of soft skills. Effective communication, problem-solving, and teamwork are indispensable, especially as one ascends to roles where strategic insights and clear communication are expected.
Ethical integrity is another non-negotiable trait, given the often delicate and confidential nature of the information cybersecurity experts handle. Millions of cybersecurity roles are available across sectors for those entering or advancing in this field, supporting the universal significance of safeguarding digital assets. But as in many professions, career advancement isn’t solely about individual competence; it’s about being part of a larger community. Engaging in networking opportunities such as conferences, workshops, and webinars can open doors and foster beneficial relationships.
As we observe Cybersecurity Awareness Month, let’s remember that it’s an excellent opportunity to explore career possibilities in support of cyber protection.
- 1.(ISC)2, 2022 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, June 2022