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How to become a cybersecurity specialist

BY Anastasia GliadkovskayaJuly 12, 2022, 7:26 PM

A “Cyber ​​Security” sign is displayed in the window of a computer store, visible in December 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Olivier Douliery — AFP/Getty Images)

Even if cybersecurity is a new field, it is growing in popularity and demand. In fact, cybersecurity is one of the top 20 fastest-growing jobs, with more than half a million openings in the U.S.

And that need cannot be lost immediately. “Security is becoming more important every year and there is a lot of work to be done,” said Kunal Anand, CTO of Imperva, a cybersecurity company.

Even if the role of a cybersecurity specialist seems technically daunting, it may require more programming. In fact, some cybersecurity roles don’t require a computer science background — and can still help drive meaningful business decisions.

If you’re thinking of a career in cybersecurity, here’s a step -by -step guide to becoming a specialist:

  2. Look for opportunities for hands-on experience
  3. Seek certification
  4. Determine your specialty
  5. Show that you are a critical thinker

1. Training

The good news is that there is no one way in education to become a cybersecurity specialty; there are options. You can choose to get an undergraduate or graduate degree in cybersecurity or a related field such as computer science, but you can also get an industry certification instead — or even go the route taught by self.

At the very least, everyone should know the basics of computers and understand how to secure them, said Mutaque Ahamad, a professor in the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy at Georgia Tech University.

“You have to understand the technology so you can make sure of it,” Ahamad said. “In the context of cybersecurity, it’s networks, and computers and software.” However, for some (but not all) master’s program tracks, you may need a computer science degree or engineering undergrad. Some leading programs include Georgia Tech, New York University, Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of California, Berkeley.

But be careful not to choose an academic program just for its name; the school must have some level of cybersecurity specialist.

2. Look for opportunities for hands-on experience

Practical skills are critical, and some academic programs risk being overly theoretical. However, more and more universities are integrating industry certification or internships into their programs.

“If they don’t add a practical element to it, they’re not doing their students any favors,” warns Rob Rashotte, vice president of Global Training & Technical Field Enablement at Fortinet, a cybersecurity company.

And more than a degree itself, recruiters want to see that applicants for cybersecurity roles have gained some hands-on experience down the road — whether in school or a previous job.

“The best part is that you can find someone who has gone through a four-year degree, or maybe they’ve been working for a company for a few years, demonstrating expertise through source code,” says Anand, helping to make Imperva’s hiring decisions. That means having a profile on GitHub or another repository to show what you’ve built and what you think. Strong, competitive candidates are intellectually explicit and build their own projects. “That kind of leadership thinking, you want to see that,” Anand added.

3. Seek certification

Certifications are a great alternative for anyone who doesn’t want to go to school. This can be general, as offered by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). Or it could be vendor specific, as offered by IBM.

Fortinet offers more than 900 hours of cybersecurity training curriculum for free, according to Rashotte, as well as a multi-level certification program. Certification “significantly reduces the risk of hiring managers,” because these skills are certified by a third party, he added. “That can really speak to the volumes of a resume.”

Even with vendor -specific certifications, many skill sets are transferable, so don’t worry about getting pigeonholed.

4. Determine your specialty

Determining which area of ​​cybersecurity is a specialist can be stressful.

As for the farm, “there is a lot of breadth,” says Anand. If you are just starting out, you can be a generalist. But as you progress in your career, recruiters like Anand prefer to “see some kind of theme.” Maybe it’s app and data security, or maybe you’re concerned about mobile and backend security. Being inclined in an area will show getting managers that you can have an impact there. That’s a competitive advantage.

A useful guide is the Cybersecurity Workforce Framework developed by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), a part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This framework categorizes different areas of specialty and is available for learning more about different areas of specialty within cybersecurity.

5. Show that you are a critical thinker

Hiring managers is looking for candidates with a warrior mentality who cares about keeping people safe “because that cuts everything,” Anand said. Even those people who are not trained in cybersecurity have a shot at a job if they show enthusiasm to learn.

“That’s what I think most of cybersecurity is: diligence, counter-outthinking and outmaneuvering attackers,” Anand said.

Strong thinkers have a higher chance of being hired despite an atypical background. Two years later, Anand had the opportunity to be a candidate with a Ph.D. in criminology to fill a role as Imperva’s cyber threat leader.

“I hired him because I wanted to change the way we think about security,” Anand said. “I’m personally looking for unique thinkers.” Since then, this employee has been promoted, he added.

“It depends on their ability to work with people, on their ability to solve the problem,” Rashotte echoed, “and be able to solve customer problems at the business level.”

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