How to Reinvent Yourself as a Cybersecurity Professional
At one point or another in our adult lives, many of us wish we could be someone else or daydream how our lives might have been different had we made different choices.
Nowadays, as the number of online degree and certificate programs targeting nontraditional learners continues to grow, many adults are taking concrete steps to reinvent themselves. In response to the critical need for cybersecurity professionals across many industries, adults increasingly are seizing the opportunity to move into a field where 3.5 million jobs are expected to go unfilled by 2021 according to Cybersecurity Ventures, and salaries for entry-level positions top $67,000, according to PayScale.
My Personal Cyber Journey
I personally have "re-skilled" several times during my adult life. First, I transitioned from being a news reporter/investigative journalist to an information technology (IT) consultant when I was introduced to the field through marriage. I learned how to service computers, pursued a master's degree in computer information systems and started my own consulting firm, all while raising a family. Then, I moved from IT into cybersecurity, providing consulting services in cyber, digital forensics, data recovery and business continuity to small- to mid-size businesses. I still am a practicing cyber professional today, on top of serving as an adult higher education instructor, course designer and cyber chair.
When I first started in IT, I was the only female field service technician within a three-hour drive of my office. I can still remember the days when I would arrive at a job site, only to be met with a look of amazement. That continued after I shifted to cybersecurity. Thankfully, times have changed, and anyone-regardless of gender, background or experience level-can take advantage of the rewarding opportunity to become a cybersecurity professional.
Cyber Re-Skilling 101
The prospect of re-skilling isn't about seeking a quick fix after being downsized or when the dynamics of your current position necessitate an immediate move to another organization. Instead, it's about making a conscious decision to seek education and create opportunities allowing you to successfully transition into a field that will have far-reaching effects on your work and personal life for years to come.
Cybersecurity, as a career choice, isn't a monolithic field; it's comprised of many domains. If you are a problem solver and enjoy challenges, you should be able to find your niche. There's a natural tendency to assume you need to be interested in math or science to do cybersecurity, but I would have to disagree. My undergraduate degree was in art!
For those considering whether a career in cybersecurity is the right choice, you should be aware that a solid foundation in IT is essential. Think of it this way: babies learn to crawl before they can walk or run. In cybersecurity, you need to know about networks, hardware and software before you can understand the risks associated with them. Similarly, once you understand the risks, you need to be able to identify how threat actors exploit vulnerabilities if you want to have a career in penetration testing or incident response.
If you are remotely intrigued by the concept of cybersecurity, take a look at Henry Jiang's Map of Cybersecurity Domains. Even if security operations don't seem like a good fit, you might consider frameworks and standards, governance or physical security-or maybe a position in security architecture, threat intelligence or user education.
Tips for Getting Started
Ready to seize the opportunity and begin re-skilling? Here are some tips for embarking on your new cyber career:
Weigh Your Education Options
When deciding whether to pursue an academic or training/certification program, bear in mind the distinctions between them. Going the academic route will provide you with an education that's broad and covers a variety of theories and concepts. Training and certification courses, on the other hand, provide you with an education targeted to specific skillsets.
Seek Organizational Support
Take advantage of employer-sponsored programs and tuition assistance. Your current employer may have a program similar to Champlain College Online's truED Alliance program, which fosters partnerships with some of the nation's leading organizations to provide proven cybersecurity education program solutions that close mission-critical skills gaps.
Keep an Open Mind
Remember that you don't have to enter cybersecurity with your future completely mapped out. Be a blank canvas and have a willingness to learn. Explore the cybersecurity domains and get a sense of what interests you. If you approach it with that perspective and have an interest in it, you'll do well.
Begin With the Basics
Realize that, in the beginning, you will need to develop a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of IT and cybersecurity. Doing so will set you up for long-term success. One of my favorite classes to teach is "Foundations of Cybersecurity" because there are so many flavors of students that after the first week's discussion, the material is entirely new.
Given everything that's at stake and the tremendous opportunity for success in cybersecurity, it's important to start re-skilling now. Don't be afraid to ask for help along the way. I'm more than willing to answer questions, listen to your thoughts and provide feedback.