Live Q&A: How to Break into Cybersecurity in 2023

Liz Eggleston

Written By Liz Eggleston

Jess Feldman

Edited By Jess Feldman

Last updated on June 21, 2023

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Curious about what it’s like to learn cyber security at a bootcamp? Overwhelmed by all the certifications? Do you need a college degree to get into cybersecurity? What are the job placement rates of cyber security bootcamps? Our expert panel of a CEO, a lead instructor, an alum, and a careers team leader answers these questions and more in this live Q&A with Springboard, Evolve Security Academy, Code Fellows, and DigitalCrafts!

Meet Our Cybersecurity Panel:

  • Mariam Sallam is a Career Services Specialist at Springboard – Springboard teaches a six-month, part-time Cybersecurity Career Track that is 100% online.
  • Jake Hadden is the CEO of DigitalCrafts – they just launched several new Cybersecurity programs, one of which qualifies for college credit.
  • Courtney Hans is an Instructor at Code Fellows in their Ops and Cybersecurity program, but she is also a Code Fellows alum!
  • Dr. Faisal Abdullah is the Chief Academic Officer at Evolve Security Academy, which is a 20-Week Cybersecurity Bootcamp

How did you break into cyber security and what brought you to the bootcamp you work for today? 

Courtney: I'm a big fan of career transitions — I'm in the third major career pivot of my life! When I made this pivot into cyber security, I was in my early 40s. If you're thinking that the age you're at is not the right time to do it, we can agree to disagree. I started my career as an adventure travel guide leading biking and hiking vacations all over the world. I didn't know it at the time, but it prepared me for the pivots that happen in cyber security, starting with one plan and going through several iterations in a day. I got my MBA and was in business for a decade, then found my way to Code Fellows in 2020. I fell in love with the school, the environment, and the culture promoting diversity in the tech sector. Code Fellows is not only talking the talk but walking the walk as well. Even though my day job is Head of Security and IT for a software service company, I still instruct for Code Fellows on the nights and weekends and love staying involved in this community. 

Mariam: My background is in software engineering and data science and I worked in the industry for a while. I then taught at the UT Boot Camp at 2U. After my students graduated, they often asked me about next steps to finding a job, so I helped them with their resumes and preparing for the technical interview — I realized I like career services! Since I have a technical background, I headed career services for cybersecurity at 2U and then ThriveDX, which specializes in cyber security, and then I landed at Springboard where I'm really excited to bring everything that I've learned about career services. It's a great place to work! 

Faisal: I got into cyber security in 2002 when it was all about IT and networking. I graduated with my doctorate in 2005 and started working at Lewis University as an assistant professor where I was asked to build a cyber security program for working adults. In 2005, Lewis was one of the five universities in America that was teaching a degree in cyber security, so a lot of what I know I learned myself by experimenting. We built a bunch of labs and we got grants from the Department of Homeland Security and the NSA. In 2018, I joined Evolve Security Academy when they were looking for somebody to elevate their already great cyber security program with more academic learning outcomes. I came back to Evolve in 2021 as their Chief Academic Officer.

Jake: My background in cyber security is related to what I've done at Digital Crafts, which we started about eight years ago. Two years ago, we started seeing some of our students who went through our software engineering bootcamp get cyber security jobs for companies like Accenture. We realized these are skills we can teach in a short and condensed program to give individuals hard skills so they can obtain jobs when they graduate. It was a business opportunity from us, but it was one that we vetted strongly before we stepped into it.

How to Get Started in Cybersecurity

Top 4 Takeaways:

  1. A bachelor’s degree is not required to become a cybersecurity professional.
  2. Research different bootcamps and courses. If a course is too short for your learning needs, then enroll in a cybersecurity bootcamp.
  3. Start networking! Reach out to people in the industry to learn more about the career.
  4. Build basic skills: Linux, Windows OS, networking, protocols, and scripting.

Are there cyber security degrees? What are the traditional vs non-traditional routes into this field? 

