How to Get Into the Cyber Security Field From Any Background

Cyber security professionals are in demand, and their skills apply to a wide range of tech industries. Whether you’re looking to upskill or change careers entirely, there are many paths into the cyber security field for those with fundamental technical experience.

In this guide, we will discuss the process of entering cyber security, covering the following:

How to Get Into the Cyber Security Field if You …

Need to Gain Competitive Skills (With an IT or Technical Background)

Many of the skills involved in IT careers overlap with cyber security job roles. Most IT-focused careers center around planning, building, and maintaining computer and information systems for an organization, while cyber security job roles focus on defending those entities from attacks, planning security policies and procedures, and investigating breaches as they happen. Because of this overlap, aspiring cyber security professionals should strive to acquire a blend of both skill sets.

Cyber security skills are also valuable for those staying in their current IT-focused roles. System administrators, network administrators, or computer systems analysts can benefit from understanding security best practices and potential threats. These skills can help you move up the ladder into higher-level roles or be more effective in your current position. Earning a cyber security certification or completing a bootcamp can provide you with hands-on technical experience in cyber security, which can help to propel your career forward.

Technical and Soft Skills You’ll Need

Cyber security is a fast-moving field that generally requires a mix of technical skills and soft skills. Here are some of the top skills required for those interested in cyber security:

A graphic on the technical vs. soft skills needed to pursue a career in cyber security.

Technical skills

  • IT skills: A working knowledge of IT skills can help aspiring cyber security professionals operate, maintain, and defend computer and information systems, allowing them to better understand all aspects of the networks they are fortifying.
  • Programming skills: Depending on your career path, programming skills can be helpful for cyber security positions; they lend in-depth technical knowledge to security professionals, equipping them to make informed, well-rounded decisions catering to a system’s underlying code. Some of the best programming languages for cyber security include C, C++, Python, JavaScript, PHP, and SQL.
  • Hacking: Understanding advanced hacking tactics can help a cyber security professional scheme and implement proper defense measures. Cyber security professionals typically call this process “ethical hacking” — relying on the same skills used by hackers without employing them for nefarious purposes.

Soft skills 

  • Communication skills: Cyber security professionals may work with multiple teams across organizations, often communicating with managers, executives, and other key stakeholders at once. Communication skills are vital for discussing security protocols, potential threats, and incident reports.
  • Learning: Cyber security is a field that moves and changes quickly. Cyber security typically involves staying up-to-date with the rapidly evolving technology sector, threat vectors, and security best practices.
  • Attention to detail: Modern organizations have so many attack vectors — vulnerabilities can exist in both their physical and digital infrastructures. Paying strong attention to detail can help you identify and manage vulnerabilities before bad actors exploit them.

How to Gain the Skills You Need

There are several effective ways to gain the skills you need to break into the cyber security field. On-the-job training is an effective method for IT professionals to comfortably transition into cyber security roles. Taking on cyber security-related tasks and learning while working can help you gain practical industry skills before shifting roles. This experience will enable a more seamless transition into a new set of responsibilities.

Aspiring career switchers may also consider learning skills through a more formal educational option. There are three primary pathways for those wishing to learn in this manner:

  • Cyber security bootcampCyber security bootcamps are an excellent way to gain cyber security credentials quickly and thoroughly. University of Denver Cybersecurity Boot Camp, for instance, provides two weeks of test prep for the Security+ certification and one year of access to CompTIA’s CertMaster test prep platform for the exam — all while offering quick, project-based learning tailored to real-world cyber security scenarios and responsibilities. Though intensive and fast-paced, bootcamps are flexible and predicated on personalized learning.
  • Traditional degrees — Alternatively, cyber security degree programs in fields like computer science, engineering, or programming commonly teach crucial cyber security skills pertaining to different tech industries, giving students the chance to learn in a gradual, comprehensive manner on- or off-campus.
  • Independent learning — Independent learning options, such as free courses and educational mobile apps, are also a viable pathway for learning cyber security. These outlets allow learners to gain crucial skills at their own pace, simultaneously fostering technical industry knowledge and applicable soft skills such as time management, accountability, and task compartmentalization.

