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Cybersecurity

How to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer [2024 Guide]

11 minute read | August 8, 2023
Sakshi Gupta

Written by:
Sakshi Gupta

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With cyberattacks on the rise, it’s no surprise that cybersecurity engineers are in high demand today. It’s a lucrative field with a dearth of qualified professionals, making it an enticing and exciting career choice. 

But the path to becoming a cybersecurity engineer can be overwhelming. There are numerous roles, specializations, and technologies to consider, and it can be challenging to determine which ones best fit your skills and interests. Similarly, the educational and certification requirements can vary depending on your specific skills and experience, making it challenging to know where to begin.

In this article, we provide a comprehensive guide that outlines the steps you need to take, the skills you need to develop, and the career opportunities available. Whether you’re just starting in the field or looking to transition your career, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to set yourself up for success in the field of cybersecurity engineering.

What Does a Cybersecurity Engineer Do?

A cybersecurity engineer protects computer systems, networks, and sensitive data from unauthorized access, theft, and damage. Their primary focus is identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities in an organization’s security systems and developing measures to prevent or mitigate them. 

Cybersecurity engineers also work with other professionals, such as security analysts, developers, and IT staff, to ensure that security measures are integrated into all aspects of an organization’s technology infrastructure.

How To Become a Cybersecurity Engineer: A 9-Step Guide

If you’re curious about how to become a cybersecurity engineer, this 9-step guide will provide you with a clear roadmap to success.

  1. Learn the Fundamentals

  2. Get Educated (and Keep Learning)

  3. Develop Your Skillset

  4. Learn the Tools of the Trade

  5. Practical Experience Matters (Use It To Build Your Portfolio)

  6. Your Network Is Your Net Worth

  7. Pursue a Certification

  8. Consider an Internship

  9. Work Toward the Job You Want

Learn the Fundamentals

The first step in becoming a cybersecurity engineer is to get familiar with the fundamentals of the field. This involves understanding basic computer science concepts, networking, operating systems, and programming languages. 

To gain a comprehensive understanding of cybersecurity, you should learn about various security concepts such as threat modeling, risk assessment, cryptography, and security frameworks. This knowledge will help you understand the current security landscape and develop effective security solutions.

Get Educated (and Keep Learning)

It used to be that a degree in computer science, cybersecurity, or a related field was a prerequisite for landing a job as a cybersecurity analyst. Now, cybersecurity bootcamps have become the norm, especially given the lack of qualified cybersecurity engineers.

Obtaining industry-recognized cybersecurity certifications such as CompTIA Security+, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) can demonstrate a candidate’s proficiency in the field and make them more competitive in the job market.

Continuing education and staying up to date with the latest cybersecurity trends and technologies are also essential for cybersecurity engineers. This can include attending conferences, participating in online forums, and taking advanced courses to develop specialized skills in digital forensics, cloud security, or mobile device security.

Develop Your Skillset

As a cybersecurity engineer, developing a diverse skillset that includes both technical and soft skills is essential. 

Technical Skills

Here are eight valuable technical skills for cybersecurity engineers:

  • Knowledge of programming languages such as Python, Java, and C++ for developing and maintaining secure software applications.
  • Familiarity with network protocols and tools for identifying and mitigating network vulnerabilities.
  • Understanding of operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and macOS and their security features.
  • Proficiency in cloud security and experience with cloud-based services such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
  • Expertise in penetration testing and vulnerability assessment to detect and mitigate security risks.
  • Knowledge of encryption algorithms and cryptographic protocols for securing data and communications.
  • Experience with threat intelligence tools and techniques for identifying and responding to threats.
  • Expertise in identity and access management technologies to protect against unauthorized access.

Soft Skills

In addition to technical skills, cybersecurity engineers require specific soft skills to succeed. Here are six valuable soft skills for cybersecurity engineers:

  • Communicating effectively with technical and non-technical stakeholders to present security concepts clearly and concisely.
  • The ability to lead security initiatives and work collaboratively with other professionals in the organization.
  • Problem-solving skills.
  • The capacity to pay close attention to detail when analyzing security logs, reviewing code, and identifying vulnerabilities.
  • Adaptability skills and staying up-to-date with the latest security trends.
  • The ability to think critically and creatively to identify and address security risks and develop innovative solutions to protect against future threats.

Learn the Tools of the Trade

As a cybersecurity engineer, becoming proficient with certain tools is essential for detecting, analyzing, and mitigating cyber threats. 

One of the essential tools cybersecurity engineers use is the security information and event management (SIEM) system, which collects and aggregates security data from various sources, allowing for real-time analysis and incident response.

Other essential tools include network scanners such as Nmap, vulnerability scanners such as Nessus, and penetration testing frameworks such as Metasploit.

Cybersecurity engineers also use various open-source and commercial tools for cryptography, digital forensics, and incident response.

Practical Experience Matters (Use It To Build Your Portfolio)

Employers are increasingly valuing candidates who not only have formal education but also hands-on practical experience. This kind of experience can be acquired through internships, entry-level positions, or through structured, real-world training programs like the best cybersecurity bootcamps

It’s an essential step in becoming a cybersecurity engineer because it enables you to apply the theoretical knowledge gained through formal education to real-world scenarios. It exposes aspiring engineers to common cybersecurity threats and the opportunity to develop hands-on skills in identifying and mitigating these threats.

