As more aspects of daily life move into the digital realm, the need to secure information from criminals grows. Approximately 8.5 billion records were breached during 2019, and North America saw the largest share of cyberattacks compared to the rest of the world.
In this landscape, organizations can’t be too careful about protecting their data systems and information technology infrastructure from outside threats and user negligence. The dangers are twofold: Malicious parties can jeopardize the internal functions of a system, or they can steal personal information housed by the targeted group, such as credit card information for a retail outlet’s customers. This kind of breach causes people to lose confidence in the company that was attacked.
As a cybersecurity engineer, you could help provide businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofit groups with the protection to prevent and respond to threats such as denial-of-service attacks, spear phishing, and more.
Why pursue a career in cybersecurity?
Since cybersecurity issues represent a real and tangible threat for many organizations today, your work in this field will have a significant, meaningful impact on the organizations you serve. This might be one of the reasons why 71% of cybersecurity professionals are satisfied with their work, while 78% say they would recommend that others pursue a similar career. People in this career feel their jobs are secure and are drawn to the challenging nature of the work. Salaries are also substantial, and a majority express satisfaction with their compensation.
You’ll enjoy job stability
Even as layoffs began to rise due to COVID-19, a Pro report in the Wall Street Journal noted that cybersecurity positions remained largely untouched, even compared to other technology roles. The need for cybersecurity expertise was still prevalent because of crucial compliance functions in highly regulated industries like finance.
Competitive cybersecurity engineer salary
As an in-demand field that requires technical specialization, cybersecurity pays engineers well for their expertise. PayScale reports the median base salary for cybersecurity engineers as of March 2021 was around $97,000. The highest salaries were in New York City, where compensation was nearly 9% higher than the national average, and San Diego, which was 8% higher.
With the growth of 5G, several different cyber risks may emerge as well. Much has been written about the 5G revolution that’s just around the corner and the expansion of internet of things (IoT) sensors that will follow. While these developments could enable innovative technological developments amounting to a new industrial revolution, risks will also grow in proportion. By pursuing a career in cybersecurity, you can explore new methods for protecting against these threats.
Entering the field of cybersecurity today means that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will simultaneously make your job more efficient and more challenging. AI-related technology can be leveraged by cybersecurity professionals to help them better identify malware and spot suspicious user behavior.
However, cybercriminals will also ramp up their use of these tools to improve the sophistication of their illegal operations. Understanding AI technologies also means learning how they could be weaponized against your organization.
Cybersecurity engineer jobs
As a cybersecurity engineer, you could be employed directly by a data management or cybersecurity firm to devise and implement solutions for clients. Alternatively, you may be part of the in-house staff for a large company, nonprofit group, or other entity. Some areas of opportunity include:
Government and defense contracting
Information technology and consulting
Many cybersecurity engineers work directly for IT, network services, and computer system companies that emphasize cybersecurity consulting and products. In this capacity, an outside company would contract your employer or purchase consulting services and specific products. You’d be responsible for devising broadly applicable cybersecurity products or specific solutions for companies in unique industries. You’d also help protect against targeted attacks and general threats.
Government and defense contract work
Government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels all have to take bold action against cyberthreats, as do defense contractors and other associated groups. You could be protecting against international espionage and hacking efforts that target state secrets and proprietary technology. Cybersecurity engineering skills are also used to help contractors consult with government agencies, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations and proactive efforts to protect against internal and external risk.
Banks and financial institutions are a natural target for cybercrime. To safeguard the assets and sensitive data of their customers, financial services companies require robust defensive strategies. Your task as a cybersecurity engineer could help prevent fraud, theft, and other crimes from jeopardizing the integrity of financial institutions.
Entry-level opportunities in the field are plentiful, and advanced roles have been hard to fill, presenting a real opportunity for growth. The cybersecurity industry is likely to see 3.5 million jobs go unfilled by 2021.
PayScale reports the median total compensation for new cybersecurity engineers was around $76,000 as of March 2021. Those with between one and four years of experience earned a median of around $82,000.
