The Ultimate Guide to a Cybersecurity Career
When you think about the development of new technology, what comes to mind? Do you envision a room full of computer monitors, with individuals furiously typing away in what looks like a foreign language?
While that might often be the case, there are several stages involved in the development of technological products; some processes being as basic as sketching a product on a whiteboard. Whatever the scenario, the field of technology is constantly changing and innovating, and its mark on nearly every business sector or industry is growing. As exciting and useful as the development of new technology is, we are simultaneously creating new network vulnerabilities to be exploited by bad actors.
Evidenced by the chip reader in every grocery store and the growing number of iPad checkout systems at mom-and-pop shops, innovators are constantly cranking out new technological conveniences that permeate every aspect of our lives. While technological advances have improved the way we communicate and conduct business, securing these impactful, yet vulnerable, devices and networks may be just as important.
Cybersecurity professionals dedicate their careers to innovating and protecting internet-connected systems, hardware, and software from cyber threats. Cybercrime threatens the private data of individuals, governments, and businesses alike, necessitating strong information security, and therefore creating an ever-increasing demand for cybersecurity professionals across every industry. However, the number of people qualified to fill these roles continues to fall far behind the number of open security positions around the globe.
Cybersecurity in Practice
Everyone must consider the importance of cybersecurity. From the invention of the printing press to intercontinental sailing, there have been pivotal moments in history that transformed the world. With the unprecedented connectedness brought on by the age of the internet, the world has never felt smaller. But the increased contact comes at a price.
Right now, the average person’s private information is spread all across different applications and platforms. For example, a user’s credit card information may be saved by rideshare applications or food delivery services. Their health and biometric data may be saved in fitness-focused, heart health apps, and to unlock their phone. Even private pictures are all saved to digital photo albums on cloud servers. Consumers trust all of the companies that create these applications to keep their most sensitive information secure.
Companies that understand how cyberattacks can cripple an entire business have made cybersecurity a priority. According to some projections, companies will spend over $1 trillion on digital security globally through 2021. Businesses aren’t the only ones investing in cybersecurity.
Governments are investing a lot of money into their own cybersecurity workforce, too. Even the German Intelligence Services recently warned that a popular wifi-connected doll could be hacked, allowing bad actors to see and hear everything within the doll’s vicinity.
While the threat seems dramatic, it’s true: Almost everything can be hacked.
Not just toys and devices, but the public at large. Cybersecurity impacts everything from financial institutions to politics, media, diplomacy, private life, and so much more. Machines and artificial intelligence influence public opinion through complex disinformation and misinformation campaigns.
- Anyone with a debit card using a store’s self-checkout keeps their financial information secure
- Friends and family are safe while streaming and watching their favorite movies online
- Your private medical records stay between you and your doctor
Cybersecurity best-practices ensure we can continue with our way of life. But implementing cybersecurity strategies is tough, as digital threats will always continue to evolve. Regardless, the demand for qualified cybersecurity specialists is increasing so fast; there are simply not enough qualified professionals to fill all the open positions right now.
The number of unfilled cybersecurity jobs is expected to grow by 350 percent, from one million positions in 2013 to 3.5 million in 2021.
What Does a Cybersecurity Professional Do?
We know you might be envisioning something like a scene out of the Matrix, or maybe you don’t know what to envision at all when it comes to a cyber career. Take a look at a day in the life of a cybersecurity specialist to learn more: https://youtu.be/lY7OwbNabis
Open Positions in Cybersecurity
When considering a career in cybersecurity, it’s important to understand the different positions currently in demand. The industry is generally divided between red team and blue team roles.
Red teams focus on offensive cybersecurity tactics to test the efficiency and resilience of an organization’s systems. They mimic the activities and techniques of cybercriminals to determine if the company’s network can withstand a particular type of attack, or if there are vulnerabilities in the system.
