From education to employment

Top tips on how to start a career in cyber security

Sarah Gilchriest, Chief People Officer of Workforce Learning, the group encompassing QA, Circus Street and Cloud Academy, explores the benefits of a career in cyber security and the top tips on how start your journey in this industry

Cyber security has become one of the most important aspects of any business or government organisation. The world is becoming increasingly digital, meaning that more and more sensitive information is kept on devices or in the cloud. Businesses need to protect that data, and that’s where good cyber security comes in. What’s more, Covid-19 and the invasion of Ukraine have put cyber security threats and attacks to the forefront of everyone’s mind. A sudden mass-shift to remote working during the pandemic, and now hybrid working has created gaps that enable bad actors to gain access to that sensitive information.

The UK Government’s Cyber Security Braches Survey 2023 found that there were “approximately 2.39 million instances of cyber crime and approximately 49,000 instances of fraud as a result of cyber crime in the last 12 months” across all UK businesses. At the same time there is a gap of 3.4 million cyber security workers worldwide, according to research by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium.

So, if you’re interested in a career in cyber security, this is a good time to get in as demand is quite high. But how and where do you start?

The good news is that anyone can start a career in cyber security, and develop key skills such as software development, threat detection or incident response. Let’s look at the key reasons to explore a career in this sector.

Why start a career in cyber security?

It is important to know that while salaries can range significantly from job to job, there is more and more demand for cyber security specialists. According to John McAfee, founder of Future Tense Central and CEO at MGT Capital Investments, “The field of cyber security is the least populated of any field of technology. There are two job openings for every qualified candidate.”

Employers are struggling to find enough qualified individuals to fill the demand created by cybercrime. Gary Hayslip, author of the book ‘CISO Desk Reference Guide, A practical guide for CISOs’, says that organisations “are trying to hire a unicorn​ –​ i.e., they need three people but can only hire one. So, they write the job specs with a huge list of ​disparate skill​ ​sets that most security professionals don’t have.” This then leads to a skills gap that can work in the favour of new cyber security graduates, giving them a way into an ever-growing professional field.

Job security

Alongside the skill gap, cyber professionals can expect a modicum of job security simply by filling their roles. The demand for their job is so high that you are unlikely to be made redundant.

A word of warning, though. Cyber professionals have about a 20% turnover rate in most companies because of burnout caused by trying to compensate for the skills gap. Employers who expect too much from their limited cyber security team will be met with pushback, and with the amount of demand for cyber security professionals, the hiring market is skewed in favour of applicants.

Variety of roles

As you have seen, there are a variety of roles that fall under the cyber security umbrella. With such abundance, the odds of finding a niche that suits your interests are very high. In cyber security, bored is not a word that will be present in your vocabulary.

Security professionals also get the chance to work on a huge scope of technologies. This is an attribute that, while not exclusive to cyber security roles, is one of their draw points. Cyber security is used in everything from robotics or car production to website security for both small and large organisations. If there is an online element, cyber security has a foothold there.

Since there is such a wide array of applications for cyber security, it follows that there is a wide array of ways to train for it. There is no ‘right’ way to become a cyber security professional.

Problem solving

As with many software development roles, cyber security professionals need to have a level of critical thinking and problem-solving to be able to adapt to the changing landscape in tech. From testing against new kinds of hacking to innovating the way the company database is run, security optimisation is always evolving, keeping cyber security professionals on their toes. And as technology evolves, so does cybercrime, meaning there are always new puzzles to solve, the job is never the same thing twice.

A career with real-world impact

Cybercrime is a serious problem that affects every industry. Some industries are more in need of cyber security than others. For instance, organisations with control over military matters, financial data, or medical devices need cyber security to prevent real, serious damage to individuals.

A specific example of the impact that cyber security can have was seen in the pacemaker hacking crisis in the USA in 2017. 500,000 pacemakers were recalled by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to fears that their lax cyber security could be hacked to run the batteries down or even alter the patient’s heartbeat.

Cyber security matters. Its impacts extend beyond the digital world and into the physical one. That can be both a frightening and exciting prospect but regardless, it highlights the importance of cyber security.

If you’re looking for a career that has real-world impact, cybersecurity might be the perfect match for you.

Getting started in cyber security

There are many avenues one can take to get a start in cyber security. IT roles like helpdesk technicians or software developers are very common transition roles. But so long as you have a few key skills, you can enter cyber security without previous industry experience.

While you don’t necessarily need to have experience in tech to be successful in cyber security, some hard qualifications are needed just to do the job required. It would benefit you to do some research on: scripting/software development, framework, intrusion detection, network security control, operating systems, incident response, cloud, DevOps or threat knowledge. All of which are specialist areas of upskilling that Cloud Academy offer within their training library. Soft skills such as problem-solving, attention to detail, communication skills, a desire to learn, risk management, adaptability and critical thinking are also very important.

Some of the most common roles/titles are cyber security analysts and cyber security engineers. In simple terms, engineers build and design the security infrastructure, and analysts monitor and maintain it.

One of the best ways to develop cyber security skills and gain practical experience is through an apprenticeship programme. This way you can get on-the-job experience, earn a salary, and work towards an industry-recognised qualification all the way up to master’s level.

Another avenue is to undergo an upskilling programme, especially if you already have some of the hard skills described above and are thinking of a career change. There’s now a plethora of different ways in which we can learn new skills. Whether it’s online, in-person, professional development courses or ad-hoc skill acquisition, there is a format for every person, character and lifestyle.

I doubt there was a time when cyber security jobs were more popular and in demand. At the same time, it was never easier to unlock learning opportunities, whether you’re looking for a career change or a new graduate. If you have the skills we discussed above and the determination to learn, this may be the right path for you.

By Sarah Gilchriest, Chief People Officer of Workforce Learning, the group encompassing QA, Circus Street and Cloud Academy

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