Careers in cybersecurity: Not just for hackers

September 24, 2019

By Michelle Rosa

A more interconnected world leads to more agility and efficiency, but it also opens the door to more cybersecurity threats. Both the public and private sectors are facing enormous cybersecurity challenges that are only going to get bigger and more complicated.

A ClearanceJobs article states that although cybersecurity is the fastest growing field, 51% of companies report a shortage of cybersecurity skills. This can only mean one thing, at least for job seekers: It’s a great time to start a career in cybersecurity.

Many people have misconceptions about what cybersecurity jobs entail. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “oh you must be a good hacker if you are working in cybersecurity.” I mentally roll my eyes, but it’s a reality that not a lot of people understand that cybersecurity is a broad field with many different paths.

This is especially true in the federal landscape. You don’t have to be a hacker, a developer or a computer scientist to land a job in cybersecurity. Even without cyber-related technical training, you could work within the cybersecurity field in positions such as policy analyst, program manager or data scientist.

Even if you don’t have a degree in cybersecurity, you can still pursue a career in the field. I know, because that’s what I did. I studied chemical engineering, but I now work in federal cybersecurity. The position I found didn’t require specialized training or certifications, but I chose to pursue free training within the Defense Acquisition University and the Federal Virtual Training Environment at the Department of Homeland Security.

I also subscribed to newsletters such as ThreatPost and Fifth Domain to familiarize myself with the cybersecurity landscape. And I read the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which federal agencies use to guide their cybersecurity efforts. 

However, if you’re interested in specific jobs such as ethical hacker, network engineer, vulnerability analyst or penetration tester, you will need specialized training and certifications.

It’s important to understand that cybersecurity threats change constantly and quickly, and certifications are not a guarantee that technologies, processes and techniques employed will provide successful responses to cybersecurity challenges.

The key to pursuing a successful cybersecurity career is to be flexible and willing to adjust course when looking for ways to solve cyber-related problems, while staying focused on the end goal—keeping our nation secure. Just as the threats, technologies and approaches to cybersecurity constantly evolve, so should anyone who works with them.

Michelle Rosa is the president of Young Government Leaders, where she advocates for members of YGL and oversees offerings for young government employees. She is also the host of YGL Radio, a new podcast about innovation in the federal government.