For Soheil Mirzaei — a systems engineer at Charles Schwab’s Denver office — University of Denver Cybersecurity Boot Camp was a chance to learn crucial cyber security skills culminating in an exciting new career. The curriculum offered an ideal prelude to interview-based testing and, later, on-the-job responsibilities.Read Soheil’s story here.

IT Jobs That Make the Transition Into Cyber Security Easier

  • System administrators

System administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operations of an organization’s computer network and information technology infrastructure. They typically have a wide range of knowledge about how computer systems operate — from both a technical and user-facing standpoint. Many systems administrators focus on computer security as part of these responsibilities, providing an array of valuable, transferable skills that can help them seamlessly pivot into cyber security roles if desired.

  • Computer systems analysts

study an organization’s current computer systems, policies, and design solutions that help an organization work more effectively and efficiently. They document these systems to understand, upgrade, and help rebuild them. These responsibilities result in numerous transferable skills between computer systems analysis and cyber security.

For instance, both positions involve developing procedures, researching emerging technologies, and presenting plans to stakeholders within an organization. The content might differ — cyber security professionals focus on security, while computer systems analysts focus on implementing computer systems more broadly — but the remaining facets of the jobs enjoy a reasonable amount of cross-pollination in this regard.

  • Network engineers

Network engineers (also commonly known as network architects) focus on building and maintaining valuable communication infrastructure for an organization. Many network engineering roles commonly entail developing and implementing security procedures and systems, making it easier for network engineers to pivot into a cyber security career. This broad understanding of safety-based network construction can be instrumental in shifting to a cyber security-oriented role, providing transferable skills such as network back end fluency, technical critical thinking, and adaptability to a multitude of fast-moving challenges.

Want to Switch Careers (Coming From a Non-Technical Background)

Many new cyber security professionals can also comfortably transfer skills from non-technical backgrounds. For starters, merely having a passion for technology and critical thinking can go a long way in this field. While someone coming from a non-technical background may not have strong practical tech skills, there are still many entry-level, cyber security-adjacent roles that can help you get your foot in the door.

For example, someone interested in cyber security may find success in a less technical cyber security-focused role, such as technical writing or cyber policy analysis. Once on the job, this employee may express interest in learning additional technology skills and earning certifications, which can help broaden their horizons for higher-level cyber security jobs in the future. Picking up technical skills in this fashion could provide a wealth of hands-on experience for those entering the field.

Broadly speaking, those with non-technical backgrounds should research and establish a list of potential roles that don’t require specific hard skills. Once you have your bearings in this regard, it helps to know as much as you can about each company, tailoring your resume to emphasize as many soft and relevant non-technical skills as possible. Also, know that many of these roles will likely be entry-level or broad in nature, so patience will be key as you learn practical industry fundamentals and build credentials for higher-level roles.

Technical and Soft Skills You’ll Need

Computer systems: Knowing the basics of computer system administration is vital in most cyber security roles. Two of the most common systems are Windows and Linux, and fluency in such systems will increase your chances of having a seamless role transition.

Networking: Networks are groups of computers or other devices that communicate with each other. Learning how a network functions is an important skill for many cyber security professionals — otherwise, it may be significantly harder to fortify networks against potential attacks, audit for existing weaknesses, and respond efficiently if breaches occur.

Coding: Understanding the basics of coding can be helpful for a wide range of cyber security job roles, as they help illustrate a network’s functionality at a deep technical level. With such baseline knowledge, a cyber security professional may have an easier time overseeing the construction of technical security measures and protocols. Potentially applicable programming languages in this space include Python, HTML, or JavaScript — all of which possess a versatile range of uses across different digital entities.

Presentation skills: Many cyber security roles also require strong presentation skills. These roles not only entail network fortification and security-based analysis, but also the clear and concise communication of related information (including key findings stemming from network audits and similar measures). With a proper set of presentation skills, you may have a better chance of justifying new security programs, procedures, or upgrades.

How to Gain the Skills You Need

Cyber security bootcamps are a great option for gaining prerequisite industry skills. University of Denver Cybersecurity Boot Camp, for instance, is a demanding but rewarding experience. Having some baseline technical skills can be helpful during instruction; however, intensive programming skills aren’t required. The bootcamp also offers pre-course tutorials to bring students up to speed with the basics.

