Hacking. It’s a skill glamorized by media like Mr. Robot, but the reality is that many hackers hurt real people by stealing data and ransoming software. There’s another side to that, though, a use for hacking and computer science skills that can keep people and systems safe. Cybersecurity professionals are needed now more than ever, and you can make it in the field.
Cybersecurity is a highly underserved area when it comes to available professionals. In fact, it’s estimated that 2-3 million jobs in cybersecurity will go unfilled over the next three years. The field of cybersecurity is diverse and wanting, with positions like white-hat hackers and IT security professionals to choose from for those willing to hone the right skills.
By developing your skillset, choosing the focus of your career path, then preparing yourself to land your dream job, you can become a cybersecurity specialist and make a real difference in the world while making great money.
Here’s what you should know.
Honing Your Skills
Entering the cybersecurity field starts with building the right skillset. A standard university degree—an associate’s at the absolute minimum, for some entry-level positions—is the standard in the tech field, with additional certifications common after that. Coursework in a university typically includes computer science, programming, ethics, and computer forensics to lay the building blocks for future fighting cybercrime and protecting data.
The common path for anyone entering the cybersecurity field generally looks something like the following.
1. Obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree in a cybersecurity field.
2. Go through additional training, sometimes including a master’s program.
3. Gain certifications in IT specifics (if applicable).
4. Obtain security clearances for classified data work (if applicable).
While positions can be expected to have some variance on their stated requirements, these are some of the basics. Some companies will offer tuition assistance if they would like you to obtain a master’s degree. Others may require you to get security clearances, if you are handling sensitive data for the military, for example.
Across the IT field, there are additional certifications that can help boost your desirability as a candidate and potentially raise the amount of money you’re making as well. Some of these IT certifications include:
• CompTIA Security +
With these skills and more, you set yourself on a path to make a real difference as a cybersecurity professional. The next step comes in choosing the career path within cybersecurity that you would like to follow.
Choosing a Career Path
All kinds of positions exist within cybersecurity. The breadth of this field offers flexibility in terms of what kind of programming, analysis, and communicative work you would like to do. From network architects to support specialists, cybersecurity is a vital part of many information technology roles, each one with the capacity to pay well and help others.
Across IT and cybersecurity positions, here are some of the best offerings:
• Computer Network Architect. These professionals design local area networks (LAN) or wide area networks (WAN) to safely disseminate and communicate information for all kinds of businesses. This job requires implementing cybersecurity features and can pay up to $160,000 per year on the high end.
• White-Hat (Ethical) Hacker. These specialists do the work of the villain to help make systems better and safer for everyone. Ethical hackers often work as consultants or bounty hunters, attempting to break a system and find weak points for a reward. Consultants typically earn $15,000-$45,000 per engagement but can make as much as $17 million in one bounty if you find the right opportunity.
• Information Security Analyst. These analysts are responsible for the safety of the network on a day-to-day basis. This includes managing firewalls and software to prevent breaches and test systems for greater survivability. In some cases, an information security analyst can do a similar job as an ethical hacker as they attempt to penetrate their own systems through testing. Professionals in this role make around $100,000 a year on average, with the potential to make much more with experience.
Regardless of the path you are shooting for, succeeding in a cybersecurity position requires persistence and learning from failures as you develop your skills. Don’t neglect your soft skills as well, like communication and teamwork, and you’ll set yourself up to land the job of your dreams.
Landing the Job
Getting recruiters to notice you once you’ve accumulated the right skillset takes understanding the job market and presenting yourself professionally. The first step in this process is building a resume that shows off the best of your skills. After that, nailing the interview and reviewing your offers will set you up with your ideal position.
Even with the cybersecurity field in desperate need of qualified workers, recruiters expect to see a professional resume that properly showcases your skills. This includes the hard skills you’ve assembled in your computer science training as well as the soft skills you’ve built throughout your life. Review your resume to ensure that you are demonstrating the best and easiest-to-work-with version of yourself.
Next, practice for your interviews. This can and should include brushing up on coding theory, programming languages, and common interview questions. You should strive to impress if you’re after a great offer. Practice now to make the most of your opportunities when the time comes.
Once you receive your offer, you should compare it to norms for the position as well as your own current goals. With limited experience, you cannot expect the world—but that doesn’t mean you should be undercut either. Since cybersecurity professionals are in such high demand, you do have some room to negotiate.
Thoroughly review your offer. If you have to relocate, look for accommodations in the relocation package like lease break coverage, moving costs, and temporary housing assistance.
Cybersecurity is an excellent profession. Not only do you get to hack systems, you get to help people in the process. With the right training, preparation, path, and interview preparedness, you can nail down your dream job in the cybersecurity field. Follow these tips and always practice your programming and security skills. A successful financial future awaits.