The cybersecurity industry encompasses more than 1 million individuals, but nearly 600,000 roles remain unfulfilled, according to CyberSeek. With this high demand, there has never been a better time to become a cybersecurity professional, whether you’re considering making the leap from an adjacent field like IT or even if you’re completely new to the world of tech as a whole.
In this article, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about working in the world of cybersecurity, from career paths and expected salary, to vital skills, education options and more!
Beyond the evident need for more experts in the field, there are plenty of reasons you might find working in cybersecurity not only financially lucrative, but fulfilling!
- Unlimited Growth – As we mentioned, the industry shows no signs of slowing down, meaning your career can grow right alongside it. If you commit yourself to learning new skills and programs, you can make yourself a vital asset to any organization and find it relatively easy to scale up to leadership roles.
- Day-to-Day Variety – If you’re looking for a career where you’ll never be bored, you’ve found the right place. Cyber experts are constantly racing to keep up with increasingly clever hackers looking to breach firewalls and protective systems. While the stakes can be high, this industry might grant you the opportunity to work on next-generation tech and systems from website to A.I to autonomous vehicles.
- Make an Impact – Cybersecurity matters, and not just in the digital world. Think of all the systems we use everyday in tasks like operating the government, keeping critical medical devices up and running and ensuring the security of people’s hard-earned money in banks. The real-world impact of a cyber career can’t be underestimated.
- Solve Challenges – Working in this field can sometimes feel like solving a puzzle, with players on each side of the equation. Many cyber jobs will allow you to use both sides of the brain and draw on the entire dynamic skill set you may possess.
- Great Pay – We’re not going to discount this factor: a career in cybersecurity can be excellent for your finances. Common roles like Information Security Analysts, Computer Programmers and Computer Network Architects can easily fetch compensation in the six figures.
Cybersecurity Career Paths
Like many other subsets of the tech industry, a cybersecurity career does not necessarily have to be linear. Once you gain basic competencies and enter the field, you’ll have the ability to shift laterally depending on your career goals and the needs of an organization. Keep in mind that there are major firms with hundreds of people on their security team, as well as small companies, looking for one or two individuals to completely protect their systems from the ground up.
While we break down several sections of the industry below, almost all cybersecurity careers fall into two categories: analysts or engineers. As the name implies, analysts are responsible for monitoring and analyzing a computer system. They are the first responders for if and when they notice any improper behavior or system vulnerabilities. Engineers possess a deep understanding of the system itself and are responsible for not only designing it, but also maintaining and responding to any technical issues.
Within the domain of cybersecurity, here are the most common career paths available for you to explore.
Security and Risk Management
The individuals in this field are responsible for helping the companies they work at comply with all laws and policies related to security. They regularly perform risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities in software, hardware, physical assets and data storage systems. Risk Management also encompasses compliance teams, which are growing increasingly common at companies who must ensure the proper governance of data in line with all local, federal and international laws.
Job titles within security and risk management may include:
- Penetration Tester
- Cybersecurity Analyst
- Security Compliance Analyst
- White Hat Hacker
This is the path where you’d find those more on the engineering side of the equation. Security Architecture houses those responsible for building networking infrastructure, such as virtual private networks, firewalls, application servers and more.
Within this field, roles could include:
- Cybersecurity Engineer
- Security Architect
- Cloud Security Engineer
Management and Leadership
Maybe you’re less interested in spending hands-on time with the system, and more interested in charting a path focusing on the people behind this work. You might consider fast-tracking to a managerial role. Depending on its size, an organization can have a manager, or leader for each of its domains. At the senior or executive level, a Chief Information Security Officer is typically an experienced individual, with the critical role of guiding the strategy of the entire cyber team and translating findings to the rest of the organization.
If this interests you, the best way to land this type of role is to gain as much experience as possible and deeply understand the best practices of the industry.
After gaining a few years of experience under your belt, you have the option of branching out into the consulting field. Cybersecurity consultants parachute into businesses when they are thinking of establishing or upgrading their systems and provide an assessment of their current system, network and potential vulnerabilities. Then, they work hand-in-hand with an in-house team to develop and implement the best possible solutions. This is a great role for those with an expert-level understanding of the field and those looking for a career path that allows them to work on different projects with different people on a regular basis.
