7 Questions to Ask About Cybersecurity Careers — And the Answers You Need to Proceed With Confidence
November 13, 2022
The demand for qualified cybersecurity professionals has never been higher. Innovative thinkers with a foundation in computer science may find their home in this expanding field.
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 cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity."
If you're looking to break into the cybersecurity profession, now is a great time for you. The industry desperately needs your talent and drive. Even before cybersecurity emerged in the national news conversation, a predicted 500,000 jobs were set to open up to cybersecurity professionals in the US. The number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs worldwide? A jaw-dropping 4 million.
You can't just fill out a job application and start along your cybersecurity career path, however. Every role requires in-depth training or hands-on experience with cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity careers. In this article, we'll cover some FAQs to get you started:
- What will I do as a cybersecurity professional?
- How do I get started in cybersecurity?
- How much can I earn as a cybersecurity professional?
- Who hires cybersecurity professionals?
- Do I need a master's degree to advance in cybersecurity?
- What alternatives are there to a master's degree? Are they as good?
- Is cybersecurity a good career?
What will I do as a cybersecurity professional?
Like most career paths, the standard day-to-day of a cybersecurity professional depends on your industry, specialty, and seniority level.
However, most cybersecurity 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, cybersecurity professionals are also experts in finding patterns, working under pressure, and educating teammates outside of the tech world.
Security specialist responsibilities
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:
- Collaborate with a team to develop risk management tactics
- Monitor network security and firewalls
- Triage problems with computer security when problems do arise
Associate and managerial-level cybersecurity analysts or cybersecurity engineers work as:
- Developers for cryptography and encryption software
- Penetration testers
- Security architects
- Leaders of complex cybersecurity teams
How do I get started in cybersecurity?
The majority of cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity. For example, they may have started as software developers before realizing they had a knack for encryption. Other professionals launch cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity skills and software. You appreciate the value of robust security, and you have an affinity for it.
You'll likely find that, at minimum, cybersecurity professionals have a bachelor's degree in a related topic. While it may not specifically be a cybersecurity 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 take on shorter bootcamps to meet prerequisites for coveted job titles. We'll go into this a bit more below.
How much can I earn as a cybersecurity professional?
Salary and career stability are where the cybersecurity 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 $82,500.
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 $103,590 a year
- Computer network architects make an average of $116,780 a year
- Chief Information Security Officers(CISO) make an average of $224,305 a year
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also reports that the field is growing at a 31 percent rate. That's more than nine times the rate for the job market as a whole, and that number will likely increase after this year's cybersecurity education funding boost
Who hires cybersecurity professionals?
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 cybersecurity.
Here are some major industries to start your cybersecurity job search.
Private sector roles
Most companies that store data compile a team to cover computer system security. These include:
- Banks and financial firms
- Engineering and manufacturing firms
- Healthcare and insurance
- Major tech brands like Apple and Google
- Retail, travel, and entertainment
- Social media and dating apps
Within the private sector, you can also work directly for cybersecurity software companies that serve specific industries. For example, some companies specifically support EdTech brands, while others offer software for individual users.
Public sector roles
The US government includes several departments dedicated to information systems and data protection. The Cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity experts to protect donor data and build trust with the public. Some organizations even provide cybersecurity education to their communities to expand job opportunities in the growing field.
Do I need a master's degree to advance in cybersecurity?
The cybersecurity 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 is often the 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 is a great example of this. Courses tackle a range of global threats and natural disaster relief, including the effects of cyber threats.
Cybersecurity master's degree details
Prospective cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity programs tailor their curriculum for working professionals. The University of Tulsa, for one, offers a Master of Science in Cybersecurity fully online. It can be completed between 20 months and four years with either a full or part-time schedule.
Both Tulsa's program and other top grad schools commence with core courses covering a wide variety of basic cybersecurity principles and practices. Students then expand new skills in either technical or leadership topics, depending on their career goals.
What are the alternatives to a master's degree? Are they as good?
Some professionals find their way into cybersecurity from other tech positions. When their responsibilities start to overlap with cybersecurity, candidates naturally transition to full-time roles.
In such a tech-heavy field, you may only get so far with additional training. Cybersecurity bootcamps offer an intensive deep dive into a range of related topics. They typically take between 12-15 weeks and can cost an average of $15,000.
Bootcamps may be a great alternative to grad school for professionals:
- Boosting their skills for a current position or promotion
- Seeking an accelerated program
- Transitioning from a new field
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 cybersecurity 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 will 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.
Is cybersecurity a good career?
You might notice a unique stat getting tossed around in the cybersecurity 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. Cybersecurity 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, cybersecurity roles are a way to shake up your career path and find a role tailored to your personality and expertise.
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