How to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer

Interested in becoming a cybersecurity engineer? Read this guide to learn the necessary skills and qualifications to launch your career.

How to Become a Cybersecurity EngineerThe current state of cybersecurity is far from stable. The increased reliance on data that organizations have been driven to in the past few years has made them vulnerable to cyberattacks and all that they entail. The increased rate of cybercrime as of late has been a wake-up call for organizations to take data security seriously, lest they lose revenue, sensitive data and/or their reputation and customers. Cybersecurity specialists such as cybersecurity engineers can be instrumental in defending sensitive data, preventing devastating security breaches and lessening the organizational impact of cybercrime.

What Does a Cybersecurity Engineer Do?

Have you ever wondered, “What is a cybersecurity engineer?” A cybersecurity engineer is an IT professional whose primary responsibility is to build and maintain secure computer systems that are free from as many vulnerabilities as possible. This task is simple, but not easy, and cybersecurity engineers need a specific skill set to perform it.

To create and maintain a safe system, these cybersecurity experts:

  • Stay current with cybersecurity trends and new security technologies
  • Collaborate with an organization’s IT or cybersecurity team to reach common goals
  • Create and implement security policies

A cybersecurity engineer is also responsible for:

  • Coming up with new solutions to resolve ongoing security issues
  • Assessing new technologies to improve security capabilities
  • Configuring and installing intrusion detection systems and firewalls

They must quickly respond to an array of security problems and take security measures when needed.

Cybersecurity engineers, sometimes referred to as information security engineers, also oversee all changes in software, hardware, telecommunications, user needs and facilities. They are adept at troubleshooting and fixing security problems. These IT professionals also maintain networks and make suggestions to organizational leaders that could help improve cybersecurity. 

Do You Need a Degree or Certification to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer?

For some cybersecurity engineers, it’s not “either or” when it comes to degrees vs. certifications — it’s “both.” A cybersecurity engineer is a more advanced role and therefore requires more experience and training. Depending on knowledge, you may want to pursue a degree in addition to a variety of professional certifications. The combination of degrees and certifications will help qualify and prepare you for this role.

It’s common for a cybersecurity engineer job description to require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information security or a related field. Sometimes, a master’s degree is required. According to an article by Zippia, 60% of cybersecurity engineers hold a bachelor’s degree, 16% have a master’s degree and 20% have an associate degree.

That said, some organizations are realizing the benefit of a larger, more inclusive talent pipeline and recognizing alternative pathways to technology jobs. That means you may not necessarily need a degree to become a cybersecurity engineer, but you will most likely need to start in a more entry-level IT role and work your way up over time.

Technical Skills and Soft Skills for a Cybersecurity Engineer

A cybersecurity engineer needs both technical skills and soft skills to succeed in their job role. They must have knowledge of:

Professional competencies such as skills related to critical thinking, communication, administration, strategy and creativity are also important for cybersecurity engineers to possess. Problem-solving skills are especially important as these cybersecurity professionals are constantly dealing with resolving security concerns.

Salary and Job Outlook for Cybersecurity Engineers

One of the most appealing aspects of starting a career in cybersecurity engineering is the job outlook and cybersecurity engineer salary. Through 2031, there will be a 35% growth in employment for information security analysts, including cybersecurity engineers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

According to CyberSeek, the average advertised salary for a security engineer is $127,094 as of April 2023.

Cybersecurity Engineer Career Paths

There is more than one career path, or specialization, for cybersecurity engineers. For example, a cybersecurity engineer could choose a career focus in:

  • Penetration testing
  • Cybersecurity analysis
  • Cybersecurity architecture and policy
  • Risk, compliance and auditing
  • Incident response
  • Data loss prevention

Each of these areas of specialization represent a skill cybersecurity engineers should have. However, a cybersecurity engineer can choose to specialize in one of these areas.

Also, a cybersecurity engineer career path doesn’t have to be in the technology sector. These IT professionals could work in manufacturing, financial services, government, healthcare, education, retail or another industry. And a cybersecurity engineer doesn’t have to work for a traditional employer. They may choose to work as an independent consultant. 

As a cybersecurity engineer gets experience and more certifications, they often become a senior cybersecurity engineer and take on additional managerial duties. Senior cybersecurity engineers make an average annual salary of $166,530.

5 Steps to Becoming a Cybersecurity Engineer

Consider taking these steps to move toward becoming a cybersecurity engineer:

1. Determine Whether a Career in Cybersecurity Is Right for You

It’s helpful to take some time before embarking on your career journey to assess whether you are right for a cybersecurity engineer role.

Cybersecurity engineers are strong in analytical skills, paying attention to detail, staying calm in stressful situations and solving complex problems. Are these qualities you possess or are willing to cultivate? If so, that’s a sign a career as a cybersecurity engineer is right for you.

