How to Start a Career in Cybersecurity: A Beginner’s Guide
Cyber-attacks are on the rise, and this means that keeping an organization’s software, hardware, and data safe and secure is more important than ever before. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of professionals with these skills. As such, learning how to start a career in Cybersecurity can have a major pay off for your career. According to a recent ISC Cybersecurity Workforce Study, there is going to be a need for a 62 percent growth in the number of professionals to meet the growing Cybersecurity demand of today’s organizations.
Even if you do not intend to make a career of out it, learning Cybersecurity basics for beginners can help prop up your personal safety online.
In this post, we introduce you to the basics of Cybersecurity, why it is increasingly growing in demand, available career options, how and where you can get started with your Cybersecurity career, and more.
So, what is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting an organization’s systems, electronic data, programs, computer systems, and other confidential information from unauthorized intrusion. An organization that is keen to protect its data from hackers and inadvertent leaks must employ a multi-layered digital security infrastructure to protect its information. And these infrastructure need system engineers, maintenance technicians, managers, penetration testers, and other professionals to ensure that they work properly.
The primary goal of cyber-attack is to sabotage business processes, access, steal or destroy crucial information, or extort money from users.
Why is Cybersecurity important?
Cybersecurity matters for everyone, from large and small businesses to governments, to employees, and even private citizens. Cyber-attacks are increasingly common and costly for organizations. According to Gartner Reports, organizations are expected to spend upwards of $1.7 billion on Cybersecurity. This is an increase of 10.7 percent from the previous year.
And since cyber-attacks have the potential to ground a business, organizations are appreciating the need to make Cybersecurity training a hiring priority.
Cybersecurity professionals are more in-demand than ever before.
Careers in Cybersecurity
Now, let’s look at the Cybersecurity careers, starting with why this is an IT field that is open to professionals from all backgrounds, include non-IT professionals. Then, we will look at the job outlook and Cybersecurity career specialties you can consider exploring.
The value of breaking through from a non-IT background
It is a misconception to think of Cybersecurity as a single career path. There are multiple distinct career paths within the Cybersecurity field, offering opportunities for anyone with a passion for protecting the organization’s cyber infrastructure. The need for Cybersecurity professionals is on the rise with no signs of a slowdown, so the future is bright for those seeking careers in Cybersecurity.
And if you think you must earn a degree in Cybersecurity followed by ten years of tech experience to become a Cybersecurity expert, you are equally misinformed. Practicing Cybersecurity requires a mix of psychology, law, tech, sociology, and organizational sciences. As such, Cybersecurity offers a range of opportunities for both technical and non-technical people.
While most people focus on technical operators and incidence response engineers as the core career paths, it is important to understand that Cybersecurity also requires program managers, professional communicators, software developers, system analysis, data scientists, and more.
Given the growing need for online protection, it is no surprise that the potential for Cybersecurity careers is more favorable than ever. The job outlook for Cybersecurity professionals is highly promising. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for Cybersecurity professionals in the decade between 2018 and 2028 is much higher than average at 32 percent per annum. So, if you are looking for a career where you can truly see the impact of your work, you need to consider learning how to become a Cybersecurity professional.
Career opportunities in Cybersecurity
Given that Cybersecurity is such a broad field, there are multiple career paths that you can consider when figuring out how to get started with Cybersecurity for beginners. And given that Cybersecurity salaries vary based on a number of factors such as the specific role, your qualifications, and experience, you are likely to take home a handsome pay. The average salary of a Cybersecurity professional is $115,000 per annum.
Given that the exact job title can vary from organization to organization, here are the common Cybersecurity roles in the job market:
Also referred to as “ethical hacker”, this role is best suited for a professional with both business as well as technical mindsets. As a penetration tester, you will be testing the organization’s network for vulnerabilities. You will be working with the entire team to identify all possible points of vulnerabilities in the system. As a penetration tester, you will specialize in specific area of pentesting.
