Pursuing a career in cyber security can be an exciting yet challenging journey. With the increasing demand for cyber security professionals, many aspire to break into this field. However, expectations often differ from reality. Looking back, there are several key lessons I wish I had known earlier in my cyber security career. These learnings can help others advance faster by avoiding common mistakes. In this article, I will share 7 insightful lessons on specializations, salaries, certifications, health, worry, degrees and practical skills.
Lesson 1: The Specialization You Choose Won’t Necessarily Be Your Long Term Career
When starting out, many cyber security enthusiasts have grand plans to pursue specific specializations like becoming an ethical hacker or cloud security engineer. They craft elaborate roadmaps to achieve their dream specialization. However, as you begin working in cyber security, your first role may end up in a completely different domain.
Initially, I was fixated on one specialization but failed to appreciate my first cyber security job. After gaining experience, I realized how restrictive it was to limit myself to one specialization. With time and effort, you can become an expert in any cyber security domain you desire. The key is keeping an open mind rather than rigidly clinging to your original specialization.
Lesson 2: The Job Itself Matters Less Than You Think
Early in my cyber security career, I thought I could only do meaningful work in renowned organizations like NASA or SpaceX. This limited mindset prevented me from realizing the incredible things I could accomplish in any role.
I discovered many pioneering cyber security tools were created not by experts at elite companies but passionate professionals in ordinary jobs. With drive and perseverance, you can achieve amazing things regardless of your role. The job itself matters less than making the most of your time through continuous learning and development.
Lesson 3: The Truth About Cyber Security Salaries
The high cyber security salaries advertised are enticing but usually require substantial experience. I wrongly believed any certification would instantly guarantee a six-figure income. In reality, high salaries come after progressively building skills and expanding your expertise.
Rather than expecting a certification to instantly transform your income, view it as a structure for learning. Use certifications to gain knowledge you can apply in projects and roles to steadily grow your cyber security career. There are no shortcuts, but with consistent effort you can work towards higher salaries.
Lesson 4: Don’t Neglect Health and Relationships
When hyper-focused on advancing my cyber security career, I neglected other important aspects of life like health, family and friends. This ultimately led to burnout and depression.
Through mentors, I realized sacrificing wellbeing for work results in neither success nor happiness. Make time for exercise, loved ones and other priorities, even during busy periods. A balanced lifestyle will provide the energy and motivation to sustainably advance in cyber security.
Lesson 5: Do More, Worry Less
Earlier in my career, I wasted time endlessly worrying about things like choosing the perfect certification or competing with others. This useless anxiety only bred indecision and stagnation.
Rather than worrying about finding the one right path, take action by experimenting with different certifications and networking with professionals. Stay open-minded, keep trying new things and course-correct based on practical experience. Focus your energy on constructive activities instead of unproductive worrying.
Lesson 6: Degrees Matter Less Than Skills
I once believed a university degree was essential for a cyber security career, but this isn’t necessarily true. While degrees have value in some fields, hands-on tech skills are more important in cyber security.
Degrees can be time-consuming and expensive. For cyber security, you may be better off honing practical skills through certifications, projects and work experience. Options like Western Governors University allow fast and affordable degrees if required for specific roles. Either way, prioritize gaining marketable skills.
Lesson 7: Certifications Are the Start, Not the End
When starting out, I viewed certifications as the ultimate goal rather than a stepping stone. In reality, certifications simply provide structured learning to kickstart your journey.
Once you complete a certification, avoid getting complacent. Keep growing your skills through projects that demonstrate value to employers. Certifications give you confidence and basic knowledge to get started, but practical experience is what will drive your cyber security career to new heights.
Launching and advancing a cyber security career has its fair share of twists and turns. By learning from the lessons of experienced professionals, you can avoid common pitfalls. Specializing too early, expecting instant high salaries, neglecting health or overvaluing degrees can hinder your progress. Instead, stay open-minded, take action over worry, and focus on building practical skills. With this mindset, your cyber security certifications will empower you to reach new heights.