Cover art that says starting a career in cybersecurity

This is our first comprehensive article in a series that will thoroughly cover careers in cybersecurity. Cybersecurity stands as a fortress against the rising tide of cyber threats, serving as the guardian of digital assets, personal information, and critical infrastructure. With the exponential growth of technology and the increasing digitization of society, the importance of professionals within this field has never been more pronounced. These are the guardians of an organization’s digital realm. Tasked with defending against a myriad of threats, ranging from sophisticated cyber-attacks to opportunistic phishing attempts by cybercriminals, their role is constantly evolving.

As organizations grapple with the ever-present anticipation of cyber threats, the demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals continues to soar. This demand is fueled by a multitude of factors including:

  • The proliferation of internet-connected devices.
  • The exponential growth of data.
  • The evolving regulatory landscape.

Against this backdrop, individuals considering a career in cybersecurity are presented with a plethora of opportunities for growth, advancement, and impact. This industry has become a focal point for hiring within every organization across the country. So for those looking to jumpstart a career within one of the fastest growing industries, this article aims to guide you on this journey.

Table of Contents

  1. Understanding Cybersecurity Careers (jump to section)
  2. Cybersecurity Trends and Growth Opportunities (jump to section)
  3. Essential Skills and Qualifications in Cybersecurity (jump to section)
  4. Cybersecurity Certifications for Entry-Level Roles (jump to section)
  5. Which Cybersecurity Certification Should I Start With? (jump to section)
  6. Building Cybersecurity Experience Without a Job (jump to section)
  7. Benefits Gained Through Cybersecurity Certification Preparation (jump to section)
  8. Networking and Mentorship within Cybersecurity (jump to section)
  9. Conclusion (jump to section)

Understanding Information Technology and Cybersecurity Careers

Cybersecurity encompasses a vast array of career paths, each offering unique challenges, opportunities, and rewards. Understanding which career path you want to pursue is one of the most important aspects of this journey. Although this may change over time, it provides a very important starting point, and can be hugely beneficial in determining the educational steps needed to put the plan in motion.

We don’t have time to extensively review every possible job role within this industry. But we can help get the brain working on different avenues you can pursue. Our goal with this is to provide educational insights that can help guide you. But it can be hugely beneficial to do some of your own research, and spend time analyzing the different jobs and careers to find what is best suited for your personality. So let’s briefly review some potential opportunities.
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IT Networking and Research Careers

If you like to work with your hands, your goal may be something like a Computer Network Architect or Computer & Information Research Scientist. Network Architects help design and implement data communication networks. This plays an essential role in the implementation of an organization’s information system. Or with a Research Scientist, you would spend your time finding new innovative ways to utilize new and existing computers.

For these types of careers, your entry-level starting point may be something like a Computer Support Specialist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for this entry-level role is around $60,000 per year, and often doesn’t require a degree. Much of the work here is around working on a Help Desk, providing technical assistance and support to an organization’s staff. Often, the majority of your education will come through on-the-job training and experience. With that being said, it can be very beneficial to start your training early with a certification like the CompTIA ITF+, which can provide a foundational understanding of key concepts needed for this type of role.
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Cybersecurity and Information Security Careers

If your preference is to focus on organizational information security, or finding ways to secure the data through the policies and people, then this may be the direction. Going the offensive route like Penetration Testing or Ethical Hacking is often one of the most intriguing directions. Experts within this arena search for vulnerabilities within the system, and utilize that information to make it more secure. For a more detailed breakdown of this career field, check out our blog on comparing PenTest+ vs CEH.

That is more of an offensive role in cybersecurity, but there are great careers on the defensive side as well. Maybe something like an Information Security Analyst. These professionals act as watchmen, monitoring the networks and information system for breaches or attacks. You will often leverage a variety of tools and techniques to identify and mitigate threats, ranging from intrusion detection systems to threat intelligence platforms. Part of your role will most likely include developing security standards and best practices, creating an essential cybersecurity barrier around the entire organization.

