How to Start a Career in Cyber Security
Cyber security experts are in high demand as private, public and government sectors scramble to secure their systems and data in the wake of widespread cyber attacks — in 2015, cyber criminals reportedly stole more than $1 billion in assets. There is such demand for cyber security professionals that U.S. News and World Report listed Information Security Analyst as the fifth best technology job in 2016 — based on salary, employment rate, growth, stress, work-life balance and job prospects. And it’s no wonder why, with the median salary coming in at $88,890 and an unemployment rate of less than 2%. Due to the high demand and the many perks that are being offered to professionals with the right combination of education and experience, there has never been a better time to start a career in cyber security.
Cyber Security Career Paths
The first step in launching a career in cyber security is deciding which career path is right for you. There are two primary career paths that you should decide between before investing in education and training. Once you decide on a path, however, there are multiple career options and a varying array of jobs to choose from, depending on your specific interests and skills.
Leadership and Management Route
The first option is to take the leadership and managerial route, in which a diverse skillset and a propensity for lifelong learning are required. In this role you must possess strong leadership capabilities and have a thorough understanding of cyber security to ensure the maximum level of defense and survivability.
For information security experts who have obtained a substantial level of schooling and have experience in the field, top job options include:
- Chief Information Security Officer
- Information Security Analyst
- Global Information Security Director
- Security Consultant
The second option is to go the cyber security engineering route. This career is best suited to those who have engineering experience and are interested in learning how to build secure systems in order to mitigate threats.
Information security engineers with a thorough understanding of what it means to build a secure system may find employment as a:
- Lead Software Security Engineer
- Security Architect
- Cyber Security Engineer
How to Start a Career in Cyber Security
Invest in Your Education
Getting a cyber security degree is often the first step toward starting a career in this lucrative and in-demand field. And if you have a degree and experience in information security, the options are plentiful and diverse.
Most prospective cyber security leaders start with an undergraduate degree in information technology, information systems and/or computer science. After obtaining an undergraduate degree and gaining experience in the field, a master’s degree in cyber security operations and leadership or information technology is the next step.
If you are pursuing the cyber security engineering route, you should start with an undergraduate degree in engineering and then obtain specialized experience in cyber security either through years of direct experience or through a master’s degree program focused solely on cyber security engineering.
Whatever path you choose, education is key. One of the primary reasons for the many unfilled cyber security jobs — in 2014, Cisco estimated that there were 1 million unfilled cyber security jobs worldwide — is that employers can’t find cyber security professionals with the high-level skills and advanced education they need. According to Burning Glass Technologies, 83% of employers require at least a bachelor’s degree while 23% require a master’s.
The number of unfilled cyber security positions is staggering and only projected to grow as cyber criminals become more sophisticated in their attacks and companies struggle to find information security experts with the skills and knowledge required to mitigate such attacks.
In such a desperate landscape, where so many jobs remain unfilled due to the lack of qualified candidates, those with a cyber security degree have a great advantage. Not only are job options vast for information security degree holders, salaries are high due to the lack of supply and the urgent demand. According to Dice.com, a lead software engineer can make as much as $233,333 annually while a chief security officer can earn as much as $225,000.
In order to land a job in cyber security, you will also need to gain certain industry certifications. Some of the most popular and sought-after certifications are:
- CompTIA Security+
- CISSPY — Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- CISM — Certified Information Security Manager
- CISA — Certified Information Systems Auditor
- GIAC — Global Information Assurance Certification
- CEH — Certified Ethical Hacker
In addition, there are many vendor-specific certifications, such as those offered through Cisco, RSA and Symantec that are attractive to employers. Of course, what you will need and what employers will require depends on the role you are applying for.
Networking is important in almost every industry, and cyber security is no exception. There are multiple avenues available if you are looking for networking opportunities:
- Join local cyber security orgs such as the San Diego Cyber Security Center of Excellence. Many cities have their own cyber security associations, which can be excellent venues not only for learning but also for networking with professionals in the industry.
- Volunteer with a cyber security organization. There are a number of organizations that seek to spread the word about cyber security and attract people to he field. Getting involved with one of these organizations can be great for networking and as a boost to your resume. Mansi Thakar, a University of San Diego graduate student in the Master of Science Cyber Security Operations and Leadership program who had no experience in cyber security before beginning the master’s program, now works with Girls Inc. of San Diego County and the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, in an effort to expand her knowledge and community.
- Go back to school. One of the greatest benefits of a graduate degree is the opportunities it presents for networking and befriending professors, employers and peers in the field. Additionally, most reputable cyber security schools will have a career center that has forged close ties with employers in your field. The career center at your school can help you identify potential employers and counsel you on strategies for getting your foot in the door.
Hone Your Skills in Mobile and SAML
Similarly, possessing SAML (security assertion markup language) skills can really boost your resume during a time when most organizations are moving or have already moved to the cloud and are utilizing SaaS (software as service) based applications.
There has truly never been a better time to start a career in cyber security. Almost every company in the world today requires experts who know how to build and protect systems to mitigate ongoing and potentially catastrophic cyber threats. If you are skilled in information security and have the education to prove it, there are immediate job opportunities all around the world, in almost every industry and across all sectors.
The University of San Diego has created two 21st century cyber security master’s degree programs for those interested in the leadership cyber security career path or the engineering cyber security career path — the Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering and the Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership. Both programs are academically rigorous and focused entirely on modern cyber security mitigation with an emphasis on teaching students how to become effective lifelong learners — a skill of immense importance in the ever-evolving world of cyber crime and security. If you would like to learn more about what a USD information security degree can do for you, speak with an admissions advisor today.