Jake: My advice is that it’s dependent on who you are and what your learning style is. There are traditional programs out there where you can get a degree in cyber security and if you don't have a bachelor's today that may be a good path. A bachelor's is not required to break into cyber security, but I think it boils down to knowing your learning style. If you prefer a longer program, a traditional program might be a better fit. If you're looking to do something really quick and hands-on, then a bootcamp could be the right path for you. We recently launched a flexible, self-paced program where students can complete our cybersecurity bootcamp in 15-40 weeks. You work directly with one instructor and work through the content and then you can take that program and convert it into college credits to roll into a university associated with our parent company, InterContinental University. If you did want to get a bachelor's degree, I see bootcamps as a stepping stone into bachelor's programs

Faisal: The employee expectations have changed. I see more job requirements that don't list master's or an undergraduate degree required, though I have seen the shift to "preferred". At the end of the day, your hiring manager will hire you for the skills that you have. What is it that you can do for them? That's what they're looking for — a degree doesn't make a difference as long as you have the skills and can solve a problem that your hiring manager has when you're hired.

Miriam: I think cyber security is the easiest track to get into without a degree!

Faisal, what is your advice for aspiring cyber security bootcampers – where should they start?

Start by researching bootcamps. Then start looking at what sort of jobs you're interested in, and reach out to people working in the industry. LinkedIn is a great resource for this! Do some sort of informational interview with someone 3-5 years into their career. 

Start building basic skills in Linux, Windows OS, networking and protocols, and scripting. Cyber security analysts use a lot of scripting in their day-to-day jobs. Evolve has a free cyber security fundamentals course for anyone interested in cyber and wants a taste of what it is like in cyber security. There are videos that introduce the concept of cyber security and hands-on labs on our CyberLAB platform, where students can play around. If that feels interesting and exciting to you, start looking into a bootcamp that can connect you with the career you're looking for. 

The Top Traits You Need to Be Successful in Cybersecurity

Top 3 Takeaways:

  1. Almost anyone can get into cybersecurity! Since cybersecurity concerns are vast, the cybersecurity field needs professionals from various backgrounds, such as restaurants, healthcare, and legal.
  2. Cybersecurity professionals should be excellent at communication, collaboration, coalition-building, and presenting.
  3. For any organizations unsure if they need to invest in cybersecurity, they should think of cybersecurity as a growth strategy!

Courtney, who can get into cyber security? What kinds of transferable skills can translate into cyber security? 

The short answer is almost everyone! If you're interested in it, then you belong in cybersecurity. There have been lots of articles that have ranked cyber security concerns up there with climate change and other global problems that we as a worldwide population need to address, so it's been gratifying to see the diverse set of students come through the program at Code Fellows. I've taught folks that have spent their careers in kitchens, in the healthcare industry, paralegals, folks that have formally experienced homelessness and are rebuilding their lives — everybody has things to offer this industry. Career transitioners or folks just starting out on their career journey can often feel like they don't have something to bring to the table, but I think that's untrue. For example, if you’ve worked in a kitchen, I bet you have really good crisis management skills, and that's very similar to a role you could find yourself in cyber, like incident response crisis management. Think about what kind of role you're interested in and what kind of lifestyle you want. 

Yes, technical skills are important in the field, but they're not the only thing that's important. A lot of times we refer to other skill sets as “soft skills,” which is not inaccurate but I prefer to refer to them as "non-technical skills" because I think calling them soft skills belies their importance. Some of these skills include communication, collaboration, coalition building, and presentation skills, such as knowing how to speak technically to non-technical audiences. Technical skills can get you the job but it's the non-technical skills that are going to further your career. When you're looking for a bootcamp ask the questions about what other skills you'll learn. 

Faisal, what are some backgrounds that you’ve seen be successful at Evolve?

Since 2016, we've graduated about a thousand cyber security professionals. Some of the backgrounds that we've seen are Uber drivers, baristas, bartenders, and those with an undergraduate degree in a non-computer science field. We've had a pastor complete our bootcamp and switched into cyber security; we've seen librarians, elementary school teachers... Anybody who has the attitude and aptitude, and general life skills can learn technical skills from a bootcamp. 

