This article is about how to determine if cybersecurity is a good career field for you. If instead, you’re interested in how to go about learning cybersecurity, you can view our cybersecurity learning advice here.
A common question before anyone gets started on their cybersecurity journey is to ask if they are a good fit for the field. There are so many questions we ask ourselves when we consider getting started, and all of these we ask to ultimately determine if cybersecurity will be right for us in our career. Because this is a challenge that all of us face when we get started, I’ve outlined a process you can use to better know if cybersecurity is the right career for you.
So, how can you know if cybersecurity is right for you? The best way to know if cybersecurity is right for you is to research and understand what cybersecurity really is, get an understanding of the continual learning commitment that cybersecurity takes, and go see cybersecurity in action. After completing these three steps, you should have a good feeling if the field is a fit for you or not.
Here’s how to get started:
Step 1 – Research the Field
To know if a career field is right for any of us, we need to have a good understanding of what the field really is. To get a handle on what cybersecurity really is, start by identifying the different sectors of cybersecurity and related information technology. Recognize that just like medicine, cybersecurity has a lot of areas of specialty. Learn about these specialties and see if any seem to be more of a draw for you.
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Begin your research by completing an online search on the major specialties of cyber security. Here is a general, yet non-exhaustive list to get you started (you can learn more about some of these careers by visiting our career paths section here):
- Penetration Testing
- Network Security
- Threat Analysis
- Data Assurance
If you spend some time researching these terms online, you may start to get a feel for what may be and may not be a good fit for you. Now begin to consider and research these additional factors listed below. Use a job search site such as monster.com or careerbuilder.com to search for jobs in the areas you’ve identified above that seem most interesting, and look for the following factors:
- Are these jobs in your area, or will you have to move?
- Security Clearances. How many are requiring security clearances and are you “clearable?”
- Key Requirements. Are the job postings consistently referring to a specific skill or requirement?
- Are there other requirements besides a degree? What are they are what skills align with those certifications?
When you do a preliminary job search like this, you can take note of the salary ranges, but don’t focus too much on them. They vary wildly based on location, experience and clearance. At this point, you don’t want to subconsciously chase a career based on the money alone, because right now we’re just trying to determine fit.
From your job search, what trends did you notice? Did you come across a lot of jobs that require a clearance? Will your background prohibit you from getting into the area of cybersecurity that you want because of a clearance requirement? Keep in mind that a background that is not clearable doesn’t mean that you can’t work in the cybersecurity field, but it may limit certain opportunities. And again, we’re just looking to get a feel for the job market now.
If you’ve following along thus far, you should now have an idea for what the career areas are, what the job market looks like, and what the requirements are for those jobs. Now, let’s move on to the next step and evaluate the commitment that a cybersecurity career will require of us.
Step 2 – Understand the Continual Learning Commitment
If you’ve completed the first step and are still interested in moving forward, it’s time to begin considering the commitment it will take from you in terms of continual, lifelong learning.
For me, the commitment to continual learning was obvious. My father was a mason. One time while helping him with work I realized that the field of masonry probably hasn’t changed in a few hundred years. People are using brick and stone and mortar to build things now, just like they’ve done for centuries. My father didn’t have to learn new things to stay in the trade.
So, for this second step, consider the lifelong learning commitment of cybersecurity, and if you believe you’ll be up for the task. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you enjoy learning about technology?
- Do you like the opportunity of getting paid for what you know?
- Are you willing to keep your skills up to date, and continue doing that forever?
Cybersecurity is a field with plenty of opportunity, however there is competition, and the best jobs only go to the best. And the best are the best continual learners. Consider how you answered the questions above and determine if you’re willing to put in the continual work necessary, outside of work hours, to stay up to date in the field.
Step 3 – See Cyber Security in Action
If you’re still hanging in there and believe you have the drive to pursue cybersecurity, the final step is to witness the work personally. Just like a police academy prospect needs to go on a ride-along, you need to see any job in action before you can make an educated decision, including a cybersecurity job. To do that, consider the following options:
- Consider who you know in the field and ask them to shadow for a few hours. Ask questions and get their feedback. You certainly know a lot of people if you think about it, and those people know people. To whom do you have access that you can speak to or shadow?
- Ask a local college to sit in and observe the class. This shouldn’t be an issue with most colleges if they think you are a prospective student. While observing, don’t assess whether the class is challenging or if you understand the topic, because you won’t since you’re just stopping by. Focus on whether you could see yourself there.
- Check out YouTube videos on cybersecurity careers. Some employers, like the NSA, have a YouTube channel that they use for recruiting and to show what their careers are like. Check out their channel and others like it. Just the fact that an employer like the NSA has a channel should be a good indication that they need people and are looking to recruit.
Other factors to Consider
If you’ve made it through those three steps, you should be closer to a decision on your career goals. There are other factors to consider as well as you make your decision. Also consider:
- Is your passion for technology really a passion for gaming? Gaming passion does not mean that any technical field is a good fit; it just means that you like video games. Don’t make this mistake. Make sure you followed the three-step process and are evaluating a cybersecurity career on its merits and drawbacks.
- A technology career does not mean you can avoid interpersonal interaction. There will always be a boss, a customer, or a vendor that you’ll need to speak with. Understand now that good interpersonal communication skills are going to be necessary in your cybersecurity career. You probably won’t be able to avoid it.
- Are you willing to invest the next three to five years to get up to speed and get into the field? Since there’s a lot to learn, it’s going to take some time. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a fact. On the positive side, that timeline is also a factor that helps to eliminate the competition.
Good luck in your decision making!
How long does it take to get into cybersecurity? For a beginner, a reasonable timeline will be three to five years, depending on whether someone is studying full time or part-time, and what career goals they have. Getting into a general information technology position first will be quicker. You can see more information about how long it takes to get into cybersecurity at our article here.
Do I need a college degree to get into cybersecurity? It appears that most jobs prefer it, and certainly the higher paying and higher-level jobs do require a degree. Perhaps more importantly, a lack of a degree may hurt your career prospects at some point in the future. Check out this article for more information on whether you’ll need a degree or not to be successful in cybersecurity.