Advanced job options
With experience, salaries continue to grow. Mid-career cybersecurity engineers with between five and nine years of experience made a median salary of around $103,000 according to PayScale, and those with 10 to 19 years’ experience earned a median annual salary of approximately $118,000. Those with 20 or more years in the field made a median salary of more than $126,000.
Where do cybersecurity engineers work?
Cybersecurity engineer has been listed as one of the top job titles in the field for a number of locations. Below are the states that rank at the top regarding employment of cybersecurity engineers.
California has almost 68,000 jobs, and Virginia more than 54,000. The metro area anchored by Washington, D.C., which includes areas of Maryland and Virginia, accounts for more than 72,000 job postings.
How to become a cybersecurity engineer
The field of cybersecurity is a rewarding one for many reasons. Becoming a cybersecurity engineer can be a great choice if you’re interested in the technical aspects of security engineering.
Step #1: Earn a bachelor’s degree
The first step toward becoming a cybersecurity engineer is earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science, cybersecurity, or a related field. Courses such as computer programming, information security, and software engineering can prepare you for the practical aspects of your future career. Most bachelor’s degree options will take approximately four years.
Step #2: Gain experience
After earning your undergraduate degree, working in IT can help you enhance your skills and network with cybersecurity companies. Experience in entry-level positions such as cybersecurity analyst offer a foundation in detecting and responding to security breaches.
Step #3: Earn a master’s degree or certificate
If you are interested in advancing to senior roles, an advanced degree can help pave the way. Earning a master’s in security engineering or cybersecurity and completing a research project, high-level internship, or thesis can be a great way to become more competitive in the job market.
You can also consider earning additional credentials, such as these certificates:
CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker)
CISM (Certified Information Security Manager)
CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)
Top skills and tools for cybersecurity engineers
Your work as a cybersecurity engineer will entail a great deal of technical expertise. It will also involve a wide variety of soft skills that are necessary for collaborating and sharing insights with team members, clients, and others. Cybersecurity doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and being able to clearly communicate the rationale for different strategies is crucial for providing sound solutions in this field.
The most sought-after skills
Today’s fastest-growing skills for a cybersecurity engineer represent varying competencies in fields ranging from automation to analytics, and from IoT to AI and cloud computing. If you intend to pursue this career path, honing these skills can help you succeed:
Cybersecurity engineering jobs require a great deal of familiarity with different programming languages, as well as a strong grasp of the core concepts behind software development and engineering. Here are the technical skills you’ll need to apply for jobs in the industry, followed by the percentage of job posts indicating a demand for those abilities:
Job Posting Demand
Source: Burning Glass Technologies
Your career in cybersecurity engineering will require you to think creatively, communicate clearly, and execute complicated tasks. The following soft skills are seen as essential to job success for cybersecurity professionals. The percentage indicates how often the specified skill appears in job postings.
Job Posting Demand
Teamwork and collaboration
Source: Burning Glass Technologies
Top emerging skills
To keep up in this field, you’ll be required to acquire new skills regularly. Recent data from Burning Glass Technologies suggests these new skills are expected to become particularly in-demand over the next few years:
Projected Posting Growth (2018–2023)
Data Lakes and Reservoirs
Golang (Go Programming Language)
Source: Burning Glass Technologies
Cybersecurity engineering internships
Completing an internship in cybersecurity engineering or a related field could help you develop professional contacts in the industry, learn important skills, and gain valuable experience to help you boost your entry-level earning potential. Here are some of the organizations offering internships you may want to consider:
Rich Products Corporation
Cybersecurity industry groups
Keeping up with industry trends is crucial for cybersecurity professionals. New threats emerge daily, and creating products and strategies that protect against those risks requires constant vigilance. Joining a professional organization can help you stay up to date as a cybersecurity engineer. These groups also offer valuable networking opportunities. See if the following organizations align with your career goals:
With the right skills, you could stand out immediately due in part to the shortage of cybersecurity engineers. It’s a career where you’ll make a tangible impact on countless lives by protecting valuable information, while also enjoying a growing salary. Explore where this career path can lead.