How feasible is it for someone from the legal profession to make a career change into cybersecurity?

Courtney: That's a great marriage of skills — If you're interested in the privacy niche, there is an overlap of security and legal at the company I work at now.

Faisal: We've had one real estate lawyer come through our bootcamp and switch over to cyber and became a great penetration tester! He has the eye for detail, which is what you need in the legal field as well.

What You’ll Learn at a Cybersecurity Bootcamp

What you’ll see in a typical cybersecurity bootcamp curriculum:

  1. Linux and Kali Linux
  2. Command line
  3. Networking and network architecture
  4. Cloud security architecture
  5. AWS
  6. Splunk, Carbon Black
  7. Nmap
  8. Python scripting
  9. Security Onion
  10. Nessues, OpenVAS
  11. Encryption
  12. BurpSuite

What does a cyber security bootcamp teach? 

Faisal: At Evolve, we take what security engineers and hackers see and build curriculum around it. The skills that we focus on are skills that employers want for entry-level careers in cyber security. The kind of jobs that our students are looking for are entry-level, so the skills that are absolutely required are the soft skills as well as knowledge of Linux and command line. Knowledge of networking, especially network architecture. Everything is in the cloud, so you need knowledge of cloud security architecture. You need knowledge of hardware-based devices such as firewalls, intrusion detection devices, and certain industry software, like Splunk

Open source is amazing — It's a great tool to teach but when a student goes into the real world, they are working with a paid license tool, so we teach tools like Splunk or Carbon Black. You want knowledge of network discovery like Nmap. You need to understand some sort of vulnerability assessment because as a security analyst you'll be doing a lot of that. Knowledge of Nessus is great, too. There are some open source tools like OpenVAS, which are amazing. You absolutely need knowledge of Kali Linux, a tool that everybody uses in the cyber security industry. You should understand cyber threat intelligence: What is an ATP? What are some of the groups out there? What are some of the tactics that they use? What are some of the famous cyber security hacks that have brought down governments? What is ransomware? You need knowledge of frameworks because if you're thrown into an organization and you have to work on setting up the security architecture those frameworks become the starting point. You need some application assessment tools like BurpSuite

Active directory is a requirement because we live in a Windows-based world so having some knowledge of active directory and how identity access management works is also helpful. Knowledge of encryption is great, too.

At Evolve Security Academy, we teach all of these things in the first 18 weeks. In the last two weeks, students work on a security assessment project with a non-profit organization that gives them an opportunity to implement those skills in the real world to see how it actually works.

Cybersecurity Jobs After a Cybersecurity Bootcamp

Top 2 Takeaways:

  1. The 3 career paths in cybersecurity: Security Analyst, Networking, and Ethical Hacker/Penetration Testing
  2. Working at an IT help desk is a great way to start your career so you can move up to being a security administrator.

What is an “entry-level” cyber security role?

Mariam: In my experience in coaching people within cyber security, there are three different paths that you can go into:

  1. Security analyst
  2. Networking
  3. Ethical hacker or pen tester

A cybersecurity bootcamp graduate will probably have a CompTIA certification and could do an IT help desk role for six months and then pivot into a security analyst, security admin, networking analyst, or networking administrator position. Usually pen testers or ethical hacker roles are something that you get into later on in your career. You can't just become a pen tester unless you have some prior experience or a computer science background. Usually we tell entry-level students to go into security or networking and do an IT help desk role.

Jake: We have two types of cybersecurity programs at DigitalCrafts. The first is a live instruction program with teachers driven towards the CompTIA Security+ certification, which is going to be an entry-level certification. The program we recently launched that can be credit-bearing touches on six different certifications, including the CompTIA and PenTest+ certification. If you already are in that DevOps role or have a CS background, you might jump into that program.

Faisal: For anybody interested in penetration testing, Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certification is the gold standard for penetration testing. I've seen many jobs that required it. For somebody who's a recent computer science graduate, I would recommend they work in the industry as a junior penetration tester. 

What are the hours like in these cybersecurity roles? 