Some examples of Red Team jobs include:
- Penetration Tester
- Offensive Cybersecurity Analyst
- Cybersecurity Crime Investigator
- Ethical Hacker
- Vulnerability Assessment Analyst
- Adaptive Threat Replication Engineer
The Blue Team is the defense. They ensure that no one without authorization can access the network. It is the Blue Team’s job to make sure all systems remain secure at all times.
Some examples of Blue Team jobs include:
- Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst
- Information Security Researcher
- Network Operations Center (NOC) Technician
- Network Security Administrator
- IT Support Engineer
- Digital Forensics Examiner
Organizations often employ a mix of Red Team and Blue Team specialists within their cybersecurity team, to ensure maximum protection across all devices and data. The two teams often work together to run advanced simulation scenarios to identify vulnerabilities and threats, and determine how to improve operations.
Securing systems and infrastructure on a large scale requires a great deal of manpower across the gamut of cybersecurity subfields. This brings with it a tremendous opportunity for individuals to exercise their skills and creative thinking as they work on a variety of tasks, using the latest technology.
Is Cybersecurity Right for You?
A common misconception about people who work in tech is that they are all mathematical child prodigies who were developing life-changing apps long before they could legally drive. In reality, individuals working in tech come from a variety of backgrounds and hold a wide skill set that can include technical, non-technical, and other professional skills. No matter your background, it’s likely some of the skills you gained in other industries can translate into a fulfilling career working with cutting-edge technology.
Oftentimes, individuals interested in the field of technology don’t think their skills are relevant for something like cybersecurity. However, creativity is in demand now more than ever in technology. In fact, creativity tops the list of soft skills companies need most in 2020, according to LinkedIn. Cybersecurity in particular often requires deep creative thinking to outpace and outsmart hackers. Practitioners must constantly think of new ways to withstand stealthy cyberattacks and protect sensitive data.
Other soft skills and traits that creative cybersecurity professionals possess include:
- Strong attention to detail
- Passion for technology
- Eagerness to learn and improve
Due to the wide variety of individuals working in technology, it seems there is a role for almost anyone. Individuals choosing to work in cybersecurity and other technology roles report feeling challenged by their colleagues, supported by their managers, and that the opportunities they are given prioritize their growth. With such a diverse workforce, the high satisfaction rate speaks to the varied opportunities in technology around the world.
Take the quiz below to see if you have the in-demand qualities for the cybersecurity field.
To be effective, the cybersecurity workforce needs to be diverse, creative, and one step ahead of criminal hackers, who constantly think of ingenious ways to breach, hack, and attack systems every day.
This is why so many who excel in the cybersecurity field start out in other professions – they think differently and are highly adaptable. Since organizations across all sectors store data digitally in today's modern, computerized world, cybersecurity specialists with expertise in a variety of other professions are especially valuable.
Cybersecurity isn't just about understanding networks and systems. It's about understanding how an industry works, how the people who run it think and behave, and, ultimately, how a particular industry organizes its systems and data on a fundamental, analog level.
Unlike most careers, there is no ideal background that’s needed to become a cybersecurity professional -- anyone can do it. From ride-share drivers to school teachers, from 17 to 68 years old, cybersecurity is an industry that’s enticing and accessible to people of all backgrounds. All you need to get started is the right training, hands-on practice in a lab and an understanding of how cybersecurity and penetration testing is provided as a professional service.
Qualified cybersecurity professionals are rare and sought after by employers regardless of their age or prior professional background. Getting trained and certified in the field gives you the power to take control of your career and move forward professionally without worrying about being phased out.
It’s really important to have control over your career. A fulfilling career is one where you can grow, move upwards, and build on top of previous work experience.
How to Break Into the Field
In today’s cybersecurity job market, you can enter the industry without a computer science degree. Tech giants like Google, Apple, and IBM no longer require candidates to have a degree from a college or university. There are plenty of industry-trusted certifications, which can serve as an alternative to a traditional college degree.
