Pushing button on a rocketThis is the first article in our comprehensive guide on how to launch a career in cybersecurity without a degree. The digital age has brought about an unprecedented need for cybersecurity professionals. As technology advances, so do the tactics of cybercriminals, making cybersecurity a crucial field. Many people believe that a college degree is essential for a successful career in cybersecurity. However, this is a misconception.

Although many job postings list a degree, the cybersecurity industry actually values skills and knowledge over formal education. In this series, we will explore how you can start a career in cybersecurity without a college degree. We will cover the essential skills and certifications you need, how to gain experience, and strategies for job hunting. We will also dive into concepts around career development. This comprehensive guide aims to provide you with actionable steps to embark on a rewarding cybersecurity career.

Searching on phoneUnderstanding the Cybersecurity Industry

Cybersecurity involves protecting systems, networks, and data from digital attacks. These attacks often aim to access, change, or destroy sensitive information, extort money, or disrupt normal business operations. With the increasing reliance on digital infrastructure, the importance of cybersecurity has grown exponentially. Along with that unprecedented growth, we have seen countless job opportunities, opening the door for new professionals to enter a career with large potential.

Within cybersecurity, there are various fields, including network security, information security, application security, and more. Each field requires a unique set of skills and knowledge. For example, network security focuses on protecting network infrastructure, while information security is concerned with safeguarding data integrity and confidentiality. With the extensive number of domains in cybersecurity, and each role requiring unique skillsets, the prospect of finding a job role that you enjoy is very high. It just requires developing the knowledge and skillsets that a particular job role utilizes.

Additionally, cybersecurity impacts numerous industries, including finance, healthcare, government, and retail. Each industry has specific cybersecurity needs and regulations, further emphasizing the importance of skilled professionals in this field. A professional who develops the skillsets and foundational knowledge needed for a role in information security has the opportunity to either further specialize in a specific industry, or remain broad with the ability to address needs in multiple industries.
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Why a Degree is Not Always Necessary in Cybersecurity

One of the unique aspects of cybersecurity is its skills-based nature. For many years, organizations have relied on colleges and universities to help with vetting potential talent. The thought is that a young professional who spent four years studying a particular trade, should be equipped to handle the job responsibilities that role requires. This is largely true in many career fields and still may have a place in cybersecurity.

As time has progressed over the past few years, we have seen a slight shift in industry demands. Employers appear to be prioritizing hands-on experience and practical skills over formal education. In a field as critical as cybersecurity, where your job is stressed with protecting sensitive and proprietary information, this actually does make sense. If you have spent a few years developing hands-on skills, experience validates your ability to handle the requirements of a particular job role. Increasing the likelihood of a company investing in you, over someone who doesn’t quite have the experience.
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Computer with job search on itProfessionals with a degree are having a hard time finding a job…

Another interesting situation we have started to see is an increase in professionals who struggle on finding a job in cybersecurity right out of college. Even with numerous open positions across the country, many new professionals with a degree can still struggle to get that first position. These individuals come out of school with a four-year degree and sometimes minimal hands-on experience. Then when they apply for an entry-level job, companies view them more as a liability because the entry-level job doesn’t pay what the degree dictates. So they fear the candidate is likely to leave for a higher-paying job after gaining some experience.

On the other hand, when looking at mid-level jobs that their degree can help them land, they often don’t have the hands-on experience needed. They end up getting beat out by another candidate who gained some experience from the entry-level positions. Now, this is not to minimize the value of a formal education or create fear for those currently pursuing a degree. This is just meant to highlight the current job market for this field, and provide solutions to help professionals get their career started.
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How can I develop cybersecurity knowledge and skills without a degree?

Many successful cybersecurity professionals have entered the field through alternative paths, such as certifications, self-study, and practical experience. These professionals have unlocked pathways of obtaining the same baseline knowledge taught within the school curriculum while adding in a balance of practical hands-on experience. This knowledge can be further highlighted when pursuing stackable industry certifications that show a progression of learning.

Additionally, if we add in the current landscape of the cybersecurity job market, you can see that there are more jobs available that

There are several reasons why a degree is not always necessary for a cybersecurity career:

  1. Skills and Knowledge: Cybersecurity is a field where skills and knowledge are paramount. Practical abilities, such as identifying vulnerabilities and understanding security protocols, are often more valuable than theoretical knowledge gained in a traditional academic setting.
  2. Certifications: Industry-recognized certifications, such as CompTIA Security+ and EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to potential employers. These certifications often focus on specific skills and knowledge areas that are directly applicable to cybersecurity roles.
  3. Alternative Learning Paths: There are numerous online courses, boot camps, and training programs available that provide comprehensive cybersecurity education. These alternatives can be more affordable and flexible than a traditional college degree.

Certification Programs

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Preview typed outPreview of Upcoming Posts on How to Get into Cybersecurity Without a Degree

This series will guide you through the essential steps to start your cybersecurity career without a college degree. Here’s a brief overview of what each post will cover:

  1. Essential Skills and Certifications: We will discuss the core technical and soft skills required for cybersecurity roles and explore essential certifications that can enhance your employability.
  2. Building Practical Experience: This post will provide a guide to setting up a home lab, participating in Capture the Flag (CTF) competitions, finding internships and freelancing opportunities, and the importance of networking and mentorship.
  3. Job Hunting and Career Development: We will cover strategies for crafting a strong resume and portfolio, job search tactics, interview preparation, and continuous learning for career growth.
  4. Recap and Final Thoughts: In the final post, we will summarize key points from the series, provide final tips and encouragement for your journey, and discuss the next steps for those professionals who have a degree and may be struggling with landing their first job.

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Conclusion

Starting a cybersecurity career without a college degree is entirely possible and increasingly common. By focusing on skills, gaining practical experience, and obtaining relevant certifications, you can build a successful career in this dynamic field. Stay tuned for the next post, where we will dive into the essential skills and certifications needed to get started. This series will equip you with the knowledge and resources to take your first steps toward a cybersecurity career. If you have any questions in the meantime, please get in touch with our team of experts today.
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