If you are forging technical skills from the ground up, however, self-taught options may be a great prelude to a cyber security bootcamp or related college degree program. There are many resources and tutorials available on coding, networking, computer administration, and more. Studying for an IT certification can provide another avenue for picking up valuable skills.

See our guide on becoming a cyber security analyst for more information.

Non-Technical Job Experience and Skills That May Be Beneficial

Many cyber security roles require strong communication and presentation skills. For example, penetration testers work with organizations to identify weaknesses in physical or digital defenses. After testing and identifying vulnerabilities, a penetration tester typically compiles a report and presents findings to key stakeholders within an organization. As a result, knowing how to structure and present information is a significant component of the position.

Transparency and teamwork are also crucial for many cyber security professionals. Security is only one component of an organization, and organizations must balance resources between departments and weigh the benefits of implementing new security measures or protocols. Being able to work closely with other departments is crucial for many cyber security professionals, and there are numerous nontechnical roles that may provide transferable skills. For example, those coming from leadership or managerial backgrounds have likely taken steps to improve their leader-employee transparency, which can translate well to a cyber security team management or administration role.

Plan to Start From Scratch (No Relevant Work Experience or Degree)

If you lack applicable work or education experience — not to worry! You can still pursue a job in cyber security. Consider leaning into broader soft skills that may transfer over well to cyber security roles: communication, readiness to work with others, and high-level problem solving are just a few great starting points in this regard. What’s more, certifications are a considerable option for getting started without a degree; relevant certifications like CompTIA Security+ or Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) serve as strong proof of knowledge and can help fill gaps in your prior experience.

At the same time, consider finding other hands-on ways to show your competence and knowledge — such as working on volunteer projects or participating in local hackathons. These efforts can simultaneously teach you valuable skills and establish a body of work to show potential employers.

As mentioned earlier, another strong option for beginners is a cyber security bootcamp — University of Denver Cybersecurity Boot Camp teaches valuable cyber security concepts in a hands-on format over the course of just 24 weeks.

Do You Need a College Degree?

Earning a college degree in cyber security can help launch a successful career in the field. Cyber security-related degrees often offer a technology-focused curriculum touching on computer science, network construction, cryptography, and ethical hacking. Cyber security bachelor’s degrees typically involve earning 120 credits, equating to around four years of full-time study. Masters degree programs usually involve approximately 60 credit hours, or about two years of full-time study.

Earning a college degree can be worthwhile if you have the time and financial resources to spend two to four years focused on classwork. College programs are often viewed as rich, rewarding experiences thanks to their consistently communal nature and availability of a wide variety of additional courses that may be of interest to learners.

However, due to its considerable time commitment and less specialized nature (cyber security will likely have to be learned within a broader major like computer science), this approach will not be for everyone. Those with time or financial resource constraints may prefer a less structured method of study.

While a college degree can help someone get started in cyber security, it’s not the only way for someone to enter the field. According to CompTIA, around half (49 percent) of the job postings in IT-related fields don’t list a degree as a job requirement. Earning certifications, completing a bootcamp, or volunteering on cyber security projects can help you get started in the field.

Advanced Degrees vs. Alternative Pathways

While not always necessary, an advanced degree in cyber security can benefit someone pursuing an industry career from scratch. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some cyber security employers prefer candidates with advanced degrees, and such credentials can be a huge advantage in diversifying job options and catching the attention of certain employers.

However, advanced degrees are not the only way to gain a competitive edge. Other effective methods of study for industry newcomers include bootcamps and self-guided options. Bootcamps, while quick and intensive, are often more accessible and personalized than advanced degrees, as they tailor their instruction to accommodate an array of experience levels. Bootcamps also keep curricula flexible, yet are thorough and rooted in practical skill-building.

Self-learning, on the other hand, allows learners to hone new skills at their own pace. You can learn cyber security fundamentals on the weekend, after work, or whenever you have free time. There are many resources available for people who want to teach themselves cyber security concepts, including free online courses, instructional videos, and educational apps. Self-taught options are a great way to develop both technical knowledge and broad time management and accountability skills.

