How to Start a Career in Cyber
Cybercrime has been referred to as the “greatest transfer of wealth in history”. Estimates from the Center for Strategic & International Studies and cybersecurity firm McAfee put the annual cost of hacking at around $600 billion. Increasingly sophisticated espionage tools and the growing profession of cybercrime have made it quite lucrative to be a crook online.
One thing is for certain, the cybersecurity industry won’t be short of work in the foreseeable future. But the one thing it is short on: talent.
Getting Your Feet Wet in Cybersecurity
In a high-growth industry with a severe shortage of talent and many organizations beginning to accept the fact that they need to hire more on potential than on proven track record, cybersecurity represents a field of employment dreams for budding tech professionals. In addition to being wildly in-demand, cybersecurity professionals (cyber/information security analysts) report an average yearly income of $95,510, or nearly $50 per hour. That’s about three times the national median income for full-time wage and salary workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Candidates who can demonstrate such things as an inquisitive nature, persistence, integrity, and adaptability will pique interests before those who hold a dusty degree.
“An aptitude for learning and critical thinking are the main skills needed,” says Skye Wu, lead discovery analyst at Telstra. “Technological skills can be taught, but essential skills like problem-solving and critical thinking are much harder to develop.”
Since the need for curious and perceptive cybersecurity professionals stretches across all industries, how does one narrow the search focus to get started in a cyber career? Before we answer this question, there’s something you should do.
First and Foremost, Live Clean
Like many career paths, what you do outside of work genuinely matters. Security is an extremely sensitive area, so employers want to know that you are and will be an upstanding member of society. Even a starting role at the right company will require a background check, drug testing, and really good references.
Cybersecurity roles require the utmost integrity so, before even starting to pursue your cyber career, take the time to comb through your social media and remove anything that would be looked upon unfavorably. It’s probably a good idea to remove sensitive information that could be leveraged against you at a later time by someone trying to attack your cyber workspace.
Sometimes It Is Who You Know
After you’ve gotten your personal house in order, it’s time to do some networking. The sooner you start creating a network, the faster you will likely get hired.
Get to know as many people in the industry as you can. This will help you get a sense of where you may be a good fit and what skills may be of most interest to potential employers. Get involved in open source or community projects, attend conferences, and offer to be a helper to other cybersecurity pros rather than be the one who continually asks for help. Contributing to such things as open-source projects not only demonstrates initiative and skill, but it also helps out the tech community as a whole.
Study Up on the Basics
If you’re not in the security space yet, start by learning the fundamentals. To gain some building-block skills, check out technical and community colleges near you for courses in network management and other security basics. You can also look into training opportunities from Cybint Solutions that include hands-on lab simulations and virtual machine learning.
While you don’t need to have a full degree or extensive credentials to get your start, having some certification will go a long way in demonstrating to employers your cybersecurity aptitude. Employers often look to certifications as a measure of work ethic and commitment to quality. Certification will also help round out any gaps you may have in your understanding of security concepts.
A common certification for cybersecurity pros is the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) designation. The Security+ certification is another good option. Learn more about security certifications.
Think Beyond Security Specialization, Formal Learning
Employers often want to see well-rounded cyber education and experience in tech―someone who understands the fundamentals of the landscape. So while a college degree, vendor training, and professional certifications are all great, you may be asked in an interview to talk more about your self-directed learning, a home lab, and other tech initiatives to show what you have learned and where you want to go.
Remember, the thing that will make you great at cybersecurity is that you are great at the fundamentals. From there, you can strive to master cyber intelligence to become the security guru.