The Ultimate Cybersecurity Career Guide

05/10/2021

If you are thinking about pursuing a new career or changing fields, the cybersecurity industry is an excellent option to consider. The cybersecurity field is one of the fastest-growing global industries, with dozens of career choices.

Are you interested in defending communities, governments, or other industries from cyberattacks and threats? Perhaps you would rather dive headfirst into different types of cyber hacks and how to successfully protect vulnerable devices from them? With many different sectors of this industry available to pursue, professionals can find what they are good at and choose to specialize in that area.

The need for cybersecurity professionals is at an all-time high, with around 3.5 million job openings going unfilled in 2021 alone. Plus, the global pandemic brought with it a spike in cyber threats and attacks leveraging the Coronavirus and capitalizing on the fear and uncertainty surrounding these times. As a result, cybercrime is surging with individuals and corporations alike falling prey to an increase in phishing, social engineering, and data leaks. 

The cybersecurity job path also offers long-term stability, with projected growth in the industry around 33% between 2020 and 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For this reason, many professionals seeking more reliability in their careers are switching gears to the cybersecurity industry. Even if you have no formal education, many entry-level options are available to those with proper training, skill, and hands-on experience. 

Where and how you can get this training, skills, and experience isn’t always clear to those with no cybersecurity background or education.  

Many people find themselves asking the same questions:

What do cybersecurity professionals do? What kind of skills do I need to enter the cybersecurity field? Where options do I have to begin my cybersecurity career path? What are some popular entry-level cybersecurity positions? How much does an entry-level cybersecurity job pay? 

This guide aims to help those looking for guidance when beginning their journey or pivoting careers into the cybersecurity industry. The Ultimate Cybersecurity Career Guide offers advice from experts, national and global statistics, and helpful insight into how to land a career in cybersecurity.

What Does a Cybersecurity Professional Do?

Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting computing systems, networks, programs, data, and other digital assets from malicious cyberattacks. Cybersecurity practices may also include measures put in place to protect against unauthorized access, internal and external threats, and even vulnerabilities caused by disruptions, such as natural disasters or electricity loss. 

There are different cybersecurity methods, processes, and technologies that can help to defend against threats and help keep important information and systems secure. 

As a cybersecurity professional, your responsibilities can range from developing, testing, correcting, or implementing these protective methods. You may also be responsible for managing a company or organization’s overall IT infrastructure as well as digital communication or remote practices. Many industries will seek out a cybersecurity professional that specializes in their sector to help them develop industry-specific solutions to protect against threats and attacks. 

You may find yourself working at the first line of defense testing systems to find vulnerabilities or implementing defensive techniques to protect against attackers, or you might find yourself working further down the line to develop cybersecurity tools or managing protected assets. 

Regardless of your position within the cybersecurity industry, as a professional in the field, you are the first and often the only line of defense against cyberattacks and hackers. 

locked padlock ontop of a keyboard with red and green lighting

What Skills Do Cybersecurity Professionals Need?

To enter and grow in the cybersecurity field, you will need to develop strong cybersecurity skills and knowledge. Some of the skills you will need as a cybersecurity professional are skills you may already display, such as attention to detail and an interest in keeping others safe, while others, such as intrusion detection or risk analysis, are specific to the industry. 

The skill sets you need for the workplace are typically divided into hard and soft skills. Hard skills are measurable talents and abilities that tend to be job-specific. These are skills you learn and can range from something general such as typing to something specialized, such as computer networking. 

Soft skills are more like personality traits, though you can definitely learn how to develop and advance certain soft skills. Things like communicating, leadership abilities, and problem-solving are soft skills that many employers look for when hiring. 

For a cybersecurity position, you will need to focus on the hard and soft skills that will help you succeed in this industry. Hard skills may depend on what sector you want to work in, and you can continue to develop and obtain new hard skills as you progress in your career. Soft skills can also improve over time, and you can hone in on leadership and management skills if you hope to oversee a company or employees down the line.

Some examples of hard and soft skills every entry-level cybersecurity professional should display include:

Hard skills

  • Windows and Linux OS and security 
  • Cloud security
  • Programming and scripting with Python
  • Network forensics
  • Web application security 
  • Disk management
  • Endpoint security
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) and Security Orchestration, Automation & Response (SOAR)
  • Secure architecture implementation

…to name a few!

Soft skills

  • Communication and listening
  • Presentation and attention to detail
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Independence and the ability to work alone
  • Logical reasoning
  • Creativity
  • Determination and drive
  • Collaboration and the ability to work with others
  • Critical thinking

…and more!

How to Start a Cybersecurity Career

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How you enter the field of cybersecurity will depend mostly on your education and professional training. If you already have a background in technology, such as IT or similar, the jump to cybersecurity might be a no-brainer, since you already have many skills needed to succeed in cyber defense. If you are just starting out in the industry, whether you have a four-year education or similar, a great place to start is by working for a cybersecurity company in an IT capacity. 

If you’re already working in an IT job or something tech-related, but not necessarily in the cybersecurity sector, you might want to consider upskilling or advancing your current skill set. You can do this by seeking out bootcamps, online programs, or continuing education offers at your local university or college. 

If you don’t have any technical experience or training, you can sort through different options to choose from when deciding how to gain the skills you need to confidently enter the field. If you are switching careers later in life, or already have a degree in something unrelated, enrolling in a four-year university program might not be the best fit as it requires a significant time and financial commitment. 

Other options, such as self-teaching or do-it-yourself methods, can allow you to pick when you want to study and what areas you wish to train in, but it can be confusing to navigate the field without an expert or instructor guiding you. If you struggle with self-motivation or aren’t comfortable learning new skills on your own, you can also consider a bootcamp or training program.