Finding the Right Cyber Security Role For You

There are many cyber security career paths, so it can be beneficial to take your time and evaluate your options.

For example, suppose you want to become a security architect — a consistently senior-level role that manages the network and computer security for an organization. In that case, you’ll want to consider the path that most people take to reach such a role. This could include completing a bootcamp, working as an entry-level security analyst, and gaining the experience needed to move up the career ladder. Keeping your “eye on the prize” can be important in cyber security, and the decisions you make early on can have a significant impact down the line

Entry-Level Positions

Entry-level cyber security positions can be a great fit for someone with prior technical experience, someone who recently completed a cyber security bootcamp, or a recent graduate from a degree program. If you’re interested in learning more about entry-level positions in cyber security, read our guide on entry-level jobs in the field.

Here are a few potential entry-level cyber security roles to consider:

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts protect an organization’s computer networks by planning and executing security measures. Job responsibilities include monitoring networks for security breaches, installing and updating security software, reporting on information or security breaches, and keeping up-to-date on industry best practices.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median pay for Information Security Analysts was $103,590 per year. Expected job growth for the field is strong, as the BLS projects 31 percent growth between 2019-2029. This growth is primarily due to an uptick in advanced cyberattacks and an increased need for cyber security services — particularly in healthcare and finance, where data protection is especially crucial. This role often requires a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent form of education, training, or employment) in a cyber security-related field.

Security Auditor

Security auditors are generally viewed as an offshoot of the broader information security analysis industry. They work with companies and organizations to audit security systems and detect any flaws or issues present within a system. Overall, this position focuses on providing insight into where procedures are sufficient and how an organization can make changes to increase its information security.

People working as security auditors must understand threats and tactics used against computer systems, identify risks, and communicate those risks to other departments, such as network administrators or other levels of management. This communication allows for a quicker, more cohesive problem-solving process resulting in more informed solutions. Someone working as a security auditor needs a mix of technical skills, communication skills, and presentation skills to effectively interpret security-related technical matters, properly communicate them to the appropriate parties, and present potentially complex information in a manner that is both understandable and actionable.

Penetration Tester

Another specific role within information security analysis is penetration tester. This role focuses on identifying existing security issues for a company or organization. Penetration testers can be considered “ethical hackers” — they attempt to break a company’s security protocols to identify vulnerabilities.

Penetration testers use a variety of methods to test an organization’s security practices and infrastructure. These methods can include testing wireless network security, attempting to attain unauthorized access to a facility’s physical space, or social engineering, which tries to fool people in the organization into breaching security protocols.

The penetration tester’s findings are summarized in a report and presented to the organization in a debrief meeting. Like security auditors, penetration testers must bring a mix of technical and social skills, as they are regularly tasked with testing an organization’s security and summarizing key findings identified during this process. Working as a system administrator, network engineer, or system architect can prepare someone for work in this role.

Senior Positions

While pursuing entry-level roles, it helps to establish a higher job goal for the future — namely in a senior-level position. Forward-thinking can help you find the right fit for an entry-level position and properly kick off your journey.

Here are a few senior-level cyber security positions to consider:

Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

The CISO is a senior-level executive role within information security analysis. It focuses on developing and implementing security processes that protect an organization from cyber attacks and risks. The CISO creates and maintains a high-level strategy to protect vital information from attacks, allowing organizations to proactively plan for breaches while preemptively fortifying existing infrastructure.

Typically, the CISO is a top executive at an organization that focuses on information security and cyber security. CISOs set the tone and pace for security initiatives in the organization. Most CISO positions require around 7-10 years of experience in the field, and they usually have broad skills like high-level IT knowledge, team management, and critical thinking. Specifically, CISOs should have an eye for potentially complex solutions — balancing the ability to properly communicate plans and spearhead multifaceted initiatives in pursuit of stronger security systems.

Security Architect

Security architects are senior-level employees responsible for maintaining a company’s computer systems and security protocols. This requires high-level knowledge surrounding security frameworks, vectors of attack, and network security. Their experience and skill sets usually include critical thinking, high-level troubleshooting (typically amidst ongoing projects), and the ability to upgrade and maintain a variety of hardware and software. This is a “big picture” role focused on overseeing broad security programs and policies for a company or organization.

