Cybersecurity

How to Kickstart a Career in Cyber Security — Even Without Prior Work Experience

How to Kickstart a Career in Cyber Security — Even Without Prior Work Experience
If you’re a web developer, a systems analyst, or a network administrator, chances are you’re in a great spot to carve a career path in cyber security. Image from Unsplash
Alyssa Mazzina profile
Alyssa Mazzina February 13, 2019

Every time a hacker learns a new trick, you need to be one step ahead to stop them.

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According to the New York Times, approximately 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs worldwide will go unfilled by 2021 because there aren’t enough qualified professionals to fill them all. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job openings for information security professionals will grow 31 percent from 2019 to 2029.

What’s more, each year a whopping 60 percent of small businesses fall victim to cybercrime.. All too often, the fallout from such security breaches can drive small companies out of business. Large corporations feel the burn, too. Ebay, Equifax, and Uber, are just a few of the victims of cyber attacks, with damages reaching billions of dollars.

What does this mean for the information security industry? It means it’s a seller’s market for trained cyber security professionals — and anyone working in cyber security is in a very good spot. Even if you have no experience in this field, you can become a cyber security professional sooner than you may think.

Job titles in cyber security go by a wide range of names. You might come across titles such as:

  • Chief information security officer (CISO)
  • Cyber security analyst
  • Ethical hacker
  • Incident responder
  • Information security analyst
  • Penetration tester
  • Security architect
  • Security engineer
  • Security manager
  • Security specialist

All technical backgrounds may apply

If you’re a web developer, a systems analyst, or a network administrator, chances are you’re in a great spot to carve a career path in cyber security. CyberSeek lists five “feeder jobs”—networking, software development, systems engineer, financial and risk analysis, and security intelligence—ideal for leveraging a cyber security position. If you have experience in any of these fields, you’re a step ahead of the pack.

Often, the shift to cyber security can be started while still in your current role. If you’re a systems engineer, for example, you’re already responsible for maintaining and testing software systems. Chances are, you have had to ensure the security of these systems at one point or another. If there’s a security professional on your team, offer to help them when possible—and begin to educate yourself on security policies. .

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What formal education do you need for jobs in cyber security?

Some education is required for a cyber security career. The level of responsibility placed on the shoulders of a cyber security professional is immense. These experts are trusted to respond to security incidents , and companies don’t want just anybody in these roles. They need assurance that those in cyber security really know what they’re doing. An education does a lot to help build that case.

Most cyber security entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree. If you’re already working in IT security, you probably have your bachelor’s already—likely in a technical field such as computer science or information technology.

But even if you earned your undergraduate degree in an iIT–related field, your coursework probably didn’t include much on cyber security. The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities to develop those skills now, both at traditional universities and with online programs like bootcamps. Just select a course of study that accommodates your current schedule and goals. If you’re working full time, raising a family, and don’t have the time or other resources to commit to a master’s degree program, a bootcamp or a self-paced online certificate program may be a better choice for you. Then again, if you have access to a university and learn best in a traditional classroom environment, you may choose to go that route.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the educational paths that can help you get into cyber security with no previous work experience.

University degrees

Nothing commands respect quite like a graduate degree, be it a master’s or a doctorate. The breadth, depth, and rigor of a master’s degree program can prepare you for whatever may come your way and will reassure employers that you have both the intelligence and the work ethic to complete a difficult program—and to protect their information systems from hackers and data breaches.

There are numerous cyber/ security master’s degree programs to choose from in the United States. Though traditional colleges and universities are sometimes criticized for lagging behind the tech industry, many have responded to the cyber security talent shortage with degree programs aimed at turning out qualified, educated candidates to fill these important roles.

A master’s in cyber security is certainly one excellent pathway to a successful career, but it’s not the only one.

Graduate certificates

Graduate certificates have proliferated in recent years, particularly in the tech field. In some cases, universities offer these as mini-versions of master’s degree programs or as areas of specialization to be earned alongside more general degrees. Graduate certificates may also be offered online by bootcamps or other institutions outside the traditional sphere of higher education.

Bootcamps are buzzy and cool, but they can also be a perfectly legitimate way to train in a technical subject such as cyber security. Often, bootcamp certificate programs offer flexibility unavailable in traditional programs. This is a big selling point for busy professionals who want to explore the field of cyber security while keeping their current jobs.

Professional certifications and continuing education

Even if you earn a master’s degree and a graduate certificate, you should look into professional certifications. Most tech professionals are familiar with the concept of certification. Computer security is more likely than other tech roles to require such certifications. There are many to choose from.

And remember: Hackers never stop learning. The cyber security field is constantly changing, and professionals who expect to stay on top will need to constantly re-educate themselves. Professional certifications are an excellent way to do that. Professional development and continuing education will be a part of your career from here on out; every time a hacker learns a new trick, you need to be one step ahead to stop them.

Cyber security is a field worth moving into, especially if you have a technical background. Starting with professional certifications and online courses may be the best bet for job seekers already working in an unrelated full-time role,; they will allow you to advance into an entry-level cyber security position. You can then move through the ranks from entry-level jobs to top leadership positions in cyber security by earning advanced degrees and/or continuing your education. Whatever happens, you’ll never regret educating yourself in this fascinating and lucrative subject.

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: CybersecurityInformation Technology & Engineering