Another direction may be in helping repair, rebuild, and adjust after a data breach has occurred. This is known as incident response. Incident Responders play a critical role in the aftermath of security incidents, coordinating response efforts, conducting forensic investigations, and restoring systems to normal operations. These professionals must act swiftly and decisively to contain threats, minimize damage, and prevent further breaches. In addition to their recovery role, they also are pivotal in implementing training, policies, and procedures that are key to limiting the damage that comes from a cyber-attack.
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cybersecurityBenefits of Being a Cybersecurity Consultant

One of the greatest benefits of a career in cybersecurity is the information you garner can be of huge benefit to other companies. There is a huge need in the area of training and guidance, giving industry experts the ability to transition into a consulting role. Cybersecurity consultants provide advisory services to organizations, assisting them in developing and implementing robust security strategies tailored to their specific needs and challenges. These consultants draw upon their expertise in risk management, compliance, and governance to help organizations navigate the complex and ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity.

Their background can range from Security Engineers designing secure systems to Ethical Hackers uncovering vulnerabilities. Becoming an expert in any area within cybersecurity can be a valuable asset in the area of training and consulting. The field of cybersecurity offers a multitude of opportunities for professionals to make a meaningful impact in safeguarding digital assets and protecting the integrity of information systems.
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The cybersecurity landscape is in a constant state of flux, driven by technological innovation, evolving threats, and shifting regulatory requirements. It’s very important to keep an eye on industry trends and potential growth opportunities coming down the road. These predictive measures will provide assistance in deciding what your future could potentially look like. Spend time every month researching trends to better understand what threats could be coming, then use this information to determine your next career step. Although these trends and opportunities will constantly change, we can provide some insights into some current trends and growth opportunities.
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The Growth of Cloud and IoT Devices

One of the most significant trends shaping the industry is the adoption of cloud-based security solutions. As organizations migrate their infrastructure and applications to the cloud, they are faced with new security challenges, including data privacy, identity management, and compliance. Cloud security solutions, such as cloud access security brokers (CASBs) and cloud workload protection platforms (CWPPs), are emerging to address these challenges, providing organizations with the tools and capabilities needed to secure their cloud environments effectively.

Another trend reshaping the cybersecurity landscape is the proliferation of internet-of-things (IoT) devices. With billions of IoT devices expected to be deployed in the coming years, securing these devices and the data they generate has become a top priority for organizations across industries. IoT security solutions, such as device authentication, data encryption, and secure firmware updates, are essential for protecting IoT ecosystems from cyber threats.
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Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning within Cybersecurity

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are also playing an increasingly important role in cybersecurity. These technologies enable organizations to analyze vast amounts of data, detect anomalous behavior, and automate threat detection and response. AI-powered security solutions, such as threat intelligence platforms and behavioral analytics tools, are empowering organizations to stay one step ahead of cyber attackers.
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Cybersecurity Regulations Will Always Be a Factor

Regulatory compliance requirements, such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), are driving organizations to invest in cybersecurity initiatives. These types of regulations impose strict requirements on organizations to protect the privacy and security of sensitive data. This leads to increased demand for cybersecurity professionals with expertise in compliance and risk management. As organizations strive to secure their digital assets and comply with regulatory requirements, the demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals is expected to continue to grow. Ultimately, this will provide abundant opportunities for individuals seeking to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
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Essential Skills and Qualifications in Cybersecurity

Success in the field of cybersecurity requires a unique combination of technical skills, critical thinking abilities, and soft skills. Some of these can be figured out through education and research, but often the most critical will be developed over time through experience. With an industry as large as IT and cybersecurity, this section of our blog could be extensively long. So we will aim to focus on some of the more general skills and qualifications that would most likely benefit every career within cybersecurity.

