How to Get Started in a Cybersecurity Career

There just aren’t enough cybersecurity pros to go around, meaning that people with the right skills and enough dedication have plenty of opportunities to land rewarding and lucrative jobs. And with that well publicized security skills shortage – and equally well publicized attacks – there are plenty of people looking to get into security as a career. Here are some steps to consider if you’re ready to launch your own security career.

1. Earn an Online Security Certification

The internet makes it easy to kickstart your learning without traveling to a physical classroom. However, the vast amount of content online also opens the door to training programs that potential employers may not view as legitimate. Steer clear of that unwanted outcome by researching courses from companies and organizations with well-known name value.

For example, the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate is an entry-level option for people without previous experience in the industry. The company offers it through the Coursera online learning platform, and the content includes virtual labs.

SANS has an Undergraduate Certificate in Applied Cybersecurity program, with a 100% online option.

You may also want to check out courses that teach skills to improve cybersecurity at enterprises. FutureLearn is geared toward people without experience or those looking for a refresher course.

There’s also the CompTIA Security+ entry-level exam. It tests people on the foundational skills needed to begin their cybersecurity careers. Although you can go to a testing center after studying for this certification, there’s an online option for showing your knowledge, too.

There are lots of 4-figure courses that have great instructors, but for the self-motivated, there are free courses that can get you up to speed for a certification exam, like this free CISSP course from freecodecamp.org, a great site for learning coding too.

Further reading: Best Cybersecurity Certifications

2. Enroll in Community College Classes

A growing number of community colleges are offering cybersecurity classes to address the severe skills shortage in the industry. One program at Iowa’s Hawkeye Community College came about after a growing awareness of a need for more security expertise in the state. Some community college programs even have accompanying apprenticeship and internship programs.

In one example, the Community College of Denver recently received a $250,000 federal grant to expand cybersecurity learning opportunities for Colorado learners. The institution will use the grant to create 1,600 IT and cybersecurity apprenticeships from March 2020 through March 2024. Only people currently enrolled at the community college are eligible to apply for those opportunities.

Another program targeted native Hawaiian students at Windward Community College. Applicants to a six-week cybersecurity internship received the chance to sharpen their skills while working at Hawaiian Telcom.

Internship coordinator Jodie Yim said, “Working with Hawaiian Telcom was invaluable for our students because they engaged regularly with local cybersecurity professionals who are committed to passing on their career and industry knowledge.”

These are just a few of the many examples, so you can likely find similar possibilities in your own area. Although it’s sometimes possible to get real-world experience outside of a community college, finding prospects independently is harder. Community college coordinators can use their existing networks to help you.

And one benefit of community colleges for the tech industry in general is they’re often more diverse, drawing new people into the industry and increasing diversity.

Cybersecurity education has also begun to work its way into the high school curriculum, an important and underdeveloped resource for developing cybersecurity talent (see A New Approach to Finding Cybersecurity Talent: A Conversation with Alan Paller).

3. Check Out Vendor-Provided Content

Well-known vendors in the cybersecurity space often provide free training to people without previous experience. A willing, eager attitude is essential, however. Plus, you should know that learning company-specific content could cause a steeper learning curve if you end up working at an employer that uses a different brand. In many cases, companies base the material around the products they sell.

That said, vendor-provided courses can be an excellent way to get a foothold in the industry. For example, a partnership between ReliaQuest and the University of South Florida provides free cybersecurity training and certification to people who qualify. You must be a current student at that institution to participate, though. As a service provider, ReliaQuest offers the added benefit of being more vendor-neutral.

Cisco has its Skills for All program, which provides complimentary, mobile-first content in numerous tech topics. The cybersecurity pathway prepares learners for jobs through vendor-agnostic material. Besides the learning modules, this program includes a job-matching engine, networking opportunities and more.

A number of tech giants have pledged money and support for cybersecurity training as part of a Biden Administration push after the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in May, and Fortinet just joined the list with a pledge to train a million new cybersecurity pros. There may never be a better or easier time to launch a security career.

4. Consider Applying for Remote Jobs in Other Countries

It’s increasingly possible to work remotely in many career paths. Cybersecurity is one of them. If a company does not offer fully off-site positions, you may still be able to do most of the work from home and only travel to team or client meetings. Large security service providers often have needs in different regions, so you’ll often come upon those names in job searches.

Company leaders are also interested in the numerous benefits remote work can bring them. For example, one survey of off-site employees in various industries showed that 58% chose team diversity as the biggest benefit. This was the top perk they mentioned of the people who wanted to stay with their companies for at least four years.

Offering remote work opportunities aids retention, and it can help managers expand the hiring pool. Internet-based work also provides advantages as you look for open positions. Seeking possibilities outside of countries other than where you reside allows making your candidacy known to more people who need skilled cybersecurity workers.

Before taking this route, though, compare any cybersecurity training and certifications you have with what another country you’re interested in requires. It’s also useful to include any skills or characteristics you have that show you’re well-equipped for remote work. For example, use your resume or cover letter to discuss how you stay motivated with limited supervision or that you’re a clear communicator, even outside of face-to-face interactions. The cybersecurity skills shortage is a global problem, so there are plenty of options for the adventurous.

5. Look for Lateral Movement Opportunities

Perhaps you already have a tech-based role at your current employer and have previously shown interest in cybersecurity. In such cases, it’s worth checking to see if you could move to a different role or department in your current company.

Your employer may even pay for a continuing education opportunity, such as a cybersecurity boot camp program that gives fast-paced coverage of the foundational skills. You usually need a technical background for those, but they could be worthwhile if you want to start a cybersecurity career path without a lengthy time commitment.

If your company has an existing cybersecurity department or team you want to join, consider asking your supervisor for cross-training or mentorship programs. Some such initiatives exist on the national level for underrepresented groups too.

For example, Women in Cybersecurity is an organization that has a mentorship program for people at all levels of their careers. It’s a 12-month commitment, with mentors and mentees meeting in a virtual setting at least once a month.

Employers often like it when workforce members look for existing gaps and put themselves forward to fill them. Maybe you have an upcoming supervisor check-in meeting and want to talk about your career goals. If so, it could be the perfect time to bring up your cybersecurity interest and explore ways to start your career in the field.

Maintain an Inquisitive and Adaptable Mindset

Besides keeping these tips in mind, don’t overlook the value of staying curious and flexible. The cybersecurity sector changes quickly, with new threats emerging and innovative defensive measures designed to tackle them.

The educational options suggested here are solid ones to consider. However, even after earning a certification or completing a course, you should always look for ways to expand your knowledge and share insights with others. Doing those things can help you stay up to date and ready to be an asset wherever you work.

Devin Partida
Devin Partida is a technology and cybersecurity writer whose work has been featured on Entrepreneur, AOL, AT&T's cybersecurity blog and Yahoo! Finance. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of the tech website ReHack.com.

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