If you want to gain practical experience as a cybersecurity engineer, here are a few ways to get started:

Work on Open-Source Projects

Open-source projects are software projects that are publicly available and can be modified by anyone. They are built and maintained by a community of developers collaborating to improve the software. Working on open-source projects is an excellent way for cybersecurity engineers to gain practical experience and build valuable skills.

Cybersecurity engineers working on open-source projects can gain hands-on experience with various technologies, tools, and processes. They can learn how to identify and fix vulnerabilities, as well as how to implement security measures to protect against cyber attacks.

Participate in Hackathons

Hackathons are great opportunities for cybersecurity engineers to work on and solve real cybersecurity challenges. During hackathons, participants typically work on projects that require them to identify and fix vulnerabilities, implement security measures, and defend against cyber attacks

Volunteer or Freelance Work

Both volunteering and freelance work are great options for cybersecurity engineers to gain practical experience and build their skill set, especially when they’re just starting out.

Volunteering can allow cybersecurity engineers to use their skills in various settings, such as non-profit organizations, schools, or community groups. Freelance work allows cybersecurity engineers to gain practical experience while earning money. Cybersecurity engineers can offer their services to clients who need help with cybersecurity issues, such as vulnerability assessments, penetration testing, and security audits.

Find a Mentor

A mentor is an experienced cybersecurity professional who can provide guidance, advice, and support to help a novice engineer navigate the industry.

There are several benefits to working with mentors in the cybersecurity field:

  • They help novice engineer develop their technical skills. A mentor can provide guidance on specific technologies, tools, and techniques that are essential for success in the field. They can also provide feedback on projects and suggest ways to improve.
  • They have access to valuable insights into the industry and can offer guidance on how to build a successful career. Mentors can share their experiences and knowledge to help beginners avoid common pitfalls.
  • Mentors can help you build your network and connect with other professionals. They can provide recommendations for networking events and help you build relationships with potential employers.

Your Network Is Your Net Worth

Networking is vital to unlocking opportunities and building a successful career. Here are some practical ways to network with other like-minded professionals.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a crucial platform for networking with other cybersecurity engineers. 

It provides a professional profile where you can showcase your skills, experience, and achievements. You can connect with other professionals in your industry, join groups, and participate in discussions to expand your network. You can also use LinkedIn to look for job openings in the field.

Online Communities

Online communities allow cybersecurity professionals to exchange information, ask questions, and receive feedback from others in the industry. Examples of active cybersecurity communities include Reddit’s /r/netsec, the OWASP Slack channel, and Laptop Hacking Coffee Discord.

Conferences and Meet-ups

Attending conferences and meet-ups can help cybersecurity professionals expand their knowledge and skills. These events often include keynote speakers, workshops, and educational sessions, providing opportunities to learn about new technologies, best practices, and emerging threats.

Pursue a Certification

Cybersecurity certifications are an essential aspect of becoming a successful cybersecurity engineer. They help you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies while improving your skills and knowledge. Professional certifications for cybersecurity engineers include the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and the CompTIA Security+ certification.

Consider an Internship

Before committing to a cybersecurity engineering career, consider an internship. Internships provide an opportunity to gain valuable real-world experience and learn more about the industry’s day-to-day operations. This experience can help you make an informed decision about whether or not to pursue a full-time career in cybersecurity engineering.

Work Toward the Job You Want

With the rapid growth of cyber threats, there is a high demand for qualified cybersecurity professionals. But competition is high too. Therefore, taking steps to stand out from the crowd and position yourself for success is essential. Let’s explore several strategies for working toward the cybersecurity job you want.

Prepare for Interviews 

Preparing for a cybersecurity engineer interview involves researching the company, understanding the job requirements, and practicing common cybersecurity interview questions. Make sure to understand the latest cybersecurity trends and technologies well.

Consider Entry-Level Roles

Entry-level cybersecurity roles provide an excellent opportunity to gain practical experience and knowledge in the field. These roles often involve working with experienced professionals and performing tasks such as monitoring network security and responding to security issues. Then, you can start to work your way up.

Career Transition to Cybersecurity: Where To Start

Transitioning to a career in cybersecurity can be daunting, especially for those without a background in the field. However, with the growing demand for qualified cybersecurity professionals, transitioning to this field can be a smart move for many. The key is to know where you stand and what steps to take to begin your journey.

Related Career Transition

Transitioning to cybersecurity from a related career is viable for those with relevant skills and experience. Professionals with experience in IT, network administration, or software development can easily leverage their expertise to make a successful transition. 

Unrelated Career Transition

Transitioning to cybersecurity from an unrelated career may be more challenging, but it is still possible with the right approach. Individuals may need to start with entry-level roles that require minimal experience and work their way up. 

Doing a bootcamp, pursuing relevant certifications, gaining hands-on experience through internships or personal projects, networking, and getting a mentor can also help you transition.

