How to Get Into Cybersecurity
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If you like solving problems, you may love a career in cybersecurity. Featuring high salaries and low unemployment, this field attracts problem-solvers, math lovers, and technology experts. But how do you get into cybersecurity — especially if you don't have a degree or if you studied a non-technology field?
Cybersecurity needs workers. According to CyberSeek, IT security roles take 21% longer to fill than other IT jobs. As a result, you don't have to travel through the traditional talent pipeline. You may earn a degree, complete a bootcamp, or even teach yourself all you need to know.
Explore this guide to learn about both the traditional and the not-so-ordinary pathways to becoming a cybersecurity professional.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity experts protect data and systems from malicious attackers and insider threats. These computer science professionals help prevent cybercrimes and even national security breaches. They may serve in finance, government, healthcare, retail, education, or manufacturing industries. Cybersecurity professionals typically work at least 40 hours a week, and some are on call after-hours in case of emergencies.
While all cybersecurity experts work in the field of computer science, not all computer scientists are cybersecurity experts. Penetration testers, information security analysts, and cybersecurity engineers can work alongside data administrators, software developers, and digital designers as part of a larger IT team. Often, their role is to operate vulnerability management systems, manage disaster recovery plans, and educate employees about online security.
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Salary and Career Outlook for Cybersecurity Experts
Cybersecurity experts are protecting lives, reputations, financial data, and even national security secrets all around the world. These professionals are using their technology skills to change the world for good. At the same time, they also benefit from the sector's low unemployment rate and lucrative compensation rates.
Salaries vary by specialization, location, industry, and education, but the sector's median annual wage for computer professionals stood at $97,430 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Depending on their job, education, and experience, cybersecurity experts can earn much more or less than this. For instance, in July 2023, Payscale reported that penetration testers with 10+ years of experience earned an average annual wage of $124,000. In their first year on the job, however, cybersecurity engineers earn an annual average of just $79,000.
Technology experts who choose a cybersecurity career often enjoy lucrative salaries and nearly unlimited career growth solving puzzles and making a real-world impact.
Typical Paths for Getting Into Cybersecurity
While a degree can provide one path to a cybersecurity career, it's not the only way to break into the field. Here's how to get into cybersecurity:
Academic Degree Path
- Earn a high school diploma. A high school diploma or a GED certificate is a prerequisite for higher education. If you earn an associate degree or take dual-credit courses in high school, you may shorten your on-ramp to a bachelor's degree.
- Complete a bachelor's degree. Pursue a four-year major in computer science, technology, or a math-related field.
- Gain hands-on experience. While in school, gain real-world experience through volunteering, internships, work-study options, or part-time jobs. After graduation, pursue an entry-level job in cybersecurity.
- Complete a master's degree to pursue career advancement. Once you earn a year or more of experience, consider preparing for a leadership role by pursuing a master's degree in cybersecurity, computer science, or data science.
Cybersecurity Bootcamp Path
- Complete a cybersecurity bootcamp. Run through private organizations, cybersecurity bootcamps take much less time to complete than a bachelor's degree. Often, a high school diploma and basic IT knowledge is all you need to apply.
- Prepare a professional portfolio. A portfolio of work completed in the bootcamp shows prospective employers what you can do in a real-world setting.
- Participate in networking events. Meet the companies, agencies, or leaders you would like to work for after you complete your degree.
- Earn an academic degree to pursue career advancement. Many technology leadership roles require a master's degree or equivalent knowledge and experience.
Professional Certifications Path
- Take massive open online courses (MOOCs) or other free courses. Free and low-cost online courses from providers like edX and Coursera can help you gain fundamental knowledge of cybersecurity.
- Learn about a cybersecurity specialty. By focusing your study and practice, you can demonstrate your expertise in a job-ready skill.
- Prepare a professional portfolio.
- Complete the requirements for professional certification. Take the test and complete any requirements to earn certification from a top association such as CompTIA, ISACA, (ISC)², or EC-Council.
Resources for Starting a Cybersecurity Career
Questions About How to Get Into Cybersecurity
How do I start a career in cybersecurity?
You can get started by earning an associate or bachelor's degree or by completing a cybersecurity bootcamp. Some aspiring professionals teach themselves the basics of the discipline and then earn professional certifications to validate their knowledge and skills.
Is it easy to get into cybersecurity?
Once you have the necessary education and experience, you can easily compete for a job in cybersecurity. The field is growing fast, and as of 2023, the BLS projects that companies will add 56,500 new cybersecurity jobs between 2021 and 2031.
Earning the right blend of education and experience, however, can take some time. A bachelor's degree usually requires four years, for example, and a bootcamp can last six months.
Do I need IT experience to work in cybersecurity?
Every cybersecurity job does not require IT experience. You may have worked in an entirely different industry or have an educational background in another field and still get into cybersecurity. Non-technical backgrounds can bring helpful fresh perspectives.
You do need a desire to learn about cybersecurity and a willingness to complete a degree, bootcamp, or professional certification. Some higher-level jobs may require cybersecurity or IT experience along with education.
How can I get into cybersecurity without a degree?
You can qualify for entry-level cybersecurity professions by completing a bootcamp or by earning professional certifications in the field. Bootcamps offer career-ready cybersecurity skills in a concentrated, accessible format, and they usually cost much less than a college degree.
Professional certifications in cybersecurity include CompTIA security+, certified ethical hacker, and certified information security manager. Each certification has its own requirements, which almost always include passing a standardized exam.
What degrees are best for getting a cybersecurity job?
Cybersecurity experts can hold degrees in computer science, computer engineering, information technology, or cybersecurity. A master's degree in one of the fields may prepare graduates for leadership roles, and a doctoral degree equips professionals for research or postsecondary teaching positions.
- Average cybersecurity engineer salary. (2023). Payscale
- Average security penetration tester salary. (2023). Payscale
- Computer and information technology occupations: Occupational Outlook Handbook. (2021). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Hack the gap. (n.d.) Cyber Seek
- Information security analysts: Occupational Outlook Handbook. (2021). U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Page Last Reviewed July 26, 2023.