Cybersecurity Careers: The Essential Guide

share icon share icon icon calendar September 22, 2021

If you want to launch a career in tech and need some direction on how to get started, this cybersecurity career guide is the perfect place for you.

Here are the questions we’ll answer:

  • What will you do as a cybersecurity professional?
  • Is there a demand for cybersecurity professionals?
  • How can you launch a cybersecurity career with no experience?
  • Which cybersecurity certifications matter to employers?
  • What are the main industries for cybersecurity jobs in Virginia? 
  • What are common entry-level positions in cybersecurity?
  • How much do entry-level cybersecurity salaries typically pay?

What Will You Do as a Cybersecurity Professional?

As a cybersecurity professional, you’ll spend your days preventing cyberattacks and ensuring the digital systems of your organization are secure. 

There are many different specializations within cybersecurity, including:

  • Application Security: for context, “applications” are the programs you use on a daily basis, such as Zoom, Microsoft Office, Quickbooks, and the like. To ensure these applications are secure, you’ll need to update, test, and patch them regularly. 
  • Information Security: hackers love to launch cyberattacks against targets with an abundance of sensitive information and proprietary data. If you specialize in information security, you will protect the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of an organization’s data. 
  • Operational Security: or OPSEC, will lead you to look at your organization’s operations and systems from the perspective of a potential attacker. Your job will be to follow data and user actions throughout the system, with the goal of reducing the likelihood of data getting stolen, compromised, or held for ransom.
  • Network Security: your main goal will be to protect your organization’s network and prevent unauthorized access by malicious hackers. Technical controls and identity management are key in network security. 

When every aspect of an organization’s online systems are set up with proper cybersecurity measures and can be monitored and updated by professionals, our digital world becomes safer and we are able to avoid the generalized panic that follows headline-grabbing cyberattacks like the recent ones perpetrated against the Colonial Pipeline, JBS Foods, and SolarWinds.

Is There a Demand for Cybersecurity Professionals?

Yes! In fact, the demand has been so high for so long that some analysts estimate there’s been a 0% unemployment rate for the whole cybersecurity sector since 2016. 

What’s more, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 33% growth rate between 2020-2030 for Information Security Analysts jobs, which indicates that the demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals will remain strong.

There are currently 460,000 job openings in cybersecurity nationwide and almost 50,000 roles waiting to be filled in the state of Virginia, so there’s never been a better time to become a cybersecurity professional! 

Here are the main factors fueling the job demand in cybersecurity in recent years:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the rate of adoption of new technologies, including an unprecedented boom of e-commerce companies.
  • The sudden shift to remote work created a lot of headaches for cybersecurity teams. Inside a company’s office building there are physical, technical, and administrative controls that a security team can implement, but when employees started working from home, it became challenging to keep data and systems safe while still permitting remote access.
  • The popularity of ransomware as a service (RaaS) has skyrocketed, causing a spike in low-sophistication cyberattacks. Essentially, RaaS enables anybody to buy a pre-packaged ransomware “kit,” and that allows even inexperienced hackers to become threats.

Cybersecurity professionals are the line of defense between our online world and hackers trying to steal or compromise the privacy of our digital data.

How Can You Launch a Cybersecurity Career with No Experience?

Don’t obsess about the experience you might be lacking, and focus instead on what you need to do to build the skill set that will make your dreams of a new career in cybersecurity a reality.

You just have to start somewhere! Becoming a cybersecurity professional is absolutely within your reach, whatever job or career you might have at the moment.

Most employers look for candidates with practical cybersecurity skills and experience and don’t usually demand higher education degrees. In fact, even tech giants like Google, Apple, and IBM no longer require candidates to have undergraduate degrees. 

So whether you are new to cybersecurity, or pivoting from an IT role, you should focus on acquiring the hands-on skills that will get you hired.

The Old Dominion University Cybersecurity Bootcamp can help you hack into cybersecurity whether or not you have a tech background. 

The way it works is really simple:

  • It’s a 10-month, part-time program 
  • Classes are 100% live & online during weeknights and weekends
  • Instructors are cybersecurity experts active in the field
  • Our state-of-the-art virtual platform lets you practice with cyber labs and threat simulations that mimick real-world scenarios
  • There are no prerequisites to apply

Our bootcamp is an opportunity for you to learn foundational skills, gain practical experience, and create a network of professionals in the cybersecurity industry—everything you need to launch a successful new career.

Which Cybersecurity Certifications Matter to Employers?

It depends on which cybersecurity jobs you want to pursue.

For example, if you want to become a SOC Analyst, you might want to study for the EC Council Certified SOC Analyst exam. On the other hand, if your ambitions lie in penetration testing, you might want to obtain their Certified Ethical Hacker certification.

In general, if you are new to cybersecurity and have no significant experience in the field, industry certifications can certainly help boost your profile among future employers. 