Becoming a Cybersecurity Engineer: Real-Life Examples To Learn From

Reading about the experiences of others who have successfully become cybersecurity engineers can be an invaluable source of inspiration and guidance for those looking to enter the field. Here are two real-life examples.

SecEngineer

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This example of a self-made cybersecurity engineer is inspiring because it shows that you can succeed in this field without a traditional degree in cybersecurity.

SecEngineer’s determination to learn and acquire certifications demonstrates the importance of continuous learning in the constantly evolving field of cybersecurity. This story also highlights that anyone can enter the field with the right mindset and dedication.

Boyd Clewis

YouTube video player for vApjw9nwPGE

Boyd Clewis shares his story of going from being unemployed to becoming a self-taught cybersecurity engineer. He realized employers didn’t take him seriously until he revamped his resume. Clewis emphasized the importance of branding oneself as a serious and competent professional in the cybersecurity field, even when lacking a traditional degree.

The Career Path for a Cybersecurity Engineer

Most cybersecurity engineers start with a more generic entry-level position. From there, it’s common to progress to a mid-level cybersecurity role, such as security analyst or security consultant, or to specialize. With further experience and expertise, you can advance to senior-level positions such as security engineer, security architect, or security manager.

At the highest levels of the cybersecurity career path, professionals can become chief information security officers (CISOs) or security directors responsible for overseeing the entire security program of an organization. 

Continued education and obtaining industry-recognized certifications such as Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) can also help cybersecurity engineers advance in their careers.

How Much Can You Earn as a Cybersecurity Engineer?

Here are the average salaries depending on your professional experience.

Entry-Level

how to become a cybersecurity engineer, entry-level salary

According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for an entry-level cybersecurity engineer with up to one year of experience is $88,859. This figure may vary based on the industry but gives a rough estimate of what to expect.

Mid-Level

how to become a cybersecurity engineer, mid-level salary

The average salary for a mid-level cybersecurity engineer with 1-3 years of experience is $93,065.

Senior Level 

how to become a cybersecurity engineer, senior-level salary

Cybersecurity engineers with over seven years of experience can expect to earn an average salary of $110,877. Additionally, as experienced cybersecurity professionals, they are likely to receive more benefits such as bonuses, profit sharing, and stock options. These additional benefits can significantly increase their overall compensation package.

Get To Know Other Cybersecurity Students

Dipen Patel

Dipen Patel

Cybersecurity Analyst at Accenture

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Gabrielle Oler

Gabrielle Oler

Systems Administrator at Coherent Technical Services

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Karen Peterson

Karen Peterson

Compliance Advisory Associate at Coalfire

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How To Become a Cybersecurity Engineer FAQs

We answer your most frequently asked questions.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Cybersecurity Engineer?

Becoming a cybersecurity engineer typically requires a bachelor’s degree in computer science, cybersecurity, or a related field, which takes around four years to complete.

In addition to formal education, cybersecurity engineers may need to gain practical experience through internships or entry-level positions. This experience can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to acquire.

With this in mind, the path to becoming a cybersecurity engineer can take four to six years, depending on the individual’s educational background and career goals.

Do Cybersecurity Engineers Need Coding Skills?

Yes, cybersecurity engineers need coding skills. Knowledge of programming languages is essential for cybersecurity engineers to write, review, and understand cybersecurity-related code.

They must be familiar with programming languages such as C++, Python, Java, and others to detect and analyze cybersecurity threats, develop and implement security solutions, and conduct penetration testing.

Moreover, coding skills are necessary for developing custom tools and scripts used in cybersecurity analysis and incident response.

Can You Become a Cybersecurity Engineer Without a Degree?

It’s entirely possible to become a cybersecurity engineer without a degree, but if you decide to forgo this path, then you should definitely consider a cybersecurity bootcamp.

Is a Cybersecurity Bootcamp Worth It?

A cybersecurity bootcamp can be worth it for those looking for a fast-paced, immersive learning experience in cybersecurity. Bootcamps are intensive training programs that aim to teach practical skills in a short period, typically ranging from a few weeks to several months.

They are a valuable option for individuals looking to transition into cybersecurity from another field or those who want to upgrade their skills quickly. Bootcamps can also offer networking opportunities and connections to potential employers.

Consider factors such as the curriculum, the quality of the instructors, the reputation of the bootcamp, and the job placement rate of past graduates.

Can I Pivot to a Career in Cybersecurity at 40?

Yes, it is possible to change your career to cybersecurity at 40, or at any age, for that matter. The cybersecurity industry is known for its skills gap, which means there is a demand for skilled workers. Your age doesn’t matter if you’ve got the right skills.

Since you’re here…
There are hundreds of thousands of vacant cybersecurity jobs, and one of them has your name on it. You can enter the industry in 6 months flat with our Cybersecurity Course. We’ve helped over 10,000 students make huge career changes with our fully flexible mentor-led bootcamps. Explore our free cybersecurity course curriculum today to start your career switch story. 

About Sakshi Gupta

Sakshi is a Managing Editor at Springboard. She is a technology enthusiast who loves to read and write about emerging tech. She is a content marketer with experience in the Indian and US markets.