Although each individual profession may end up requiring unique skills or qualifications specific to that role, most will need some kind of blend of the following:

  1. Networking Fundamentals: Proficiency in networking fundamentals is essential for understanding the underlying architecture of networks and identifying potential security vulnerabilities.
  2. Knowledge of Protocols: Protocols such as TCP/IP, DNS, and HTTP are crucial for analyzing network traffic and detecting anomalous behavior.
  3. Familiarity with Operating Systems: Being familiar with common operations systems such as Windows and Linux is necessary for assessing system vulnerabilities and implementing security controls.
  4. Understanding the Fundamentals of Cryptography: Cryptography plays an essential role in securing sensitive data and communications.
  5. Basic Understanding of Programming Languages: There are some programming languages like Python, JavaScript, and PowerShell that are common among most networks. Having a basic understanding of how they are used for automating security tasks, analyzing malware, and developing custom security tools can be valuable.
  6. Analytical and Problem-Solving Skills: Strong analytical and problem-solving skills are indispensable in this industry. They will be one of the best tools for identifying security threats, analyzing complex data sets, and developing effective security solutions.
  7. Effective Communication Skills: It doesn’t matter if you are working in cybersecurity, or in a field outside of cybersecurity (like sales, marketing, accounting, etc.), effective communication is vital for success. These skills are essential for collaborating with colleagues, presenting findings to stakeholders, and explaining technical concepts to non-technical audiences.
  8. Interpersonal Skills: Outside of cybersecurity-specific skills, developing strong interpersonal skills will go a long way within this field. This includes things such as teamwork, adaptability, and resilience, and can be critical for thriving in a dynamic and fast-paced environment.

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Cybersecurity Certifications for Entry-Level Roles

Cybersecurity certifications serve as a valuable credential for entry-level professionals, providing employers with tangible evidence of an individual’s knowledge and skills in specific areas. There is an ongoing discussion across the industry on the importance of these certifications. Some believe the emphasis should remain on formal education through universities, while others think the route of stackable certifications is more beneficial. The best we can do is analyze what is available and make decisions based on the information we have. With that being said, cybersecurity certifications appear on the recommended or required sections on the vast majority of job postings, making them an important component in your pursuit of a career in this field.

There are numerous benefits to obtaining certifications in cybersecurity. Increasing your knowledge and competency, developing experience through hands-on labs, and increasing your marketability with a well-known certification are all helpful. But the real benefit is for the organization doing the hiring, it provides a way for them to validate someone’s foundational understanding of key skills and concepts. This is why so many are turning to stackable certifications, essentially getting multiple cybersecurity certifications that complement one another and validate all the skills needed for a specific job role.
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Which Cybersecurity Certification Should I Start With?where do i start

With the number of certs within the industry, it can often be hard to decide the best route to go, especially when first starting out. For more extensive reviews of some cybersecurity certifications, I recommend our comprehensive comparison guide article. Although it focuses more on just cybersecurity certifications, it is a great starting point for learning about these essential credentials. For this blog, here are some important certifications to look into:

  • CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+): This is an introductory certification designed for individuals with little to no experience in IT or cybersecurity. This certification covers essential IT concepts, including hardware, software, networking, and security, providing individuals with a solid foundation to build upon. If you are someone with zero experience, this is the starting point for you.
  • CompTIA A+: Another entry-level certification that validates foundational knowledge and skills in computer hardware, software, networking, and troubleshooting. This certification is ideal for individuals interested in pursuing roles in technical support, help desk, or IT operations. Although this will play a stronger role for someone wanting to go the more technical career route, it can also be a huge benefit for cybersecurity professionals.
  • CompTIA Network+: This is recommended for those seeking a strong networking foundation. This certification covers networking concepts, technologies, and protocols, including TCP/IP, DNS, DHCP, Ethernet, and wireless networking. If you have some experience in networking, or received formal education in this field, this would be a great credential to add that will help you in your career.
  • CompTIA Security+: Security+ is a widely recognized entry-level certification focused specifically on cybersecurity. This certification covers essential cybersecurity concepts, including threats, vulnerabilities, cryptography, and network security, preparing individuals for roles such as Security Analyst, Security Engineer, or Network Administrator. Where those wanting a technical role will go with Network+, professionals wanting to move in the cybersecurity direction should get this.
  • ISC2 Certified in Cybersecurity (CC): Another entry-level certification offered by ISC2, provides individuals with additional expertise in cybersecurity principles, tools, and techniques. Not as recognizable as Security+, though it is a great certification to help gain knowledge in the field when first starting out.
  • EC-Council Certified Cybersecurity Technician (CCT): EC-Council is one of the most recognizable names in cybersecurity. They created the CCT with the goal of creating one of the most thorough entry-level certifications on the market. This certification covers information security, network security, computer forensics, risk management, incident handling, and best practices. Although the Security+ is more recognizable by most companies hiring, the CCT may be a stronger cert for someone looking to develop foundational skills.