While all certification exams have their own study guides, it is crucial for learners to first be knowledgeable about a variety of cybersecurity topics. The ODU Cybersecurity Bootcamp can give you exactly that in-depth essential cybersecurity knowledge. 

While our curriculum is not designed as a certification-prep program, the skills that you will learn are applicable to many cybersecurity industry certification exams, including:

  • The CompTIA Network+ certification exam covers configuration, management, and troubleshooting of different network devices. It also tests familiarity and skills with new technologies, including cloud, mobile, virtualization, and communication tech.
  • The CompTIA Security+ certification covers a range of essential entry-level cybersecurity topics including networks, systems, penetration testing, and security administration. 
  • The CompTIA CySA+ certification tests your skills in intrusion detection, security analytics and cyberattack response, and data analysis for different threats, vulnerabilities, and risks. 
  • The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification tests your skills with Amazon Web Services Cloud infrastructure, security, and compliance issues. 
  • The Linux LPI Essentials certification exam assesses your knowledge of the Linux operating system. The exam also covers your management capabilities of users and groups, and skills in Linux command line, networking configuration, administration, and permissions.
  • The Cisco Certified CyberOps Associate certification covers the concepts and principles of security operations and the skills and knowledge necessary to work successfully in a Security Operations Center (SOC).

We generally recommend that learners seek one or two certifications, according to their individual career goals.

What Are the Main Industries for Cybersecurity Jobs in Virginia? 

Virginia is home to 35 Fortune 1000 companies, including Freddie Mac, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Capital One, Dollar Tree Stores, DXC Technology, and Altria Group.

The strong corporate presence in the state is complemented by the concentration of governmental organizations. The Norfolk and Hampton Roads metro areas, in particular, boast a large military presence, in addition to the NASA Research Center and facilities of the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Commerce, and Veterans Affairs.

All these varied industries and organizations contribute to a thriving economy. Still, they make Virginia a prime target for hackers looking to infiltrate our government institutions or steal proprietary and confidential data from corporations and innovative high-tech startups. And that’s why the Commonwealth has the most cybersecurity companies per capita in the nation. 

If you’d like to know more about how federal and local governments approach cybersecurity, this article explores the role of CISA and our national “defend forward” strategy.

What Are Common Entry-Level Positions in Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity departments are generally divided between defensive and offensive cybersecurity roles. 

Defensive cybersecurity (Blue Team) ensures that no one without authorization can access the network. Professionals who specialize in this area set up the cybersecurity architecture of an organization based on its specific risk profile, and make sure all systems remain secure at all times. 

Some examples of Blue Team jobs include:

  • Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst 
  • Information Security Researcher 
  • NOC (Network Operations Center) Technician 
  • Network Security Administrator 
  • Digital Forensics Examiner 

Offensive cybersecurity (Red Team) tests the efficiency and resilience of an organization’s systems. Also known as ethical hackers, professionals on Red Teams mimic the activities and techniques of cybercriminals to determine if their client’s network can withstand a particular type of attack, or if there are vulnerabilities in the system. 

Some examples of Red Team jobs include:

  • Penetration Tester
  • Offensive Cybersecurity Analyst
  • Cybersecurity Crime Investigator 
  • Ethical Hacker 
  • Vulnerability Assessment Analyst 

Every cybersecurity department normally employs a mix of offensive and defensive cybersecurity specialists to ensure maximum protection. The two counterparts work together to run advanced simulation scenarios that are crucial to discovering vulnerabilities and improving security measures.

How Much Do Entry-Level Cybersecurity Salaries Typically Pay?

The high demand for cybersecurity professionals has caused salaries in this industry to be higher than average.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for information security analysts was $103,590 in May 2020. For comparison, the annual mean wage for all occupations in the United States as of May 2020 was $56,310.

You can use many different online tools to check your earning potential. Here are the ones we recommend: 

Always keep in mind that the eventual compensation package you are offered will depend on a number of factors, including your level of experience, any certifications you might have, and your overall education.

Time to Invest in Yourself

Every journey starts with just one step, and now is the right time for you to have the courage to invest in your future.

We hope that this career guide has given you a comprehensive overview of the cybersecurity industry and all the career opportunities it holds. 

The ODU Cybersecurity Bootcamp can help you build the foundational skills you need to thrive in cybersecurity. 

Designed to fit the schedule of busy professionals, our bootcamp classes are 100% live & online, with two sessions on weeknights and one on Saturdays—for a total of 400 hours of in-depth cybersecurity instruction that you can complete in just 10 months. 

If you are on the fence about committing to the full program, you have the opportunity to test-drive it by signing up for our Introductory Course. In this 30-hour stand-alone course, you’ll get a taste of our online learning environment, the quality of cybersecurity education we provide, and the practical skills you’ll be able to hone.

We also offer career services and networking opportunities. While we cannot guarantee job or internship placement, our team will work with you from day one, so that by the time you are ready to join the workforce, your resume, online profiles, and portfolio are in perfect shape to get your foot in the door with our industry partners. 


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