Courtney: It depends on the role. Cybersecurity jobs can follow the normal 8am-5pm schedule or it could be graveyard shift hours. It depends on your lifestyle, if you have family, and what you want to work. 

Faisal: In your first role you can't really ask for a favorable shift; you just take what you can to get your foot in the door. A SOC analyst position needs to be ready to work nights. Pen testers have a specific window for doing the penetration testing, night or day. If it's your first role, you need to be ready to take whatever shift is available and put in that extra effort. In a couple of years, your career will stabilize and you can do a normal 9-5 and have more work-life balance.

Cybersecurity Certifications

Which certifications do employers ask for most often right now? 

Miriam: There are three certifications that employers are really asking for

  • CompTIA Security+
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

If you have a Security+ certification and a bootcamp certification, you're golden! You should be able to get a job. 

Jake, you mentioned that the new DigitalCrafts course teaches 6 certifications – what are those? 

  1. CompTIA A+
  2. CompTIA Network+
  3. CompTIA Security+
  4. CompTIA Pen Test+
  5. Certified Ethical Hacker
  6. CompTIA Cyber Security Analyst

Looking Ahead: The Future of the Cybersecurity Career

Top 2 Takeaways:

  1. Cybersecurity is the best tech track to go into, since data and software engineering careers are oversaturated.
  2. Partnering with AI could make cybersecurity professionals better at their jobs. 

How is the cybersecurity job market faring in 2023? Will AI tools be affecting the job security of cybersecurity professionals?

Miriam: I think cyber security is the best track to go into right now because software development and data analytics are oversaturated and if you want to pivot into tech easily you're not that much of a hard coder then cyber security is the way to go. A lot of cyber security companies are partnering with machine learning engineers and data scientists to strengthen their companies. 

I wouldn't say AI is going to take over cyber security, but I think a lot of cyber security companies are going to partner with AI to do a lot more things within the cyber security niche. Cyber security is probably the easiest tech career to get into right now.

Jake: The job demand for cyber security is growing much faster than a lot of others, so I would encourage you to do your own research. There's also this big movement right now that cyber security is everyone's role, whether you're an IT project manager, a technical product manager, or even frontline customer support. Even if you're in one of those roles and want to up your game, attending a cyber security program, whether that's an intense bootcamp or an upskilling program, could really help your career moving forward. It's definitely very much in demand and I think employers will look for everybody in their organization to know it to some extent. 

Faisal: We use chatGPT a lot at Evolve — I'm a fan of it and I use it every day. Eventually, there will be some automation in cyber security but at least for the next 10 years the job growth is strong. Reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that for the next 10 years the cybersecurity job market is strong. Like any other industry there will be automation but tech is a constantly changing field no matter what defenses you have — somebody is going to come out of the bigger, nicer, more challenging offense and then the defense team is trying to keep up. The industry is ever-changing, and I think there will be a lot of scope in this field for a really long time. 

Jake: My perspective on AI is that with widely available AI tools, it's going to make cyber threats that much harder to fight! I think that will ultimately grow the demand for this role.

Courtney: We're seeing a lot more government involvement in the space with mandates, legislation, and hopefully more elected officials that are savvy in this arena, which will continue to feed the demand for jobs. AI is a tool for us to use. Cyber security will always be contextual, which will be harder for AI. Have discussions at your place of employment about the actual risk profile for your organization. We live in a world with inherent threats and each organization is going to have their own risk profile that needs humans to have discussions, bring context, and figure out the right solution for us that helps feed our business while also protecting it.

There are lots of courses calling themselves a bootcamp — what makes your cybersecurity bootcamps different?

Miriam: Cyber security bootcamps give students a really strong foundation. If you're going to take an SAT course, you don't just go to high school and then take your SATs — you go to high school and then you study for your SATs and then you take your SATs. That's how I would think about the bootcamp space. You want to make sure that you pick a bootcamp that gives you a really strong foundation in cyber security, then study for your certification so you can pick that niche or role and then apply for positions in that space.

