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Risky or not: considering a cybersecurity career

I could use some help. I’m a recent college graduate with a degree in information systems, which is a major in computer science. I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do with my career but I’m struggling.

Most of my peers are taking jobs as computer programmers or network engineers. Neither of those options interests me that much. I’d rather be doing something more interactive. The career center suggested management consulting but that’s not likely a good fit, either.

I was about to give up when I saw an ad on Facebook about cybersecurity. The ad was for a specific company, but it got me thinking about what a cybersecurity career might look like. Any insight in the subject would be much appreciated.

The number of computer programmers grows with each passing year. Computer literacy is, to some, synonymous with computer programming. Take Lydia Dishman, for example, who wrote an article in Fast Company explaining why coding is the most important skill of the future. According to her, because software is now expanding to touch almost every aspect of life, the demand has never been greater. That being said, a STEM education doesn’t necessarily mean you have to code, exclusively. There are plenty of viable alternatives, including cybersecurity.

Already having a STEM degree is likely to translate into a major advantage because it’s valuable to virtually any industry at this point. Inc contributor, Marivi Stuchinsky, describes how employers often consider STEM graduates to be more capable leaders and problem-solvers. When it comes to cybersecurity, capable leadership and problem-solving are critical. Why? Because the stakes have never been higher for both businesses and consumers.

Lily Hay Newman highlighted the biggest cybersecurity disasters of 2017 in her provocative Wired article. Her piece covers everything from the WannaCry and Deep Root Analytics scandals to the Macron campaign hack and the existence of the mysterious hacking group known only as the “Shadow Brokers.” Though it sounds like science fiction, you can rest assured that these threats are not only real, they’re only likely to escalate as time goes on.

The near certainty of more sophisticated cybersecurity threats has everyone scrambling to enhance their cybersecurity. Unfortunately, everyone keeps running into the same barrier–skilled personnel. Marc Van Zadelhoff at the Harvard Business Review declared that cybersecurity has a serious talent shortage. He explains that cybercriminals aren’t limiting themselves when it comes to recruitment and neither should the good guys.

Assuming you’re convinced that cybersecurity is a promising career path, the next thing to do is figure out which practice area is most appealing. To that end, J.M. Porup at CSO has done you the favor of introducing cybersecurity and some of its different niches. According to him, cybersecurity is “the practice of ensuring the integrity, confidentiality, and availability (ICA) of data.” As you might imagine, such a broad definition then translates into a wide variety of career paths. You might focus on protecting critical infrastructure, network security, cloud ecosystems, mobile applications, or the Internet of Things (IoT).

One path that you might find especially attractive is that of a security architect. Unlike a security engineer who focuses exclusively on technical interventions, the security architect straddles both the business and technical arenas. Security architects often collaborate closely with senior leaders on things like Enterprise Security Risk Management (ESRM), which is a holistic process that successfully mitigates risk through combined proactive and reactive countermeasures. Something along those lines would tap into your existing skill set while simultaneously granting you the flexibility you want as well as ample opportunities for meaningful collaboration.

Becoming a cybersecurity architect is just one possible option. There’s really no shortage of careers to explore. That also means you’ll have to be strategic about your decision-making process. Keith Speights wrote all about how to start your cybersecurity career in The Motley Fool. That would be an ideal place to begin your research. His advice boils down to five major categories: (1) evaluate your strengths, (2) get appropriate training, (3) gain related experience, (4) earn relevant certifications, and (5) network with industry professionals. While his suggestions don’t necessarily have to be followed in that order, you should realize that some are much easier to implement than others. Decide what makes sense for you and take it from there.

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson


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