How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity

During the past decade in tech, organizations have been scrambling to find new cybersecurity talent to help combat the growing cyberthreats to businesses. From September 2017 to August 2018, U.S. employers posted nearly 314,000 jobs for cybersecurity professionals. Additionally, (ISC)², one of the world’s largest nonprofit associations of certified cybersecurity professionals, has identified a gap of nearly 3 million cybersecurity jobs globally. This trend is troublesome for the industry, and security leaders need to get creative about enticing more talented people to consider a career in cybersecurity.

Part of what is contributing to this problem is a lack of women in cybersecurity roles. The 2019 (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study: Women in Cybersecurity acknowledged that woman only make up 24 percent of cybersecurity professionals, up from 11 percent in the prior study. While there have been strides, this represents a persistent underrepresentation of women in the field. So, while cybersecurity professionals can earn an average of $97,000 a year or more and there are no shortages of opportunities given the varied security solutions available, the industry is failing to attract talent to help fight cybercrime.

That said, the time is ripe for high school graduates or individuals looking for a midlife career change to consider cybersecurity as a lucrative option for their next career move. Individuals searching for a cybersecurity role can be an asset regardless of what their background might be. Whether they are entering the security industry right after college or they are seasoned professionals from another business discipline, as long as they have a strong curiosity, some knowledge of the threat landscape and a desire to learn, they can be a great fit.

A Career in Cybersecurity: Helpful Tips

Whatever path leads an individual to a career in cybersecurity, there are some common steps they can take to ensure a path to success.

Ditch the Concept of the ‘Career Ladder’

Even before the first day on the job, cybersecurity professionals should ditch the concept of a career ladder or that the only definition of success is being upwardly mobile. If you’re just entering the field, understand that your career could take many turns and likely look more like a lattice over time than a ladder. Along the way, you may move laterally, diagonally or vertically throughout an organization. You may start in as an analyst, and find you fit better in another role such as product management. Allowing yourself the freedom to explore security from different vantage points in the organization means that you can keep options open for new and exciting growth opportunities.

Take Advantage of Classes Available

There’s a misconception that individuals interested in a career in cyber should either take a coding bootcamp class or receive a computer science degree. However, for cybersecurity professionals, it’s not a question of one or the other because both are applicable in this market.

While a bachelor’s or master’s degree can be a solid foundation in today’s market, a coding boot camp is a terrific way to get a feel for a tangential market. And if you happen to be transitioning from a non-IT background or progressing toward an IT-related degree, a coding boot camp will provide valuable insight into what it takes to be a software developer. Knowing and understanding how to code is a valuable skill in cybersecurity. After all, the industry is evolving around the idea of building security directly into software.

The bottom line is, always be looking for how you can augment your education with continuing studies, whether in the form of a coding boot camp or extra college credits online.

Pursue Certifications That Interest You

Sometimes, certifications play a critical role in qualifying a job candidate for an opportunity or provide a competitive advantage to negotiate a salary. There are also many organizations that are willing to cover the costs to obtain a certification because the skills and knowledge a worker will obtain will be critical to the company’s business. According to a survey by Business News Daily, some of the best certifications for a cybersecurity professional to pursue include:

  • CEH – Certified Ethical Hacker
  • CISM – Certified Information Security Manager
  • CompTIA Security +
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional
  • SANS GIAC Security Essentials

Use Your Talents to Stand Out From Colleagues

It is important for employees to make a good impression and set themselves apart from peers using unique skills or qualifications that only they bring to a role. But in the complex web that is the cybersecurity industry, the amount of information can be a lot to ingest and process. Therefore, recent college graduates or midlife career change individuals should take their time and try to learn as much as they can.

Technical knowledge and skills will help a security professional to establish credibility among colleagues. When appropriate, so will stepping up to lead projects or key initiatives, or offering critical support escalations to show management teams they take their responsibility seriously.

If you’re a new programmer, make it your business to be the best programmer you can be and remain current on the latest industry news. No matter the role, you can find opportunities to use that industry knowledge as an asset to your manager, your department or the company. This will allow you to stand out from colleagues and peers.

Look Ahead and Set Yourself Up for Success

In cybersecurity, it is often difficult to predict what will happen in the next hour, never mind the distant future. However, if an individual enters the cybersecurity field with the purpose and vision to pursue a C-level role at some point, the most important thing they can do is check their ego at the door. Being self-aware, regularly self-assessing and taking inventory of their progress and success allows individuals to grow and evolve in any role, but especially as that of a leader.

The cybersecurity industry is constantly evolving because the cyberthreats we face are also always changing. Therefore, it’s critical for anyone interested in a career in cybersecurity to be prepared for constant change. However, one way to future-proof your career skills is to seize opportunities along the way to complete coursework or earn industry certifications that meet evolving requirements. Leaving your ego at the door is another tactic that can develop soft skills, such as being a strong listener. If you learn to identify strengths in others and praise good work, that can help define your path toward the C-suite or executive leadership roles.

Regardless of where your career in cybersecurity begins, you are guaranteed some twists and turns along the way, but also the undeniable and fulfilling rewards of being one of the “good guys” protecting companies and customers from threats and helping ensure we all live a safe digital life.

Craig Hinkley

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Craig Hinkley

Craig Hinkley joined WhiteHat Security as CEO in early 2015, bringing more than 20 years of executive leadership in the technology sector to this role. Craig is driving a customer-centric focus throughout the company, and has broadened WhiteHat’s global brand and visibility beyond the application security space and security buyer, to the world of the development organization and a DevSecOps approach to application development.

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