When you think about cybersecurity, does it sound thrilling or boring? Do you think Mr. Robot or The I.T. Crowd?
The reality is that it can be both, and everything in between. Cybersecurity professionals might chase down malicious hackers, hack into computer systems themselves to test vulnerabilities or dedicate themselves to ensuring that the online world is running safely and smoothly in all kinds of ways. In this field, you're SWAT team member and detective rolled into one.
People who work in cybersecurity focus on ensuring computer systems and data are as safe as possible, and work fast to remedy breaches. They work for all sorts of different people and companies and never settle for one-size-fits-all. They're the ones you call when you want to make sure everything's in tip-top shape, and when there's an emergency.
What Cybersecurity Professionals Do
There's no one way to work in this career, and the breadth of jobs in Roadtrip Nation's archive of career stories is proof.
Zoe Krumm, senior business intelligence manager, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit: Works with law enforcement agencies to build cases against software counterfeiters and pirates.
Rebecca Onuskanich, founder, Cyber Warrior Princess: Runs a nonprofit that teaches girls about cybersecurity.
Ivan De Los Santos, cybersecurity operations engineer, Booz Allen Hamilton: Responds to security events and mitigates the impacts of incidents when they occur.
David Morgan, cybersecurity officer, Texas Department of Public Safety: Manages digital forensics, cyber ops and risk for his organization.
Patrick Weadon, curator, National Cryptologic Museum: Former NSA agent working to give people a wider understanding of cryptology, the study of codes.
Routes to Cybersecurity
There's no single path to cybersecurity — people come in from all different angles. This is a field where it's far more about the skills you possess than the school you went to or the degree you have. Check out all the different ways these leaders from Roadtrip Nation's archive got started.
Zoe Krumm, senior business intelligence manager, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit.
Started work on her M.A. in education → Took an entry-level job at a law firm → Finished her education M.A. → Got a job in Microsoft's legal department → Earned an MBA → Now combines her law, business and education background to build cases against software counterfeiters and pirates.
Rebecca Onuskanich, founder, Cyber Warrior Princess.
Joined the Air Force → Earned a B.A. in psychology ---> Got certified as a cybersecurity professional → Got her MBA ---> Worked at a cybersecurity company for over a decade ---> Founded a cybersecurity nonprofit.
Ivan De Los Santos, cybersecurity operations engineer, Booz Allen Hamilton.
Immigrated to the United States ---> Got his B.A. in management information systems, general ---> Started working in computer-related fields ---> Got his M.A. in cyber/computer forensics and counterterrorism ---> Became a cybersecurity professional at Booz Allen Hamilton.
David Morgan, cybersecurity officer, Texas Department of Public Safety.
Started out as a criminal investigator ---> Got his B.A. in information systems management ---> Worked for the FBI ---> Got his M.A. in information assurance ---> Left the FBI to work full-time in cybersecurity.
Patrick Weadon, curator, National Cryptologic Museum.
Obtained a B.A. in politics and an M.A. in legal and ethical studies → Interned with the Carter Administration → Worked as an NSA agent for 20 years → Assumed the role of curator for the National Security Agency's National Cryptologic Museum.
How to Break in
There's a belief that you have to be a math or science whiz to succeed in cybersecurity. While that's not true for all roles in the field, math and science are the foundational building blocks.
But most important is a basic love of and skill for problem-solving. The people above stress the importance of honing your people skills, too. Cybersecurity professionals deal with data that's extremely sensitive, so you have to show people that they should feel safe putting that data in your hands.
Whatever path you take, the most important things are demonstrating that you have technical ability, commitment to integrity and interpersonal skills.
While a B.A. isn't necessary, it's highly recommended. About 65 percent of information security analysts recommend earning a bachelor's degree, while 39 percent say you need only a post-baccalaureate or postsecondary certificate. Supplementing either with further proof of your ability — through additional certifications, for instance — is always welcome.
Plenty of people working in cybersecurity have general computer science degrees, or even studied something outside of computer science. But you can also find schools that offer more specific cybersecurity majors if you're certain this is the path for you.
Cybersecurity Career Stories from Roadtrip Nation
Adam Kujawa, director of malware intelligence, Malwarebytes.
From the Navy to majoring in art, Adam's path has been circuitous — and funnily enough, his art classes were what helped him figure out that programming was the best creative outlet for him.
Window Snyder, chief security engineer, Fastly.
Window grew up with software engineer parents and got interested in programming in high school, but it felt like an exclusive club where she didn't belong. So what changed? She found the mission that drives her: Keeping people's data safe.
Lisa Jiggetts, founder and CEO, Women's Society of Cyberjutsu.
From gaming to hacker aspirations, Lisa just knew she liked computers. When her hacker group dissolved, she started her own. “I didn't have anywhere to go," she says. “And I knew there were others like me."
How to Get Started Now
If cybersecurity is an interest for you, don't feel like you have to make it your only interest right away. Test the waters by taking a free online course. Research useful certifications. Join clubs inside or outside of school. Or start your own hacker group, like Lisa Jiggetts did.
Focus on developing your science and math skills, but also your critical thinking and interpersonal abilities. Cybersecurity relies on an ability to communicate with other people, and solve both abstract and concrete problems. That's all just as important as technical ability.
Cybersecurity definitely takes know-how and resourcefulness, but you don't have to go to college knowing exactly what role you want to play within it. Start with just starting and see if it sticks.
Roadtrip Nation is a nonprofit organization working to change the way people approach choosing a career by creating content, products and experiences that guide individuals in exploring what's possible when they follow their interests.