Now that you have a better idea of the roles available in cybersecurity and the qualities that often characterize successful cyber specialists, you might be asking, “how do I land a position in the field”? First, consider the experiences and knowledge you currently have, as many of these may prove useful in the field. To better guide you in your journey, we have divided the paths to a cybersecurity career into technical and non-technical.
Starting With a Non-Technical Background
If you consider yourself an individual with a non-technical background, rest assured cybersecurity specialists come from all walks of life and experiences. With an abundance of learning resources available today, you can begin your journey into the field without any prerequisites. A few non-technical skills that could help you succeed include problem-solving, decision-making, leadership, and communication skills. Soft skills such as these can be strengths when it comes to working in a fast-paced environment where confronting challenges is part of the day-to-day.
While the learning curve to get into cybersecurity may seem steep, you’ll be surprised to know that many cybersecurity professionals, and technology professionals in general, have stood where you stand today. Your journey into the field will be shaped by factors like your time constraints, financial abilities, and learning style. To determine if a career in cybersecurity is right for you, you can try the following:
Download or Purchase an Introductory Guide
One way to learn about the field is through a good old fashioned book or guide (whether physical or online). There are countless books that dive into the field and can teach you cybersecurity fundamentals in a very detailed manner.
There may also be digital copies of these guides for cybersecurity that can offer you a bit more content, including lessons or laboratories. Participating in cyber simulation labs is crucial to acquiring hands-on experience in the foremost technologies cybersecurity specialists use in the field. You may find yourself relying on self-teaching if at any point you need additional help or get stuck on a certain concept. Some cybersecurity guides may offer additional resources like online support.
If you choose to go this route and purchase a text-based guide, make sure you invest in one that offers comprehensive coverage of the field and its technologies. Your local bookstore likely has an increasingly large section of technology books for you to peruse. Search for keywords like cybersecurity and information security and select a book that covers the hard and soft skills you need to learn the subject, obtain certifications, and ultimately get the job you are aiming to land.
Subscribe to a Cybersecurity Education Service or Channel
In the digital world, it's possible for someone to learn much of what they need to enter a new discipline from video instruction online. When in doubt, turn to YouTube or Udemy. While easily accessible and often free, this route requires a great deal of self-discipline. Additionally, searching for content that is relevant and covers the exact materials you need may sometimes be challenging.
YouTube and Udemy are excellent resources with thousands of videos on cybersecurity topics. Consuming video content can introduce you to fundamentals as well as more advanced aspects of the field in an easily-digestible way. If you choose to learn cybersecurity via pre-recorded videos, you will find convenience in having all lessons available to study at your desired pace.
Enroll in the University of Miami Cybersecurity Professional Bootcamp
What if you could get a taste of what a job in cybersecurity is really like before committing to a set path into the field? The University of Miami Cybersecurity introductory course allows individuals to do just that, covering the fundamentals of cybersecurity while also providing an in-depth look at the industry and different roles.
The introductory class is delivered live, and includes Q&A sessions with instructors who are active cyber professionals, as well as hands-on laboratories simulating real-world scenarios. If you decide you want to enroll in a full training program after taking the introductory course, you’ll join a community of other students and professors who guide you and help you acquire the skills you need to enter the cybersecurity job market
Starting With a Technical Background
If you consider yourself to have a technical background, you’ll likely be able to leverage some, if not all, of your current skill set in a cybersecurity career. If your technical experience is not in cybersecurity, one way to advance into the field is to acquire industry-recognized cybersecurity certifications. The ideal path for you may be diving right into an intensive or accelerated course that can expose you to concepts beyond the fundamentals.
Purchase or Download an Advanced Guide
One way to acquire more advanced knowledge in cybersecurity is to use preparation textbooks that cover the materials which may be on the most popular certification exams. Such textbooks or guides will often include potential questions you will encounter in the exam and real problems you can solve. Many aspiring cybersecurity professionals find success in studying with exam prep books - the key to this route is to set time aside to study and practice what you learn.