Most security architects have five or more years of experience in the field and command high salaries. According to the BLS, computer network architects had a median salary of $116,780 in 2020, and the number of jobs in the field is projected to grow by 5 percent between 2019 and 2029. Demand for these professionals has grown as more firms expand their IT networks, creating additional job opportunities for architects to build new digital infrastructure and upgrade existing networks.

Cyber Security Engineer

Cyber security engineers build and oversee security systems and procedures, identifying threats and vulnerabilities in computer systems and software. They apply their skills to develop solutions to defend against threats and are responsible for implementing associated changes to software and computer systems on an ongoing basis. Job responsibilities include planning, managing, and implementing security measures; troubleshooting security issues; and responding to security breaches as they occur. As savvy auditors and problem solvers, engineers are vital to businesses because they keep networks up-to-date while actively mitigating both budding and existing security threats.

Cyber security engineers tend to have a strong background in software development, broad cyber security protocol, and computer administration and networking. Typically, cyber security engineers also bring several years of experience in relevant technical roles before starting in this position, and applicable skills usually include high-level web development, specific knowledge of security-related digital structures like firewalls, and a strong understanding of network functionality.

How to Tailor Your Resume to a Cyber Security Position

Generally, the most important information to include in any cyber security resume is work experience. Potential employers will want to see what you’ve done and how your experience is applicable to the role you’re considering. This information can consist of experience in cyber security, various IT-focused positions, or other applicable roles. If you don’t have much relevant experience in the field, consider including a resume objective or summary at the top of the page that mentions applicable skills, goals, and objectives — linking them to the experience you do have.

Also be sure to include any prior education, whether that’s a college degree, bootcamp, or other relevant IT or cyber security coursework. Including any technical certifications, security clearances, or other credentials that can help you stand out as well.

Just as importantly, avoid including a headshot, as this won’t help you land a position and wastes valuable space on your page. Also, forgo passions, hobbies, and other non-work-related information — unless it might aid your chances within the context of the role or interview in question.

Summing Up

In addition to being in demand, cyber security careers are engaging, dynamic, and typically lucrative for a variety of skill levels. Today, cyber security is an equally viable career option for workers in related fields, industry upskillers, and those wishing to enter the field from scratch.

What’s more, aspiring cyber security professionals can access a variety of effective educational pathways. Completing a cyber security bootcamp, for example, provides hands-on experience with cyber security concepts. It can be helpful for a wide variety of aspiring cyber security professionals, including those wanting to get started in the field or professionals looking to grow in their current role.

FAQs

  • How do I get into cyber security?

There are many ways for someone to enter the cyber security industry. Many schools offer traditional bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field. Some skills can be self-taught or picked up on the job at an existing organization. Completing a cyber security boot camp typically provides hands-on experience and practical education in 24 weeks.

  • Is cyber security a good career?

Working in cyber security is a good career for anyone who wants to work in a dynamic, fast-paced environment. Technology changes quickly, so a learner’s mindset is key. The field is set to expand quickly over the next few years — according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for information security analysts is expected to grow by 31 percent by 2029.

  • What is the cyber security salary range?

Salaries differ, depending on the field and level of experience, but they are generally strong in cyber security. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for information security analysts was $103,590 in 2020, with the lowest 10 percent earning $60,060 and the highest 10 percent earning $163,300.

  • Which certifications do I need?

There are many certifications related to cyber security that can be beneficial for job seekers. Some of the most popular professional certifications include Comp TIA Security +, Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), GIAC Security Essentials, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and Certified Information Security Manager (CISM).

Guides to Related Careers

Are you interested in technology careers in general? Here are some of our other guides to consider:

Career Paths for UX Designers: Your Best Options — This guide explains how to get started in the field of UX design.

Tips to Start a Career in UI Design — UI design is a great option for artistic and design-minded people. What is UI design, and how do you get started? Check out this guide to learn more.

17 Skills All Programmers Need to Have (2021 List) — Programming is a great career path for people interested in technology. Here, you’ll find some of the most important skills for programmers in 2021.

The Best Way to Learn Coding From Scratch in 2021 (For Beginners) — Want to learn to code without any previous experience? Here’s how to get started.

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