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Building Cybersecurity Experience Without a Job

There are two important components to starting any new career – foundational knowledge and experience. Every single industry has some kind of basic education needed to be successful, whether that be something you learn on your own or via on-the-job training. In addition to that knowledge, having real-world experience goes a very long way in jumpstarting a successful career. This is especially true in an industry like cybersecurity, where failing to do your job effectively can be very damaging to the company.

This is why gaining hands-on experience is crucial for aspiring cybersecurity professionals. It allows you to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios and develop practical skills. Through developing these practical skills, you start to develop a resume that validates your ability to be successful in the field, which goes a long way with organizations looking to hire. Although this sounds great, finding ways to gain experience is not always an easy task. Here are some things for you to look into, essentially starting points so you can find ways to highlight your knowledge and skillsets.
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Experience Through Competitions

Participating in Capture the Flag (CTF) competitions is a popular way to gain hands-on experience and test one’s skills in a simulated cybersecurity environment. CTF competitions involve solving challenges related to cybersecurity, such as exploiting vulnerabilities, analyzing malware, and decrypting encrypted messages. These competitions provide participants with valuable experience in identifying and mitigating security threats and offer an opportunity to showcase their skills to potential employers.

Exploring bug bounty programs is another avenue for gaining practical experience in cybersecurity. Bug bounty programs allow individuals to find and report vulnerabilities in software, websites, and applications in exchange for monetary rewards or recognition. By participating in bug bounty programs, individuals can hone their skills in identifying security vulnerabilities, performing ethical hacking, and communicating findings to stakeholders.
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Cybersecurity Clubs and Volunteerism

Volunteering for cybersecurity-related initiatives in local communities or online forums can help with gaining hands-on experience. Additionally, this is a great way to contribute to the cybersecurity community in general. Seek out organizations such as non-profits, educational institutions, and community groups hosting cybersecurity events, workshops, and training sessions that rely on volunteers to help organize and facilitate activities. By volunteering for these initiatives, individuals can gain practical experience, expand their professional network, and make a positive impact on their community.

Joining cybersecurity clubs or student organizations at universities is another excellent way to gain hands-on experience and connect with other aspiring cybersecurity professionals. Many universities offer cybersecurity clubs or student organizations that host events, workshops, and competitions related to cybersecurity. By joining these clubs, students can gain practical experience, participate in collaborative projects, and network with peers and industry professionals. Additionally, many clubs offer opportunities for leadership development, such as organizing events, managing projects, and mentoring younger members. By participating in cybersecurity clubs or student organizations, students can enhance their skills, build their resumes, and prepare for careers in cybersecurity.
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Benefits Gained Through Cybersecurity Certifications Preparation

Going back to those two important components for starting a new career, it’s time to cover the educational/knowledge side a bit more. Within cybersecurity, there are usually two different focal points for education – formal degrees and industry certifications. There will always be a place for formal education, companies across the country put high value on obtaining a degree. But with industry certifications, whether you have a degree or not, this is something every professional in this field should focus on. This is because there are numerous benefits outside of obtaining the credential as a resume builder.