Unlike a four-year university, a bootcamp program is tailored to suit working adults and those who already have a busy schedule. The courses in bootcamp programs tend to be accelerated, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the level of training and benefits offered. A bootcamp program is led by an instructor or group of instructors with real-world experience and an in-depth understanding of the cybersecurity industry. San Diego State University Global Campus offers a Cybersecurity Bootcamp that is designed to help those with little to no experience get started in a cyber career in as little as 10 months. 

call to action banner reading Discover a New Career in Cybersecurity with the SDSU Global Campus Cybersecurity Bootcamp.

What Type of Entry-Level Cybersecurity Positions Are Available? 

With various important roles available within the cybersecurity field, it can be helpful to know what positions are commonly available for those with entry-level skills and experience. What you chose to pursue or specialize in should be based on your unique strengths and interests, but you can also learn new skills to evolve in your role as needed.

Professionals in the cybersecurity industry are commonly broken down into two teams: the blue team, and the red team. The blue team is the defensive end, they work on protecting cyber assets against known cyberthreats and attacks. Some job titles and descriptions in this field include: 

  • Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst is a very common entry-level position. The security operations center is the team responsible for monitoring and fighting threats. Analysts on this team help assess a company’s security system for weaknesses and vulnerabilities. 
  • Information Security Researcher is responsible for researching and gathering data on information security systems, such as those used to protect digital assets and sensitive information. 
  • Network Operations Center (NOC) Technicians are in charge of network management, including maintaining equipment, servers, telecommunication, and fielding any issues that arise. The NOC is responsible for overseeing these network components and is generally composed of a team of professionals.  
  • Network Security Administrators manage, monitor, and oversee computer network security to protect against any external or internal threats. They often work closely with the NOC Technicians. 
  • Digital Forensics Examiner spends time researching, investigating, and analyzing data to help detect cybercrimes and digital risks.

The Red Team works on the offensive side, working to exploit potential threats to help develop cybersecurity solutions and protect against holes in the networks or digital security systems. Popular job titles on this team include: 

  • Penetration Tester, most commonly known as a Pen Tester, works to break into systems to find and correct any potential weaknesses before any malicious attackers do. These are either hired by a company or work in-house at a cybersecurity firm performing vulnerability tests to help strengthen security systems. 
  • Cybersecurity Analysts work to protect hardware, software, and company networks from hackers and threats. These professionals study the IT infrastructure in detail so they can monitor and evaluate threats that could lead to a potential breach in the network.
  • Red Team Operator is the manager or supervisor that oversees the offensive cybersecurity professionals, aka the Red Team.  
  • Ethical Hacker, as the name suggests, works as what is known as a “white-hat hacker”. They are typically tasked with conducting advanced penetration tests on networks and systems to determine whether certain vulnerabilities could impact the integrity of the company or its data. 
  • Vulnerability Assessment Analysts work with Penetration Testers and Ethical Hackers to help detect and correct any weaknesses or areas of vulnerability in a system or network.

How Much Do Entry-Level Cybersecurity Positions Pay? 

For many current cybersecurity professionals, the benefits offered with the position are also an enticing reason to consider this as a career. In addition to an exciting and rewarding job description, the salary for entry-level cybersecurity positions can be lucrative. 

The average salary for a cybersecurity professional can vary based on the region, industry, and specific job role. To help get a better idea of what an entry-level cybersecurity professional currently averages in the San Diego area, check resources such as ZipRecruiter or the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of course, your potential for earning will increase with the skills and experience you gain in your career. Senior cybersecurity professionals can enjoy added benefits as well, such as flexible schedules, remote work options, self-employment opportunities, and above-average salaries. 

Local Cybersecurity Industries in San Diego

Some industries are more in-demand in certain areas than others. California, for example, has been a leader in the technology industry for decades, with tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook all having their headquarters in Silicon Valley. Naturally, it has also been a blossoming hub for cybersecurity companies. 

The San Diego region is an excellent place to start building a successful cybersecurity career. The city is home to the Navy’s Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR), which boasts the highest number of cybersecurity jobs in the San Diego area with a budget of around $1.6 billion, as reported by the San Diego Cyber Center of Excellence

In addition to having a vested interest in the cybersecurity industry directly, there are also many other industries that are thriving in the San Diego and Southern California areas. In addition to technology, some of the top industries in San Diego include defense, manufacturing, and tourism – and all of these industries are in need of skilled cybersecurity professionals.

Because cybersecurity professionals work to defend against all levels of cyberthreats, attackers, and vulnerabilities both internal and external, they are needed in all industries. Whether you are hired as in-house cybersecurity or information security specialist or are assigned companies as clients when working for a cybersecurity firm, many professionals in this field will find themselves implementing cybersecurity measures for all industries.

Take the Next Step Towards Your New Career

Regardless of how you chose to get started, the cybersecurity industry is eagerly seeking out new professionals to join the fight against cybercriminals and hackers. If you are considering the bootcamp route, the SDSU Global Campus Cybersecurity Bootcamp, powered by ThriveDX, offers the opportunity to learn cybersecurity fundamentals through hands-on training and guidance from seasoned industry experts. Our program is available live and online with a part-time schedule perfect for working adults. You can get started with all the training you need in as little as 10 months, no prerequisites required. Learners also help gain access to career services and student success managers who will help you get started in the job market and prepare for your first position as a cybersecurity professional.

Learn more about our Introductory Course and discover how you can get started in the cybersecurity industry! 

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