Can You Learn Cybersecurity On Your Own?

Want a career in cybersecurity but unsure if you should enroll in a bootcamp or attempt self-learning through an online course? This guide will help you choose the right path as you begin your cybersecurity journey.

How To Learn Cybersecurity from Scratch

Security professionals such as cybersecurity analysts, security architects, incident response analysts, and security compliance analysts have in recent years become an indispensable part of organizations of all sizes. As more and more companies, nonprofits, and government agencies face an increased risk of data breaches, identity theft, malware and ransomware attacks, and other potential threats that violate both user privacy and security, cybersecurity professionals have seen a rise in demand, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting that the cybersecurity industry will grow by 31% between 2019 and 2029. Diversity in opportunities and salaries for security professionals have also grown, with new paths emerging for cybersecurity specialization, and many senior cybersecurity security specialists earning in the six figures. 

The education industry has risen to meet this demand for cybersecurity analysts, with online bootcamps developing detailed curricula to prepare prospective students for the workforce; massive open online courses (MOOCs) spinning up programs that offer cybersecurity certifications; and troves of free online resources promising to teach prospective students everything they need to know—from understanding incident response and security breaches to risk management and digital forensics—through free videos and blog posts. 

With so many free and paid learning resources available, the process of choosing between self-taught and mentor-guided courses can raise a lot of questions and become overwhelming. Are paid courses always better? Should you start with self-learning? Is it even possible to successfully train yourself to become a cybersecurity specialist? 

The following guide offers answers to some of these burning questions. 

What is the difference between a cybersecurity course vs. a bootcamp?

Cybersecurity courses, which often take the form of MOOCs (massive open online courses) typically offer a hands-off approach to teaching and learning and can focus on specific elements of the discipline, such as introducing prospective students to the fundamentals of network security, offering a crash course in Linux or cryptography, or unpacking the differences between an ethical hacker versus a bad actor. These courses, offered by e-learning platforms such as Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, Codecademy, DataCamp, Khan Academy, EdX, and Simplilearn allow students to go at their own pace, often have an element of self-teaching, and many also offer certifications and can count toward college credits.

Bootcamps, on the other hand, are short-term programs that tend to offer a more hands-on and holistic learning experience. Instead of simply introducing students to the basics of a discipline or focusing on one element, many bootcamps use a range of resources such as video lectures and tutorials, readings, exercises and assignments, case studies, capstone projects, and some degree of mentorship to prepare students for everything from being able to perform the job of a cybersecurity analyst to acing a job interview. An instructor is often on hand to answer questions, and mentors and counselors are available to offer professional and academic guidance. The cost of bootcamps can range from $1,000-$10,000.

Not all bootcamps are made the same, though. When choosing a bootcamp, it’s important to consider the comprehensiveness of the curriculum, the time commitment, whether you will get to work on real-world projects and portfolio development, and what career guidance and counseling are included. A good bootcamp shouldn’t simply teach you the skills required to perform the job of a cybersecurity analyst—it should also prepare you to land the job you want.

What’s covered in a cybersecurity course or bootcamp—and what should you expect?

Most cybersecurity bootcamps will teach you the fundamentals of the profession such as identifying security vulnerabilities and weaknesses, preventing and remediating data breaches and other cyberattacks, identifying viruses, malware and other unauthorized entrants within information systems and networks, understanding authentication models and components, performing penetration testing, and information security best practices. 

In addition to cybersecurity training, the most successful bootcamps also provide mentorship from industry experts to help graduates navigate both the projects they’re working on and the job market to ensure that they have the best shot at a cybersecurity career. 

Who is eligible for a cybersecurity course or bootcamp?

cybersecurity course

Many cybersecurity courses and bootcamps do not have prerequisites and welcome complete beginners who are motivated, have strong analytical skills, and have a commitment to learning. 

However, some courses require learners to have at least some experience with a programming language, operating system, security architecture, or computer science. 

Make sure you carefully read the course’s expectations before signing up. 

How long is a typical cybersecurity course or bootcamp?