Given the widespread nature of a cybersecurity career, a working knowledge of security basics can take you in any number of different directions. If you’re just starting out in the field, introductory skills and concepts to know are:
- Governance, Risk, and Compliance – The most basic level of security response as required by law. How can you ensure your organization complies with applicable government acts and regulations like NIST policies and the GDPR and HIPPA?
- Incident Response – This is the on-call team responsible for responding to incidents as they emergence; the EMT’s of the cybersecurity world
- Network Security – The implementation and monitoring of hardware and software designed to protect the usability and safety of a network and data
- Cryptography – The widespread practice of creating codes that keep information secret online
- Operating Systems – Preventing attacks on backend systems companies use to run their databases like Windows, MacOS or Android or iOS on mobile.
- Database, Firmware and Cloud Security
As you move closer towards specialty areas you’re interested in, you’ll enhance your knowledge with skills needed to do that type of role. Some additional skills to master include:
Networking – Before you can secure a network, you must first understand how the computers and systems in a network communicate with each other and how internet protocols are put in place. This skill entails learning how to use networks to ward off the misuse and unauthorized access of a system.
Security Programs and Frameworks – These are key measures for understanding how a specific industry must comply with the law and how information is developed, accessed, and shared among employees.
Lock picking – Lock picking is a way for cybersecurity professionals to “think like the enemy,” by finding faults in security systems in order to predict and prevent ways that a system can be compromised.
Server connections – Databases, systems, servers, and clients interact and are linked together. By learning programs such as Git, Apache, SQL databases, Linux for software installation, and more, you can dive deeper into analyzing security data to secure systems.
Programming – Python, and other programming command line basics that can be used across many cyber and IT roles.
Virtual Security – Cloud security has become necessary as data stored in the cloud continues to increase. That’s why the use of firewalls, circumventing public internet connections and working in virtual environments to test risk of deletion, theft, and security leaks are necessary skills.
Security Operations architecture and Threat Modeling – Cybersecurity professionals must learn how to design and implement security measures to websites, software, and apps through firewalls, monitoring, detection, and troubleshooting.
Cryptology – Encryption is a key part of securing digital data and an important part of cybersecurity. Methods used include encryption through methods such as hashing, Modulus Arithmetic, and Boolean Logic. You might also learn security procedures such as Public Key Infrastructure, signatures, and key management.
Now that we’ve discussed a little bit about some of the potential career paths of a cybersecurity professional, as well as the skills needed, let’s dive even deeper into the nitty gritty of what these different jobs entail. We’ve also sourced salary data from Indeed to give you a better sense of what type of salaries these roles can command.
Average Yearly Salary: $107,929
Job Description: Cybersecurity specialists are responsible for the day-to-day monitoring of the systems and networks of an organization. They must not only keep all systems up-to-date on security protocols, but also ensure they are not susceptible in any way to cyber threats. These professionals develop plans for system security tailored to the organization and regularly perform assessments to look for any possible threats or areas of vulnerability. If an attack does occur, they are responsible for fixing any damage and ensuring that systems are better protected. These experts also work cross functionally to train other employees about best practices to limit security breaches and attacks and keep network and user access up-to-date.
Average Yearly Salary: $133,064
Job Description: A cloud architect is responsible for designing and implementing cloud servers that meet the needs of businesses and consumers. Keeping in mind that cloud software and hosting is now widely accessible from major players like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, this technology and career is quickly becoming the future of IT. The architect possesses the skills to update servers as needed alongside the capabilities and size of an organization. Because this technology is relatively new and constantly changing, workers in this field must keep up with trends in order to remain experts in the technology and act in a consulting role for companies. These architects must determine a company’s needs and design a plan and timeline for software installation, creation, and the transferring process. They also are responsible for communicating the plan with all stakeholders and ensuring that the process is executed properly and efficiently.
Average Yearly Salary: $90,519
Job Description: The DBA’s core function is to ensure the availability of data produced and utilized by an organization is available as needed. While this may seem simple, the all encompassing role actually includes the responsibilities of choosing a management software, and installing, testing, troubleshooting and implementing it across a firm. The other side of a DBA’s role is front-facing and consists of serving as the liaison between the data network and the company’s other employees. As the in-house data expert, the DBA will provide training on accessing information and create secure user profiles with permissions that keeps information hidden to all, but those who need access. All types of workers rely on the administrator to create reports and run queries on the database as needed.