In order to be effective in this role, you will need to have an analytical mind and have a sound understanding of the organization and its operations. Sound communication skills are crucial for this role as you will be required to generate reports and communicate your finding to non-technical audiences.
As a penetration tester, you will typically need to earn a bachelor’s degree in cyber security, information technology, or other closely related field. Most employers also require candidates to have additional professional certifications.
Security Software Developer
Every major corporation as a security department, and they are constantly on the lookout for software developers. Even non-security software need to be written with secure coding practices. Therefore, if you can write software, prepare yourself by mastering OWASP’s secure coding practice guidelines. Developing security software is a lucrative field to have skills in, allowing you to offer your skills to many organizations around the world that require them.
Employment as a security software developer commonly requires a bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science, cyber security or other closely related subject. Additionally, most security software developer role requires you to earn one or more professional certifications.
This role is ideal for a diligent professional who pays strong attention to detail. As a security auditor, you will be keeping a record of the organization’s computer security controls and measures. You will be tasked with creating regular reports on the organization’s security measures effectives and create metrics for demonstrating this. You will also offer recommendations on improving the measures by working with the organization’s top management. Compliance will be your middle name, and you will need to have a good working knowledge of the applicable data security regulations.
Security auditor needs to earn, at minimum, an associate degree in computer science or a closely related field. Most often, employers will also hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree, preferably systems administration or information security. Work experience and professional certification may also be required of you.
This role will have you working at a technical design level, designing your organization system’s fundamental architecture. As a security architect, you will be responsible for ensuring that the technical specifications of the architecture are secured. You will have human behavior in mind when designing a secure architecture. Often, as a security architect, you will be working with the security auditor to ensure smooth implementation of the system.
A role as a security architect normally requires a bachelor’s degree in information technology, information security, or computer science. A previous work experience often required as well as an undergraduate degree.
Cybersecurity companies have products that need managing. As a product manager, you will be required to have a sound knowledge of the product as well as its models of use. You will also require strategic vision to help develop the product’s competitive edge.
A role as a project manager requires a degree in information technology, computer science, cyber security or other closely-related subjects. Additionally, most employers require product managers to obtain one or more relevant professional certifications.
Data Governance and Compliance Officer
Most industries have some sort of data protection regulation to adhere to. Additionally, global frameworks and laws such as GDPR are mounting pressure on industries to step up to the plate and implement robust data protection. Multinationals may have full-time compliance officers that handle compliance issues and ensure the organization meets its regulatory obligations. However, shortages of consultant roles like Data Protection Officer (DPO) are also an issue since the advent of GDPR.
Data governance and compliance officer need to earn an associate degree in computer science or closely related field. Some employers will also hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree in information security or systems administration as well as a professional certification.
Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
This is a strategic position in an organization that works to spot and eliminate cyber threats through strategic measures. CISO is increasingly acting as a spokesperson for the organization, especially when the organization is facing a serious cyber threat. This role serves as the head of Cybersecurity across the organization.
CISO position requires a degree in cyber or information security, information technology or other computer related field. Large corporations prefer CISOs with a master’s degree in the above subjects or an MBA in a related subject like database administration or information technology.
Network Security Engineer
This role is found in large organizations, and these professionals are involved in managing the organization’s network software and hardware, from routers to firewalls, all the way to VPNs.
This role requires a degree in engineering (preferably electrical engineering) or computer science. Most employers also take into account the candidate’s experience as well as professional certifications.
Getting started with Cybersecurity
So you are ready for a career change, or are just looking to add a new skill to your arsenal. Well, let’s look at what it takes to transition to Cybersecurity, from the planning phases to the skills as well as the resources you need to help you realize your dream.
Questions you need to ask before opting for a career in Cybersecurity
Here are a few questions you need to research on in order to help you figure out how to learn Cybersecurity:
- Do I have any prior experience or certifications related to the IT or Cybersecurity field?