The average cybersecurity course or bootcamp takes around 6-12 months. Those pursuing a condensed 6-month course that prepares students for the workforce can expect to spend 15-20 hours a week on study and practice. The process will take longer if you need to complete pre-requisites such as learning programming languages.

What should I learn first in a cybersecurity course or bootcamp?

While many cybersecurity courses don’t have prerequisites, you will get the most out of a course or bootcamp if you have some experience with Linux, programming languages such as Python, Java, C++, SQL, or PHP, and develop strong communication skills so that you can identify and articulate security risks and mitigation strategies.

Is a cybersecurity bootcamp worth it?

Is a cybersecurity bootcamp worth it

Whether a cybersecurity bootcamp is “worth it” depends on what it offers and what you’re willing to put into it. When choosing between bootcamps and instructor-supported online courses, it’s important to determine your end goal. Is the cybersecurity bootcamp a stepping stone to an even more complex course in forensics and reverse engineering? Is it the key to a career change? Are you hoping to land a job as a security analyst once you graduate? 

The answers to these questions are important because they can help you create a checklist for the type of bootcamp best suited to you. For example, if your goal is to land a job on graduation, then you’ll want to enroll in a cybersecurity course that offers career guidance, gives you easy access to industry mentorship, includes practice with real-world scenarios and a capstone project, and awards you industry-recognized certifications such as CompTIA’s Security+. Likewise, if you have ambitions to work in forensics, or to simply prepare yourself for a more advanced security role, you’ll want a course that introduces you to concepts such as vulnerability assessment, vulnerability remediation, and understanding malware and virus signatures. 

The strongest bootcamps that have a high success rate when it comes to graduation and job placements typically include the following components:

  • Comprehensive curriculum. Whether a student has a background loosely related to cybersecurity or is trained in computer science, the best bootcamps take all their needs into account and are comprehensive, using a variety of resources ranging from videos to articles, hands-on projects, and career-related coursework to ensure that students learn the skills that employers are looking for. These courses are also clear about any pre-requisite skills required and offer prep courses for those who need additional training to get up to speed on basic IT security threats.
  • Real-world projects. Any cybersecurity bootcamp worth its salt will help students prepare a strong portfolio that includes a variety of projects showcasing what the student is capable of. When choosing between courses, consider whether a bootcamp requires a capstone project and whether there are opportunities to gain real-world experience with penetration testing, network security, and corrective action plans.
  • Accessible mentors. It’s well established that having access to a mentor with industry expertise can mean the difference between career advancement and stagnation. Mentors can offer valuable industry insights, give guidance and actionable advice on projects and career decisions, and help hold students accountable. The more personalized the mentorship, the better. 
  • Career coaching and networking. It’s one thing to be a highly-skilled cybersecurity specialist. It’s another to navigate the job market and get potential hiring managers to notice you. Look for bootcamps that incorporate career coaching and networking so that all your hard-earned cybersecurity skills will find their way to recruiters and, ultimately, land you the job that you want. 
  • Job guarantee. Few bootcamps go so far as to offer graduates a job guarantee (i.e. a guarantee that you will find a job within the discipline after you complete the course, or you get your money back). But if you find one that does, it usually means they have confidence in their bootcamp and a solid track record of graduating workforce-ready students who go on to land jobs as cybersecurity analysts. 

Is cybersecurity the right career for you?

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the cybersecurity industry is expected to have 3.5 million high-paying, unfilled jobs this year. With Springboard’s comprehensive Cyber Security Career Track, you’ll work 1:1 with an industry mentor to learn key aspects of information technology, security software, security auditing, and finding and fixing malicious code. Learning units include subject-expert approved resources, application-based mini-projects, hands-on labs, and career-search-related coursework.

The course will culminate in a multi-part capstone project that you can highlight on your resume for prospective employers or use to demonstrate your technical knowledge in your job interview. The learning materials will also help prepare you to pass the globally-recognized CompTIA Security+  certification so you stand out when applying for cybersecurity roles.

Learn more about Springboard’s Cyber Security Career Track here.

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