Ensure you are confident in your ability to self motivate before committing to this method of educating yourself. A guide book can provide you with challenging examples of things you may encounter in the field, but it will be up to you to solve them alone. Hiring a tutor or joining a study group may be the best way to connect self-taught materials to in-depth comprehension.
Join the Workforce and Learn on the Job
Another way to obtain cybersecurity technical skills and certification knowledge is to pick it up on the job. If you’re working in a technical role, try to advance your knowledge of the technologies and methods tested by the certification exams through practice. See if you can get involved in any projects led by the cybersecurity or IT team within your organization, to gain some practical experience.
By reaching out to coworkers or superiors about their experience working in the industry, you may have an easier time figuring out the best path for someone in your shoes. Remember, the more skills and certifications you acquire before you start a job in cybersecurity or enroll in any additional training, the better equipped you’ll be in your career path.
Enroll in a Bootcamp or Certificate Prep Course
Programs like the University of Miami’s Cybersecurity Bootcamp cover the exact topics being tested in the globally recognized certification exams like the CompTIA Network+, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, LPI Linux Essentials, CompTIA Security+, and more. The information tested in these exams evaluates a professional's knowledge of both the fundamentals of cybersecurity as well as more advanced problems that require in-depth training and technical knowledge.
The University of Miami offers hands-on experience using these technologies that will give students an edge when it comes to acquiring or testing for these certifications. Formulated by industry-leading cybersecurity professionals, the program provides each student with the comprehensive knowledge and training necessary to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
Network Online and In -Person
As in any professional field, who you know is just as important as what you know. Networking and building relationships with cybersecurity specialists can be an important stepping stone in your career path. There are professionals and organizations that are focused on expanding the industry and connecting tech-savvy, forward-thinking individuals with career opportunities. You can get acquainted with these organizations and professionals in several ways.
Cybersecurity conferences and events occur year-round and around the globe, and in today’s digital world, they even take place online. To connect with specialists in your area, register for upcoming conferences and meetups. You’ll have a chance to not only network but also learn about organizations and new technologies emerging in the field. Remember, even the most senior cybersecurity professionals can learn from speaking with a newcomer, and many are ready and willing to help.
To meet specialists at an in-person event or find an online cybersecurity community, check out these various cybersecurity groups. If there are no cybersecurity events near you, you can always be the first to start a group and attract like-minded individuals.
Alternatively, social media is a particularly good place in which to promote yourself professionally. Many cybersecurity leaders in a variety of industries have a strong social media presence and share their knowledge and insight to help up-and-coming cybersecurity specialists. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin are all excellent channels for learning about new technologies being used, and about trends that leaders are seeing in cybersecurity.
Design Your Own Path
Anthony Mojica found himself enrolled in a course that wasn't the right fit for him. Once he found out about alternative education pathways, like the University of Miami Cybersecurity Professional Bootcamp, Anthony knew there was an easier way to break into the field of technology.
Take the Next Step
There are several things to consider if you’re planning on transitioning into a career in cybersecurity. While you may not feel one hundred percent ready to begin the journey, there are many resources available that provide more information on this field, to help you make a decision.
When you’ve decided you’re ready to move forward, there are also several options for training, education, and hands-on experience at your disposal to help you gain the skills needed to succeed in the field. No matter your background, your skill set can be relevant and useful in your new career path. That’s not to say there won’t be hard work involved along the way, but the months of learning you put in now can result in a life-long, rewarding career in technology.
Now is the time to join the ever-evolving field of cybersecurity as cyber defense becomes one of the most talked-about topics in technology. You can dedicate your career to a field that is making a difference around the world for individuals and corporations needing protection.
To help figure out your next step, we invite you to contact one of our cybersecurity education advisors. The University of Miami’s advisors have a strong understanding of the industry, know what it takes to get a job in the field, and have helped several students go from zero experience to job-ready professionals.