Cyber security professionals at the start of their career can expect to have the fastest growing salaries in the UK, according to Robert Half. But many people wanting to go into IT security are still confused as to the career path to take. In this article we’re going to take a look at cyber security degrees and whether they’re the best route into the profession.
Let’s make no mistake; cyber security is not an easy field to get into without a degree. Whilst it’s by no means impossible and there are cyber security professionals without one, the odds of landing a solid entry job are stacked considerably more in your favour if you have a relevant degree under your belt.
Of course, experience and industry recognised cyber security certification is also essential, most entry level cyber security jobs will require you to have a relevant degree. A degree in cyber security would obviously qualify you but, so too would degrees in many related fields like forensic computing and computer science.
STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are also relevant entry points into the field of cyber security. Although these subjects themselves aren’t directly related to IT and IT security, they do teach students the relevant disciplines such as logical thinking, problem solving, solving equations and mathematical certainty. Many of these are directly applicable to programming, coding and other related fields.
Whilst many will argue that experience and relevant IT certification will trump a degree when it comes to applicable knowledge and practical skill development, the fact is that almost all entry level IT security jobs will require a degree. In this sense a degree in computer science or any STEM subject should be seen as an absolute must.
Of course the educational route needn’t stop at degree level and many universities now offer master’s degrees in cyber security or information security (infosec). The jury seems to be mostly out on this one when it comes to just how useful a master’s degree can be, compared to relevant experience and certification. It really depends on the field you want to go into and what the expectations are. If you have an idea of where you’d like to end up, then it makes sense to find those jobs online and see what the entry requirements are.
There’s quite a lot of forum discussions on this online but this typically impassioned thread from Reddit is pretty illuminating, especially from the point of view of becoming a penetration tester (ethical hacker) .
PostGrad.com has put together a list of the ten best cyber security related masters courses in the UK and Europe, which is well worth checking out. GCHQ in the UK also approves certain post degree courses and CBR have listed their top ten master’s courses here.
Bachelor degrees in cyber security are not an alternative to taking a relevant courses and qualifications in cyber security and shouldn’t be seen as such. It’s extremely important to separate education (GCSEs, A Levels, Degree, Master’s Degree, etc), certification (CISSP, Certified Ethical Hacker, etc) and experience (industry, internships, setting up your own testing environment, etc).
Employers will look at all three areas separately and being educated to degree level will show academic commitment, as much as it will show relevant education in the field. The one area I didn’t mention here are soft skills, which can in part be honed through experience, tutorship and professional development.
Cyber security degrees will focus on the information security aspect of computing, whilst computer science degrees can be tailored to specialise in cyber security related fields. With both you will learn some key principles relating to IT security including:
• The fundamentals of cybercrime, including common methods and motivations
• Digital forensics, what it is and how it can help uncover cyberattacks and trace attackers
• Strategies for protecting information systems and networks
• Use of common programs that can monitor and track cybercrime online
• Common logical mathematics, programming and coding
What you study will depend on the particular course you are taking and any specific modules you opt for within that degree. It pays to have an idea of what you want to do post university so you can tailor your course to the career you most want to pursue.
In 2012, US State Department senior advisor Alec Ross said “If any college student asked me what career would most assure 30 years of steady, well-paying employment, I would respond, ‘cybersecurity’.” This was a pertinent comment six years ago and it arguably more pertinent today, especially in the light of a growing IT recruitment crisis.
But knowing what area or field to get into can be difficult at this early stage of your cyber security career. One thing’s for sure and that is that you’ll almost certainly need to aquire some certification or qualifications on your journey. It’s also likely that your employer may well pay for you to do this to fast track your career.
Two jobs that can often represent the first step on the cyber security ladder are Network Security Engineer and Security Administrator, both of which are responsible for the day to day administration of an organisation’s cyber security infrastructure.
For more information on the various roles out there, check out our sister site’s guide to cyber security job salaries in the UK.
For league tables on all UK computer science degrees, check out this site.