- What technologies do I need to start learning?
- What skills will I need for a career in Cybersecurity?
- How do I get the experience I need to succeed as a Cybersecurity professional?
- Will my work involve a lot of traveling?
- Are there entry level or internship opportunities available for Cybersecurity professionals?
- What are the career advancement opportunities?
We will attempt to answer some of these questions in the sections below.
Do you need a college degree to become a Cybersecurity professional?
The simple answer to this question is “not always.” However, it depends on the role you are applying for as well as the employer. You certainly do not need a specific degree in Cybersecurity to get into this field, but if you want to pursue one, it definitely will not hurt and might result in a higher starting pay.
A general information technology or computer science degree can help you get started in various aspects of computing and ease your steps to becoming a Cybersecurity professional. You can then take a couple of certifications that focus on more security-related aspects of computing. Other degrees like mathematics and science subjects are also helpful to earn because they help you perfect your analytical thinking.
Most STEM courses also come with management and business modules that are useful for certain Cybersecurity positions. However, it is important to understand that most Cybersecurity experts start off without a degree or with a non-computing degree.
What kinds of certifications do you need to become a Cybersecurity professional?
A recent McAfee study found that organizations consider experience and certifications over formal qualifications like degrees. One of the most important certifications is the International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium (ISC2) Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). This is a comprehensive certificate that covers various aspects of Cybersecurity. You need to have relevant work experience and sit an exam to earn this certification. However, if you are just getting started as a Cybersecurity professional, here are some of the foundational certifications worth considering:
- Certified Secure Computer User (CSCU) – this is a basic certificate if you need to begin building knowledge by becoming security-aware.
- CompTIA+ Security – This is an entry-level examination to help you prepare for a career in information security
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) – This certification is ideal for IT professionals seeking to retrain in Cybersecurity
- Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES) – This certification introduces you to the basics of encryption
Once you have experience working as a Cybersecurity professional, you can progress your career by taking more advanced certifications by bodies like:
- International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium (ISC2)
- International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP)
Essential Cybersecurity technologies and skills to learn
As with any other tech field, it is important to start by mastering programming fundamentals. The ability to understand a programming language will certainly give you a great start to your career in Cybersecurity. And you do not have to be an expert programmer; rather, you need to be able to read and understand the language.
To be a successful Cybersecurity professional, you need to be able to think like an actual cyber-criminal. It is only with a sound understanding of the vulnerabilities of systems that you will be able to detect and prevent cyber-attacks.
Other specific technical skills you need to succeed as a cyber-security professional will vary based on your area of specialty. However, here are some of the recommended skills you need to earn:
- Logging and monitoring procedures
- Security and networking foundations
- Networking defense tactics
- Web application security techniques
- Cryptography and access management practices
Whatever your area of specialty, the key to success as a Cybersecurity professional is understanding the system you are dealing with.
Tips for success when pursuing your Cybersecurity career
Now that you have decided a career in Cybersecurity is perfect for you, we have put together four vital tips to help you launch your career.
- Explore the different aspects of Cybersecurity
A career in Cybersecurity can take different directions. As such, it is a good idea exploring the available options before narrowing down your choice.
- Practice, practice, practice
To truly prepare for a career in Cybersecurity, it is important that you put your skills into practice. Most online Cybersecurity courses come with capstone projects to help you practice. Additionally, there are lots of events, competitions, and other programs that you can sign up with to hone your skills further. Internships are also excellent opportunities for perfecting your skills.
- Join networking groups
The Cybersecurity field is full of forums and networks that are made up of like-minded professionals. Through these network groups, you can share your knowledge with your peers, network, and further your career.
- Find a mentor
Another great benefit of joining a networking group is you may be able to find for yourself an excellent mentor. The right mentor will help you navigate your Cybersecurity career and help you make the right career decisions.
