Master of Science in Cyber Security

How to Know if a Cybersecurity Engineering Degree is Right for You

Michelle Moore, PhD

Michelle Moore, PhD

Academic Director of the Master of Science in Cyber Security Operations and Leadership

Cybersecurity engineer sounds like an excellent job if you’ve got the right skills and education. For one thing, industry career resource Cyberseek.org reports the average salary for a cybersecurity engineer is $106,000. The salary numbers listed at various U.S. cities in the post “13 Honest Cybersecurity Engineer Salaries” are even higher, ranging from $112,000 to $188,000.

But this isn’t a field you can just jump into without the right qualifications. To get a job in the cybersecurity field, or specifically in cybersecurity engineering, you’re going to need the right skill set, some experience and education — ideally a cybersecurity engineering degree.

So what exactly do you need to get accepted into a master’s program and then subsequently find a high-quality job in the field? And how do you know if a career in cybersecurity engineering is right for you? Read on to find out!

Your Education and Experience

In order to gain the qualifications necessary to land a job as a cybersecurity engineer, many choose to earn a master’s degree in the field. A master’s degree is beneficial to those looking to enter or advance in the field of cybersecurity because it offers a truly specialized approach. But to get accepted into a master’s program it is essential to have a background that has prepared you adequately. That means that you should have an undergraduate degree in engineering or computer science and/or currently work in one of these areas.

It is important for cybersecurity engineers to have a technical background (including areas such as configuration and testing) and a deep breadth of knowledge around the different concepts and tools used to fight cybercrime. In order to design and innovate new security solutions as well as troubleshoot current systems, this knowledge and understanding is essential.

cyber security engineering degree

Your Strengths and Skills

Calling cybersecurity engineer “one of the hottest jobs in information security today,” The Infosec Institute, explains that the exact skills required will “depend on the organization and how they view the role.” In some organizations, “the cybersecurity engineer performs certain role-specific tasks only and some organizations have a more flexible approach where the role may dip into several different pools of responsibility.”

In the most general sense, successful cybersecurity engineers share the following traits and skills:

  • A natural curiosity about the way things work
  • A desire to break things down, getting to the nuts and bolts of something
  • Mathematical and science minded
  • Detail oriented
  • Methodical
  • Collaborative
  • Ability to handle stress and fluid situations
  • Willingness to work on-call 24hrs/day

Depending on the organization and role, sought-after hard skills for an IT security engineer may include:

  • Secure coding practices, ethical hacking and threat modeling
  • Proficiency in Python, C++, Java, Ruby, Node, Go and/or Power Shell
  • IDS/IPS, penetration and vulnerability testing
  • Firewall and intrusion detection/prevention protocols
  • Windows, UNIX and Linux operating systems
  • Virtualization technologies
  • MySQL/MSSQL database platforms
  • Identity and access management principles
  • Application security and encryption technologies
  • Secure network architectures
  • Subnetting, DNS, encryption technologies and standards, VPNs, VLANs, VoIP and other network routing methods
  • Experience with advanced persistent threats, phishing and social engineering, network access controllers (NAC), gateway anti-malware and enhanced authentication

Does this sound like you (or future you, after some additional training)? If so, cybersecurity engineering may be a great career opportunity. And your timing couldn’t be any better to enter the field, because the widespread and growing demand for qualified professionals has created a serious talent shortage and zero percent unemployment.

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How to Choose a Program

There are a few different paths available to you if you feel that cybersecurity engineering is a good fit and you meet some of the above criteria in experience, education and skill strengths.

Often, the best choice for those who know they want to work in cybersecurity engineering is to obtain a master’s degree in this discipline. An advanced degree in this field is highly sought after, often preferred or even required by prospective employers. By earning a degree in cybersecurity engineering you gain a holistic and focused education in a highly specialized field.

If you are comparing master’s programs, be sure to evaluate the strength of the curriculum, the structure and reputation of the program, the faculty makeup and how well the program format lends itself to working professionals. Beware of computer science master degree programs with a specialization in cybersecurity. Unless you want a broad computer science degree, this option typically only gives you a few classes in cybersecurity and is not nearly as focused as a degree in cybersecurity engineering.

If you aren’t yet ready to pursue a master’s degree there are numerous cybersecurity industry certifications that will help you gain expertise and demonstrate mastery in key areas.

If you are exploring your options for a master’s degree program, one that you are likely to discover in your research is the Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering offered online as well as on campus by the University of San Diego.

Developed in collaboration with business, military, intelligence community and government stakeholders to deliver in-demand knowledge and skill sets, the USD program features dynamic, highly relevant curriculum designed by instructors with years of applied experience protecting national assets from the worst types of cyber threats.

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