A recent ransomware attack shut down the Colonial Pipeline for six harrowing days.
Not long after, President Biden signed an executive order to vastly expand the country's cyber security game plan. In his accompanying statement, the president noted: "[T]his shows that we have to make a greater investment in education as it relates to being able to train and graduate more people proficient in cyber security."
What does that mean for you? Well, if you're looking to break into the cyber security profession, now is the time. The industry desperately needs your talent and drive. Even before cyber security emerged in the national news conversation, a predicted 500,000 jobs were set to open up to cyber security professionals in the US. The number of unfilled cyber security jobs worldwide? A jaw-dropping 3.4 million.
You can't just fill out a job application and start along your cyber security career path, however. Every role requires in-depth training or hands-on experience with cyber security software. Once you're in, you'll find everything from entry-level programming roles to chief information security officer.
In such a vast field, it makes sense that you may have some questions about cyber security careers. In this article, we'll cover some FAQs to get you started:
As for most career paths, the standard day-to-day of a cyber security professional depends on your industry, specialty, and seniority level.
However, most cyber security jobs share several similarities. From a birds-eye view, your job is to detect and analyze cyberattacks before, during, and after they occur.
By analyzing data and daily reports, you will sleuth out cyberthreats or data breaches and communicate your findings to your employer. This work requires a solid background in computer science. However, cyber security professionals are also experts in finding patterns, working under pressure, and educating teammates outside of the tech world.
Every position plays a different role in stopping cybercrime. Some professionals specialize in risk assessment to keep threats at bay before they begin. Others jump in after a company detects the work of cybercriminals.
Your background also dictates how much responsibility you'll have in protecting a company. An entry-level job as a junior analyst may:
Associate and managerial-level cyber security analysts or cyber security engineers work as:
The majority of cyber security professionals have a background in math, science, engineering, or, of course, computer science. In many cases, their skill sets led them to positions that incorporate cyber security. For example, they may have started as software developers before realizing they had a knack for encryption. Other professionals launch cyber security careers from network operations or basic information technology desk roles.
Regardless of your departure point, you're a trouble-shooter and a creative thinker with the drive to learn specific cyber security skills and software. You appreciate the value of robust security, and you have an affinity for it.
You'll likely find that, at minimum, cyber security professionals have a bachelor's degree in a related topic. While it may not specifically be a cyber security degree, an undergrad education is often necessary.
Many workers enter a master's degree program after several years of relevant work. Others earn certifications or complete shorter bootcamps to meet prerequisites for coveted job titles. We'll go into this a bit more below.
Salary and career stability are where the cyber security field really shines. Combine specialized skills with a high demand for work, and you can depend on a six-figure salary after several years.
Entry-level positions make higher-than-average amounts even before a professional eyes grad school. For example, Zip Recruiter reports that early-career professionals can expect around $80,000.
Add advanced training and a master's degree, and average salaries quickly rise. Here are some stats to keep in mind: -Information security analysts make an average of $102,600 a year
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also reports that the field is growing at a 35 percent rate.
IT security roles broaden their reach every year. Whether you dream of working in a financial firm or government agency, you're likely to find a full-time career opportunity devoted to cyber security.
Here are some major industries to start your cyber security job search.
Most companies that store data compile a team to cover computer system security. These include:
Within the private sector, you can also work directly for cyber security software companies that serve specific industries. For example, some companies specifically support EdTech brands, while others offer software for individual users.
The US government includes several departments dedicated to information systems and data protection. The Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), for example, leads the way on international and domestic cybercrime. CISA offers jobs both in D.C. and in regional locations across the country.
Law enforcement jobs, like those with the FBI, are crucial to the agency's success. You will also find positions in state and local government offices and jobs specifically for active military personnel.
Outside of government, a range of nonprofits requires cyber security experts to protect donor data and build trust with the public. Some organizations even provide cyber security education to their communities to expand job opportunities in the growing field.
The cyber security field has an abundance of entry-level positions for those with the right tech background. Typically, a bachelor's in a related field helps, but a master's is not required to get in the door initially.
However, if you want to make the leap to higher-level security analyst positions and leadership roles, a master's may be key.
Specialized positions, such as those that handle national security topics, are more accessible to those with unique training. The Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program at Virginia Commonwealth University delivers exactly that. Courses tackle a range of global threats and natural disaster relief, including the effects of cyber threats.
Prospective cyber security master's candidates come from a range of backgrounds in computer science. No matter their early career path, all have a clear goal of advancing IT security measures.
Many cyber security programs tailor their curricula for working professionals. The University of Tulsa, for one, offers a Master of Science in Cyber security fully online. It can be completed between 20 months and four years on a full or part-time schedule.
Most programs commence with core courses covering a various basic cyber security principles and practices. Students then expand new skills in either technical or leadership topics, depending on their career goals.
Some professionals find their way into cyber security from other tech positions. When their responsibilities start to overlap with cyber security, candidates naturally transition to full-time roles.
In such a tech-heavy field, you may only get so far without additional training. Cyber security bootcamps offer an intensive deep dive into a range of related topics. They typically take between 12-to-15 weeks and can cost an average of $15,000.
Bootcamps may be a great alternative to grad school for professionals:
You can also work with a MOOC program (massive online open courses) to earn a certificate or review your skills. CompTIA, for example, offers certification, ongoing training, and a community for the cyber security industry as a whole.
A bootcamp or certification may cost less than a master's degree. They can also be completed more quickly. However, they are not the same as a master's degree. A bootcamp may teach you a valuable specialization. Still, it will not provide wide-ranging knowledge of the field nor will it facilitate contacts with mentors and network contacts as effectively as a master's program.
A master's can give you a competitive edge for advanced leadership positions and highly sought-after companies, especially throughout your career.
You might notice a unique stat getting tossed around in the cyber security field: zero-percent unemployment. The gap between the demand for skilled workers and available positions is highly in your favor.
The keyword here, however, is "skilled." Companies and government agencies are on the lookout for trained problem-solvers who can tackle this quickly growing problem. So, while you won't be hired simply because there is such high demand, you will be sought after for your unique abilities.
But it's not just about career stability. Cyber security jobs offer diverse opportunities for different types of thinkers. Perhaps you're a career military officer looking to transition to a tech-based role. Or maybe you're looking for a home at a tech company with a fun company culture.
In any case, cyber security roles are a way to shake up your career path and find a role tailored to your personality and expertise.
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