If you are questioning the suitability of an IT career in general, CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+) is a must. It will introduce you to some key IT skills and help you decide if a career in information technology is a good fit for you. 

2. Get Your Degree (if Necessary)

Getting a degree takes patience and dedication to your career path. It can be challenging, but if you want to be a cybersecurity engineer, it may be necessary.

First, choose what type of degree you will earn. While deciding, keep in mind that most cybersecurity engineers have a bachelor’s degrees. However, having a master’s degree in a relevant topic can open more job opportunities and qualify you for a managerial role in cybersecurity engineering. 

Next, determine the best major for you. Some cybersecurity engineers earn a degree in IT systems engineering or information security. Others choose a more general major like computer science or information technology.

Once you know what type of degree you want, it will be easier to find in-person or online degree programs that will suit your needs.

3. Earn In-Demand Cybersecurity Certifications

Getting professional certifications that are in high demand is part of becoming a cybersecurity engineer. Some people choose to earn their certifications independently during school, and some degree programs give learners the option to earn certain certifications. Others earn certifications after they have a degree and work experience in the cybersecurity field.

One of the best cybersecurity certifications to earn is CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+). This credential is perfect for IT professionals who work in incident detection, prevention and response.

CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) covers skills every cybersecurity engineer needs. They include security operations, vulnerability management, incident response and management and reporting and communication.

Before pursuing CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+), candidates should have CompTIA Security+, CompTIA Network+ or equivalent knowledge. They should also possess at least 4 years of experience as an incident response analyst or security operations center (SOC) analyst

Advanced professional certifications such as CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+) can help cybersecurity professionals prove that they have what it takes to be a cybersecurity engineer. This credential is the most up-to-date cybersecurity certification at the advanced level currently on the market.

CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+) covers topics like security operations, security engineering and cryptography, security architecture and governance, risk and compliance. The prerequisites for this certification are at least 10 years of experience working in general IT and a minimum of 5 years of experience in hands-on data security.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) are a couple of other professional certifications that can serve cybersecurity engineers well.

Those who earn CISSP prove to hiring managers that they can design, implement and manage an effective cybersecurity program. Cybersecurity professionals who pass the CEH exam demonstrate that they can locate vulnerabilities in target systems and can use that information to assess the security of the target systems.

4. Strengthen Your Professional Skills

As you build the technical skills you need to become a competent cybersecurity engineer, don’t neglect your soft skills. Hiring managers are serious about finding job candidates with strong professional skills in addition to technical abilities.

Improving your ability to communicate, lead a team, work with others, adapt to fast-changing situations and respond to crises will make you a more competitive job candidate. The best way to build your soft skills is to work in IT. Even working in an entry-level role in IT will teach you more professional skills than you might expect.

As you get work experience, especially in cybersecurity, your professional skills will get stronger, and you will become a better job candidate. Taking part in bootcamps and other forms of cybersecurity training will also give you a competitive edge. 

5. Get Work Experience in an IT Security Role

Many employers want to hire cybersecurity engineers who have at least a couple years of experience in an IT security role. That’s why it is vital to get work experience. Some cybersecurity engineers first work as a security administrator, an incident response analyst, cyber risk analyst, penetration tester or software engineer. But any IT role with a security focus will help give you the experience you need.

After you’ve decided if a career in cybersecurity engineering is right for you, earned a suitable degree, attained relevant certifications, optimized your soft skills and built up your work experience, it’s time to search for jobs.

FAQs About Becoming a Cybersecurity Engineer

Do you have a FAQ about becoming a cybersecurity engineer? Let’s look at two of the most-asked questions about this occupation:

Is It Hard to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer?

Most people will likely find it challenging to become a cybersecurity engineer. This could be due to the complexity of the subject matter, the length of time it takes to get into cybersecurity engineering or both.

Generally, the more naturally IT concepts come to you, the easier your path to becoming a cybersecurity engineer will be. Also, if you already have a relevant degree and/or certifications, becoming a cybersecurity engineer will be simpler than it would be if you were starting from scratch.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer?

This depends on where you’re starting and what knowledge, skills and experience you already have. It usually takes several years to become a cybersecurity engineer. The largest chunk of time is often dedicated to earning an appropriate degree. For example, if you pursue a bachelor’s degree full-time, that will take about 4 years, and a master’s degree could take 6 years. Also, you must take work experience into consideration. To be seriously considered for a cybersecurity engineer role, you need at least a couple years of experience building your cybersecurity career.

Becoming a cybersecurity engineer is easier when you have certifications such as CompTIA Security+. Learn the skills you need to pass your certification exam with CompTIA CertMaster Learn + Labs. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today!

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