Learning Cybersecurity online: Courses and online training
Thanks to the current shortage in Cybersecurity professionals, self-teaching, in combination with practicing and networking, is often enough to land you a role. Of course, the most valuable resources depend on the exact Cybersecurity career path you are interested in pursuing and the amount of time you are willing to dedicate to it. That said, here are some of the online Cybersecurity courses that can get you started with a career in this field:
Learn Cybersecurity with Udacity
This 4-month online Cybersecurity course Nanodegree program is offered in collaboration with SecurityScorecard. It is designed to equip learners with a strong foundation in Cybersecurity skills and knowledge. It is an excellent starting point for those seeking to make an entry into the Cybersecurity field, or IT professionals looking to build stronger Cybersecurity skills.
- Cybersecurity Foundations
- Defending and Securing Systems
- Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Incident Response
- Governance, Risk, and Compliance
Learn Cybersecurity with Coursera
Coursera offers a range of online Cybersecurity courses for beginners as well as advanced professionals who are already in the industry. These courses are offered in collaboration with top universities and industry leaders. Here are top Cybersecurity courses on Coursera:
Offered by IBM, this project-based online Cybersecurity course introduces learners to the concepts around Cybersecurity processes and tools, system administration, operating system and database vulnerabilities, basics of networking, as well as the different types of cyber attacks. You will also gain knowledge on crucial topics like digital forensics and cryptography.
Another IBM-sponsored online Cybersecurity program, this 8-course Professional Certificate is designed to introduce you to the technical skills you need to prepare for a Cybersecurity analyst role. The instructional content and labs will introduce you to concepts such as endpoint protection, network security, threat intelligence, incident response, penetration testing, as well as vulnerability assessment.
This course is ideal for learners seeking to start a career in Cybersecurity or professionals looking to switch careers.
Offered by the University of Maryland, this online Cybersecurity course covers the fundamental concepts underlying the building of secure systems, from the hardware to software, all the way to human-computer intelligence. You will learn how to use cryptography to secure interactions. At the end of this intermediate course, you learners will be able to develop to think in a security-oriented manner, gain a better understanding of how to handle adversaries and develop systems that defend against them.
Offered by NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering this beginner Cybersecurity course is designed to equip learners with a deeper understanding of modern information and system protection methods and technologies. The program utilizes hands-on learning tools and resources to present learners with authentic real-world security scenarios and the tools and countermeasures used to neutralize such threats.
Offered by IBM in collaboration with MyInnerGenius, this Cybersecurity course for beginners is designed to professionals who want to gain basic understanding of Cybersecurity and take up the role of a Junior Cybersecurity Analyst in their organizations.
Learn Cybersecurity with edX
Here are top Cybersecurity courses on edX
Offered by the University of Washington, this Cybersecurity certification for beginners is designed to introduce learners to the relationship between management and technology in Cybersecurity protection. You will learn how to apply terminology and basics concepts to Cybersecurity.
Offered by Rochester Institute of Technology, the Cybersecurity Capstone provides hands-on skills in implementing solutions to secure computer systems and networks, detecting, investigating, and stopping network intrusions, and performing digital forensic investigations of real-world cases.
This Microbachelors program is offered by NYU and is designed to help learners implement security design and principles, think and act like ethical penetration testers, implementing repeatable and mature methodologies that are tailored for each assessment, and master the fundamentals of secure network designs among other skills.
Offered by Georgia Tech, this Online Master of Science in Cybersecurity is the only interdisciplinary Cybersecurity degree from a U.S News & World Report Top 10-ranked public university. The program equips learners with the foundations so they can understand the nature of risks and pathways of threats cyber and cyber-physical systems.
Cybersecurity is a lucrative career for ambitious individuals and an excellent way to make the world a better place. If you are looking to start a career in Cybersecurity, wait no more. Regardless of your background, you can learn the ropes and become a successful Cybersecurity professional. Start learning Cybersecurity online and set yourself on a path to a successful career today.