Building a career in cybersecurity: 4 key drivers for success
Cybersecurity skills are in huge demand, and the barriers to entry are high. Here is an overview of what it takes to build a successful career in the field.

Summary: Cybersecurity skills are in enormous and constantly growing demand, but getting into the field has not always been easy. The barriers to entry, some of which are amplified by the pervasive misconceptions about the field, remain high. Here are some of the main drivers for getting into the cybersecurity sector and building a successful career.

Given the rapid expansion of the digital world and all the threats that come with it, cybersecurity has never before been more critical than it is today. Businesses across all industries are investing in protecting themselves and their customers from old and new threats. Yet the skills gap remains a serious problem, with several million cybersecurity positions currently open worldwide.

Demand for cybersecurity skills, experience, and expertise is at an all-time high, so there has also never been a better time to get into the field. That said, the barriers to entry are still high, though perhaps not as high as many people assume. It is, for example, perfectly possible to start a career in cybersecurity without any previous experience in the space and without a huge investment of time or money.

Here are four things would-be cyber professionals need to do first.

#1. Overcome the myths

Cybersecurity is still poorly understood by the layperson, which is one of the reasons why the public, in general, is so vulnerable to attacks. The dated stereotype of the computer geek primarily operating in a solitary environment is far from reality. First, not all cybersecurity roles are mainly technical and, second, many roles depend heavily on personal and interpersonal relationships.

Not having a background in IT is not a dealbreaker. For example, cybersecurity is intertwined with many other disciplines, such as governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC). While many roles are, of course, highly technical, today’s security teams are composed of a lot more than experts in security incident and event management (SIEM), penetration testing, or scripting.

#2. Be motivated by belief

It is no surprise that one of the biggest motivators of entering the cybersecurity space is financial compensation. After all, even an entry-level position can pay over $66,000 per year. These high salaries are also one of the main reasons many businesses outsource their cybersecurity operations to managed security service providers (MSSPs), many of which are also motivated solely by economics.

As is the case in any white-collar profession, true success is a product of high job satisfaction, which, in turn, is also the product of belief and motivation. As such, the most effective security professionals genuinely believe in what they do. They are motivated not just by money but also by the fact that their work is about protecting assets, people, jobs, and society at large.

#3. Choosing a specialization

Just looking through cybersecurity job listings can be overwhelming, not least because there are so many placements with pay scales ranging from around $50,000 per year to over three times that. This alone makes it challenging to identify a suitable starting point, thus encouraging would-be cybersecurity career professionals to learn as much as they can across the full range of domains. This learning is a big mistake since it is simply impossible to learn everything there is to know about cybersecurity.

With many domains and even more certifications to earn, it has never been more important to home in on a specialization – ideally, one that aligns with the candidate’s experience and interests. Specializing helps avoid burnout and become a master in a specific area. As such, candidates should continually evaluate their options carefully and begin by pursuing an entry-level certification like CompTIA’s Security+ or Network+.

#4. Joining a support network

Contrary to the stereotype, cybersecurity is rarely a solitary job. For example, leadership roles depend highly on soft skills like teamwork, passion, adaptability, and business acumen. Even the technical roles, such as penetration testing or ethical hacking, require good communication and report writing skills. In other words, no cybersecurity professional can expect to operate in a bubble. To that end, aligning cybersecurity and business is a top priority for business leaders.

Developing these skills requires working with the right people, which is why no one can expect to become a cybersecurity expert after reading books alone. Neither should would-be security professionals rely on any single source of information. They should incorporate hands-on practice labs, traditional reading materials, and video tutorials for training. A support community is also a must throughout training and beyond.

Cybersecurity is a journey, not a destination

The cybersecurity landscape is rapidly evolving. Such that the traditional approach to education and career development is not as relevant as it might be with other sectors. For those wanting to build a successful career in the space, it is vital to understand that security is a journey rather than an endpoint.

Cybersecurity professionals never stop learning on the job, and few stop at acquiring just one certification. Those who are successful often have highly developed career paths where they are constantly training to pursue the next certification and improve their skills to counter tomorrow’s threats better.

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