It is never too late to start a career in cybersecurity — this may sound cliché, but it holds a lot of truth. If you are passionate about the topic and are ready to put in the work to acquire the skills and knowledge needed, anyone, regardless of educational background, can break into cybersecurity.
At the age of 26, I started a four-year bachelor’s degree in digital forensics. I got introduced to the field by chance after working in data analytics for a few years and taking a college class on criminology. The program that I signed up for was mostly remote, with 80% independent preparation and bi-monthly on-site weekends at the university. I quickly realized that this model of education works great for me — I could read the materials provided by the program at my own pace and use as much external materials to supplement my understanding as needed. While the program was designed for working professionals and classes were spread out over four years, instead of the usual three years for a bachelor’s degree in Germany, it required a lot of discipline to complete the coursework while having a full-time job. Along the way, I learned several things about combining the responsibilities of adult life and achieving the study goals I had set for myself.
Below, I will outline a few recommendations to follow if you would like to break into the security field as an adult learner.
Recommendation No. 1: It is never too late
- Depending on the country that you live in, you are facing a retirement age of at least 61 or more. Investing in your education now, regardless of how many more years you must work, is going to pay off in increased employability, greater job satisfaction and in the case of cybersecurity – increased job security.
Recommendation No. 2: Get the important people in your life on board
- As an adult, you have plenty of other obligations in addition to navigating your career. You have friends and family who matter to you and often depend on you for financial and moral support. Getting their buy in before you sign up for a bigger study project is essential as it will ensure that you have a long-term support network for your undertaking.
- Take the time at the beginning of your endeavor to share your motivation and plan around making it all work. Also, clearly communicate the repercussions of your decision, such as having less time for social activities or a tighter budget for a period. This will earn you a powerful ally, and someone to enjoy celebrating successes with.
Use visual support to communicate your goals and timeline to others. This makes it easy for them to understand where you stand and why you might pass on the dinner invitation for next weekend.
Recommendation No. 3: Put skin in the game
- The programs that I completed are the ones I paid for. From online classes to on-site lectures, I have found that the best predictor for the completion of any program that I have started in the past ten years is not the instructors, delivery model, length, or language, but the monetary investment I made at the start of it. Based on your current budget, set aside a certain percentage to invest in your professional development and hold yourself responsible for making the most out of it.
Recommendation No. 4: Remind yourself why you started
- At some point, the going gets hard and you ask yourself whether it is worth it. It is good if you are prepared to face such a low point. Something that works for me every time is writing down the questions that are bothering me and reading out the answers aloud. For example, when I was preparing for CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), which was a six-month project for me, I wrote on a sheet of paper “10 reasons why I believe this certification is good use of my time and money” and then read out the answers every time I wanted to give up
Small reminders like the one above can help you stay motivated and focused.
Recommendation No. 5: Meet people from the field early on
- If you are pursuing a longer study program while you are still working in another field, you can easily get bogged down by the theory or dryness of the material, especially if you do not have a live instructor or a group of people to exchange with. One way to keep up your enthusiasm is to start attending events, such as meet-ups or smaller conferences, on the topic that you are studying. Even if you are still working on gaining the subject knowledge, connecting with professionals from the field will give you access to other people who share your interest and bring life to the topics that you are studying.
- Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised by the openness with which more experienced information security professionals at such events answered my questions and shared learning resources that they had used in the past. That is one of my favorite things about the cybersecurity community – its egalitarian spirit and willingness to grow talent.
One of the first events that I attended as a student was an information day by the German research institute Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology (SIT). Public institutions like this one tend to offer more affordable events and discount rates for students.
Recommendation No. 6: Acknowledge that Rome was not built in a day
- Changing career as an adult is difficult. It is uncomfortable to leave an area where you feel proficient and secure and head in a direction where you feel like you will aways be at a disadvantage because you started later. Yet, you will be surprised how often cybersecurity professionals with a decade of experience suffer from imposter syndrome and question their skills. There is always more to learn and the earlier you get comfortable with this concept, the better. Try to steer away from negative thoughts and invest your energy in actions that bring you closer to your goals.
Appreciate the small steps forward and be gentle to your mental health.
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