Jake: As an example, in our 17-week full-time cyber security bootcamp, the first 15 weeks are all fundamentals and then we spend the last two weeks actually covering the CompTIA prep guide for the Security+ certification test. Our goal is to get you prepared before you graduate. Most students get their voucher and then spend a few weeks after the program continuing to study before they take the exam. It's a proctored exam so you have to typically go to a registered location to take it as well.

Faisal: I'd like to use a different analogy for a bootcamp. Think about having a personal goal for your body, like going to the gym. You could get a membership for a gym and you could go and if you're focused you could achieve those goals within a certain period of time. If you're like me you would buy the membership and never show up or you would show up for the first couple of weeks and then forget about it because life happens. Coming to a bootcamp is like getting that personal trainer at the gym who keeps you on track, has a very structured path, not only tells you what exercises you should be doing but also talks about diet and good sleep and how important it is to achieve that physical goal. This is where the bootcamps come in — If you have a goal to be in cyber within a certain period of time, you should come to a bootcamp, and we will help you with a very structured curriculum that tells you exactly what you need to learn and do.

Do you have any tips for networking (of the human kind) in cyber security these days? 

Courtney: As an introvert, networking does not come easily to me — just like the gym, I do it because I know it's good for me, not because I'm internally motivated to do it!

  1. Networking will help you unearth what sounds interesting to you and what doesn't.
  2. Getting a cyber security certification is great, but hundreds of other people have those things — how do you stand out?
  3. We've all heard, "It's not what you know, it's who you know," I argue it's both! Who you know is not going to get you the job, you're going to get yourself the job, but who you know might get you in front of the person that's going to decide to give you the job.
  4. Get on LinkedIn! You may have strong feelings about social media, but LinkedIn is your friend in this endeavor! But you have to be active on the platform — not just the occasional “like”, but comment on other people's posts.
  5. If you're nervous about reaching out to a cyber security influencer, that's fine! Follow influencers for a while, learn who they are, what they're saying, follow other people that engage with their posts. Once you feel like you have some context behind someone, then you can reach out.
  6. When you do reach out, get specific! Don't just say, "I would love to connect and I'm trying to get a role in cyber security.” Instead try, "I liked your post on [XYZ], so could I talk to you for 10 minutes about what it's like to be in this kind of role?" 
  7. Be reciprocal. Engage in and boost their content. It should be conversational, don't just take from them. Start developing those deeper connections with context!

Jake: If you're located near a big city, there's probably one or two cyber security events per year, so sign up to those and meet people. One thing in a networking event: don't immediately launch into your life story when you meet someone. You've taken this big risk with your life and career and you're on this exciting adventure, but there's no need to let all that out in the first 30 seconds when you meet someone. Introduce yourself, say, "I'm a cyber security analyst and I'm looking for the right career," and then let it go from there!

Real Cybersecurity Bootcamp Student Outcomes

Miriam: Of 13,000 enrolled students, our Springboard cybersecurity graduates are typically seeing a $25,310 salary increase and 91% job placement within 12 months. From a career services perspective, a lot of bootcamps don't like sharing career outcomes because it's different for every student, who each has a very different career journey. Usually in career services, they tend to stay around 85% placement rate after the program for bootcamps across the board. If you stick to it, you'll get a job — you just have to persevere and keep going.  

Jake: Go to LinkedIn and connect with someone who went to the bootcamp that you're considering and try to speak with alumni about how long it took them to land a job, if they enjoyed the program, if they had good instructors, etc. LinkedIn is the best resource for finding the right school for you.

Faisal: For Evolve Security Academy, we're proud to have a 95% placement rate within six months of graduation! As Jake said, connecting with alums is a very easy way to look at their career journey.

Courtney: At Code Fellows, we have a 93% placement rate! 

This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Springboard, DigitalCrafts, Code Fellows, and Evolve Security Academy.

About The Author

Liz Eggleston

Liz Eggleston

Liz Eggleston is co-founder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students choosing a coding bootcamp. Liz has dedicated her career to empowering passionate career changers to break into tech, providing valuable insights and guidance in the rapidly evolving field of tech education.  At Course Report, Liz has built a trusted platform that helps thousands of students navigate the complex landscape of coding bootcamps.

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