The world of cybersecurity is exciting, dynamic, and challenging. With thousands of cyberattacks occurring on a daily basis, demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals has never been higher.
And unless the world’s cyber-criminals decide to retire early, that demand is only going to continue to increase.
How can you take advantage of the demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals? For most people, the answer lies in cybersecurity education: building a technical skillset such as programming, network computing, or software development.
There are many different ways to build those skills. How you choose to build those skills can, in the long run, impact the types of positions you hold, your potential salary, and your ability to move into senior positions.
From tech bootcamp to graduate degrees, learn about the wide range of educational opportunities in the world of cybersecurity to help you decide which one is right for you.
What Skills Will I Learn With a Cybersecurity Education?
The cybersecurity field is not limited to IT specialists. Some cybersecurity jobs involve knowledge of law, finance, auditing, business strategy, analysis, and risk management.
However, most cybersecurity careers require some degree of technical knowledge.
You may also need technical knowledge of networking, databases, cloud service providers, forensic software, or testing tools.
Soft skills, however, are just as important.
Communication, the ability to work as a member of a team, curiosity, and tenacity, for example, are just a few of the soft skills that are especially critical in the world of cybersecurity.
Soft skills like these may come naturally and offer a clear niche as you pursue your cybersecurity career. Others, like technical skills, can be developed and practiced through education and on-the-job training.
Self-Guided Cybersecurity Education
Tech is one of those fields where being self-taught can work in your favor. It shows initiative, curiosity, and an ability to manage yourself.
If you are just starting your career and want to build technical skills, there are many options for short-term skill building.
For example, the US National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education offers access to a wide range of free or low-cost cybersecurity courses. These resources are ideal for those who may just want a glimpse into what this field entails, as well as those looking to reskill or upskill on a budget.
The drawback of free or self-guided courses is that they may lack the opportunity to interact with peers and instructors who can help out in a pinch or provide other perspectives that could be beneficial to your learning. Still, it’s hard to beat “free,” so it’s worth checking out if they’re right for you.
Cybersecurity bootcamps, while sometimes as expensive as a college course, promise to deliver targeted technical skills in a matter of weeks.
Some tech bootcamps are designed to help you earn entry-level certifications for specific cybersecurity jobs. Becoming a Certified Ethical Hacker, for example, can be a great way to enter the cybersecurity field as a vulnerability analyst or penetration tester.
Bootcamps and entry-level certifications can be effective for those who want an intensive crash course in cybersecurity. However, many technical bootcamps are full-time endeavors. It may be difficult to successfully complete a bootcamp while maintaining a regular job. So look into the time commitment before you sign up.
Degree-Focused Cybersecurity Education Programs
As accessible as bootcamps and self-guided skill-building is, there are substantial benefits to a more formal, degree-based education.
Many cybersecurity positions—at least in the United States—require some type of undergraduate degree, at a minimum.
Other benefits of cybersecurity-related degree programs include access to networking opportunities, institutional credibility, higher starting salaries, more job opportunities, and long-term potential for advancement into more specialized and more senior roles.
Associate and Bachelor Degrees
A two- or four-year undergraduate degree program is a great place to start your cybersecurity education. These programs are designed to give you the technical skills you need to land a cybersecurity job right out of college.
Given the high demand for cybersecurity skills, many colleges and universities have started offering a specific cybersecurity major. However, any major that involves computers and coding will qualify you for a job in cybersecurity.
Some of the best degrees for cybersecurity include information technology, computer science, software engineering, network administration, cloud computing, and machine learning. These and related majors will give you the skills you need to set you on the path to becoming a qualified cybersecurity specialist.
Graduate Degrees and Certificates
If you already have an undergraduate degree in a technical field, pursuing a graduate degree or certificate is another way to gain cybersecurity-specific knowledge and demonstrate your expertise to employers.
Advanced credentials can ensure that you maintain a strong technical foundation. And through careful course selection, you can develop the specialized skills needed to address current issues like computer forensics and investigations, threat analysis and vulnerability assessment, or intrusion detection.
Master’s degree programs also help you develop the nontechnical expertise you need to advance in a cybersecurity field. Coursework on risk analysis, for example, can augment your technical skills. And graduate classes improve your skills in strategic thinking and problem-solving, communication, leadership, and business acumen.
The good news is that many companies are willing to help their employees move into the field of cybersecurity. It’s worth exploring whether your organization has a tuition assistance program that can help pay for your continuing education.
Technical Certifications for Cybersecurity
For some cybersecurity jobs, specific technical certifications may also be important. Some of the most in-demand certifications include:
- Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
- Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- CompTIA Security+
- SANS/GIAC Certification
- GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst
These certifications require advanced technical knowledge and multiple years of experience to complete. They are appropriate for individuals seeking a management or strategic role, or even a future as a chief information security officer.
If you already have technical skills, you may be able to translate them into a cybersecurity job through on-the-job upskilling.
“The first step is to demonstrate to employers that you have the aptitude and the willingness to learn security,” said Heather Hinton, chief information security officer at RingCentral, in a conversation with Bruce Huang. “[A career in cybersecurity] takes a special mindset. And if your employer is clever, they will jump at the opportunity and say, ‘Please, come and help us with this.’”
A simple first step is attending cybersecurity conferences. Conferences can help you gauge your interest in cybersecurity generally or in a specific subfield. You can gain knowledge and insight in the field and build a network of cybersecurity experts. And you can demonstrate your interest and commitment to your employer.
In addition, working directly with your organization’s security department can offer a hands-on method of skill-building.
“See if there’s a way that you can go and work for them, say, 20 percent of the time,” Hinton said. “Arrange with your manager to assist with a project. If your company has its own in-house security operations center or an incident response team, see if you can apprentice with them or even spend some time shadowing.”
Hinton also recommended coaching or mentoring high school or college students in cybersecurity competitions. The Air Force Association’s National Youth Cyber Education Program is just one of many such programs running across the country. Helping tomorrow’s cybersecurity experts get started may enable you to build your own skills as well.