Before we start diving into some of those benefits, let’s discuss the certifications in more detail. We already covered some different entry-level certifications earlier in this article (click here to review). So now let’s take some time to discuss the two different preparation methods available when trying to pass one of these certification exams.
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classroom full of students

Different Options for Cybersecurity Certification Preparation

Preparing for cybersecurity certifications requires dedication, discipline, and a strategic approach. There are two main preparation options available – self-study and instructor-led training programs, each with its advantages and challenges. Self-study is a popular option for individuals who prefer to learn at their own pace and schedule. There are numerous resources available for self-study, including textbooks, online courses, practice exams, and study guides. However, self-study requires a high level of motivation and self-discipline, as individuals must set their own study schedule, track their progress, and stay focused on their goals.

Self-Paced Training Courses

Instructor-led training programs, such as bootcamps and workshops, offer a structured and immersive learning experience facilitated by experienced instructors. These programs typically include lectures, hands-on labs, group discussions, and exam preparation sessions, providing participants with comprehensive coverage of exam topics and opportunities for interaction and collaboration with peers and instructors. While instructor-led training programs can be more expensive than self-study options, they offer a high level of support and guidance, making them an attractive option for individuals who prefer a more structured learning environment.

Bootcamp Training Schedule

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Different Benefits of Certification Preparation

Regardless of the preparation method chosen, certification training offers several benefits beyond exam preparation. These non-traditional benefits of certification training can complement traditional learning methods and contribute to professional growth and development:

  • Hands-on labs allow participants to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios, gain practical experience, and develop technical skills.
  • Networking opportunities with instructors, peers, and industry professionals provide participants with access to valuable connections, mentorship, and career opportunities.
  • Potential mentorship connections during training programs offer participants guidance, advice, and support as they navigate their cybersecurity careers.
  • Confidence and competency is also increased while working through these difficult courses, providing you with a stronger foundation when first starting your career.

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Networking and Mentorship within Cybersecurity

Networking plays a crucial role in the cybersecurity community, providing opportunities for professionals to connect, learn, and grow. Attending industry events, such as conferences, workshops, and meetups, offers opportunities for networking, professional development, and learning from industry leaders and experts. These events often feature presentations, panel discussions, and networking sessions focused on cybersecurity topics, providing attendees with valuable insights and perspectives.

Additionally, actively participating in cybersecurity forums, online communities, and social media groups allows professionals to engage with peers, share knowledge, and stay updated on industry trends and developments. These platforms also provide opportunities for asking questions, seeking advice, and receiving feedback from experienced professionals. Connecting with professionals on platforms like LinkedIn allows individuals to expand their professional network, build relationships, and explore career opportunities. LinkedIn is a valuable resource for connecting with peers, mentors, recruiters, and potential employers in the cybersecurity field. By maintaining an active presence on LinkedIn, sharing relevant content, and engaging with others in the industry, professionals can establish themselves as thought leaders, expand their network, and advance their careers.

It’s also advisable to seek out mentors in the cybersecurity field, as it’s another valuable strategy for professional development and growth. Mentors can provide guidance, advice, and support as individuals navigate their cybersecurity careers, offering insights based on their own experiences and expertise. Mentors can help individuals set goals, develop skills, and overcome challenges, serving as trusted advisors and sounding boards. Building a mentorship relationship requires initiative, commitment, and mutual respect, as both mentors and mentees invest time and effort in the relationship. By actively seeking out mentors, expressing interest in learning from their experiences, and demonstrating a willingness to listen and learn, individuals can cultivate meaningful mentorship connections that contribute to their professional development and success.
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Conclusion

Embarking on a career in cybersecurity is an exciting and rewarding journey filled with opportunities for growth, advancement, and impact. By acquiring essential skills, pursuing relevant certifications, gaining practical experience, and building professional connections, individuals can position themselves for success in this dynamic and ever-evolving field. Continuous learning, dedication, and a passion for cybersecurity are key to thriving in the world of cybersecurity. Whether you’re just starting your journey or looking to advance your career, the opportunities in cybersecurity are endless. Take the first step today and unlock the potential of a career in cybersecurity.

If you have any questions regarding certification pathways, preparation methods, or general cybersecurity career inquiries, please contact us today. Our experts are always available to assist you on this journey.
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