Average Yearly Salary: $138,971
Job Description: The individuals in this robust role maintain and support the IT systems of an organization, working to upgrade software, hardware, services, and networks of a company in order to help the business succeed. Primarily, Enterprise Architects are responsible for creating an Enterprise Architect Plan (EAP), based on a framework that allows them to analyze which systems and processes are needed or can be removed to increase efficiency and productivity. They work alongside organization stakeholders to research and analyze data, troubleshoot problems, and find the best technology solutions for an organization.
Average Yearly Salary: $57,511
Job Description: Combining the best of both in the fields of security and IT, IT security specialists have the tools needed to ensure a company’s computer systems remain secure. They create and implement security plans for businesses and monitor systems against threats, utilizing technology to prevent breaches within networks. They also must be able to quickly react when an attack occurs and have the ability to educate other employees about practices that will keep their personal and company data secure.
Average Yearly Salary: $84,365
Job Description: Security breaches are an unfortunate, but inevitable part of life for most companies. When there is a breach in security, information security analysts are there to investigate the attack, fix any issues caused by the breach, and also prevent the attacks from happening again. Their role is responsible for keeping the networks and systems of an organization, and the information on them, safe and secure. They will install, maintain, monitor, and update any security tools and measures in place and must remain up-to-date on the latest cybersecurity risks and threats and tools used to counteract these threats. Notably, analysts should be skilled to find and identify any weaknesses in systems and networks.
Average Yearly Salary: $59,018
Job Description: IT specialists are considered the “help desk” of their organization and must be able to troubleshoot through the problems of any users. Employees report all types of issues to this team, including technical issues that arise with systems, networks, the cloud, software, or hardware. These professionals are responsible for executing, maintaining, inspecting, and analyzing IT systems. Depending on the company, IT specialists may focus on everything from system, web, and/or database administration to security and network administration.
Average Yearly Salary: $74,863
Job Description: A systems administrator (or sysadmin) ensures that computer systems and servers operate effectively. A large part of this responsibility includes making sure all systems operate within the proper required security compliance. As leaders within a company, systems administrators are responsible for working within a given budget and help make decisions on what new software and hardware a company should purchase and often supervise other computer support specialists including IT professionals. From providing as-needed training and technical support to installing and maintaining physical and virtual servers and monitoring security and performance, the sysadmin role is one of the most demanding in the cyber world.
Average Yearly Salary: $132,969
Job Description: A systems architect plans the IT systems and networks of an organization. They identify particular software and hardware that will accomplish tasks and plan how these products will be integrated. As a senior-level IT role, it requires a thorough and broad knowledge of an organization’s functions, technical requirements, and security needs.
Cybersecurity Education Options
While a degree isn’t always necessary to get a job in cybersecurity, it still remains as the most popular option for breaking into the field. While professionals come from a variety of backgrounds, a bachelor’s degree in Cybersecurity, Computer Science, Information Technology or Computer Engineering all demonstrate you’ve acquired the skills necessary to succeed on the job. Keep in mind that these degrees are also offered on the associate’s level, with the option to continue your education at a four-year institution if you desire. Some of the more expert roles we’ve listed above, might even require a master’s degree to prove your advanced competency in the space.
Another excellent alternative to the traditional four year-degree program is attending a cybersecurity bootcamp. These programs, which range from a few weeks to a few months, are designed with your career in mind, and teach a streamlined curriculum focused on job-related skills. Depending on your particular situation, cybersecurity bootcamps can help you move up to the next level from your current role, develop new expertise, or make a career 180. And all of this in a matter of weeks, not years. Of course, the pros and cons of attending a bootcamp will depend on your specific needs. Be sure to consider the cost you’re willing to pay (bootcamps can be tens of thousands while degrees will run you even more), the career services you would like to access and the type of instruction offered (instructor-led, prerecorded, online vs in-person etc.)
A final educational consideration when embarking on a cybersecurity career, is what, if any, certifications to earn. There are several industry standard certifications that can prove your knowledge and serve as prerequisites for gaining a role in the field. Typically to earn a certification you have to study for several months and pass a comprehensive examination. Because these exams and classes can cost hundreds of dollars, you’ll like to know which certification(s) are most beneficial to you before you start. Some of the most popular certifications include the CompTIA Security+, the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) and the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).