Professional development

Degree vs. certification: Advanced-career cybersecurity engineer

October 8, 2019 by Greg Belding


Versatile solutions are an attractive option in today’s world. Why incorporate something new that only does one thing when you can incorporate something that has multifunctionality? This idea extends into cybersecurity careers and is perfectly embodied by the cybersecurity engineer role. 

This role wears many, if not all, of the hats on a security team and is currently a very in-demand job, to the point that it is hard to fill. Like many other cybersecurity roles, this one can be reached via two general paths — by earning a degree or earning certifications. This article will detail both paths and conclude with a well-founded recommendation for which path you should take for the advanced-career-stage cybersecurity engineer.

What is a cybersecurity engineer?

Cybersecurity engineers are sort of like the Swiss Army knife of the cybersecurity career world. This role touches on about every sub-discipline within the cybersecurity field. From network and system security to troubleshooting information security breaches and penetration testing, this role will require a well-rounded, comprehensive cybersecurity skill set. 

What’s more, more than a few cybersecurity engineers make it to this proverbial pinnacle of their respective career. There are approximately 29% of all cybersecurity engineers at the advanced level, making this level a popular destination for many on their career path.

Degree path

One thing that can be stated almost universally about the role of cybersecurity engineer: a degree of some kind is required to get your foot in the door in the early stages of their career (not to mention in advanced career). 

Below is a breakdown for which degrees are requested by hiring organizations. 

  • Sub-bachelor’s (AA) — 11%
  • Bachelor — 67%
  • Graduate — 23%

As with most other cybersecurity roles, there is no one major preferred over all others. With this said, if you can find a degree-issuing educational institution offers a cybersecurity degree, go for it. 

This specific degree is still not widespread, so you may have to improvise by obtaining a related degree. Some recurring degrees seen by hiring organizations include:

  • Computer science
  • Information security
  • Computer engineering
  • IT
  • Math

By the advanced career point in a career path, a cybersecurity engineer probably has already earned their graduate degree. If you are sitting at the mid-level career point and want to add the icing to your proverbial career cake, now is the time. 

The good thing is that there are more graduate degree programs in cybersecurity than bachelor’s degrees. This means you can perfect your career, which probably began with a bachelor’s in computer science or another adjacent major, with a graduate degree that will show the hiring world you are considered a master of your cybersecurity craft.

Certification path

For other stages in the cybersecurity engineer career path, choosing between a degree or certification may be a smart option to get to the role as fast as possible. By the time you reach the advanced career level, things have changed somewhat, and you will need to prove your well-rounded expertise in different ways. Earning certifications is a great way to bolster your career with a certified advanced level of skill that hiring organizations require.

GIAC®️ Security Expert (GSE)

Hosted by GIAC, GSE is the top certification for an advanced-level cybersecurity engineer. Called the most prestigious certification in cybersecurity, GSE certifies that the certification holder not only has mastered one or two different areas of cybersecurity, but rather is a master of all. 

Instead of bogging down certification candidates with endless domains of knowledge, GIAC divides this universe of knowledge into three major skill groupings — general security skills, incident skills and intrusion detection and analysis skills. Think of GSE as a jack-of-all-trades certification that is tailor-made for this role.


Sponsored by (ISC)2, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is one of the most requested for the cybersecurity engineer role. CISSP focuses on a broad range of cybersecurity skills which is essential for a cybersecurity engineer to master by the time they reach the advanced career level. 

These skills are divided into eight domains of knowledge, which are:

  • Security and risk management
  • Asset security
  • Security architecture and engineering
  • Communications and network security
  • Identity and access management
  • Security assessment and testing
  • Security operations
  • Software development security

Earning this certification will go miles in declaring your prowess with these skills. As a matter of fact, if you had to earn just one certification by the advanced level of your career, I would recommend this one.

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

One weakness of the certifications above is that they do not adequately cover the ethical hacking skills. Hosted by EC-Council, this certification covers you by verifying the skills and knowledge that hackers will use against your organization. The old adage of “know your enemy” definitely applies here and a forward-thinking cybersecurity engineer would do well to incorporate ethical hacking skills into their skill arsenal. Thinking like a hacker may even give a cybersecurity engineer the edge needed to stay ahead of the threat curve, which is the best-case scenario.


I am going to be brief with this, seeing as you are probably a busy mid-career cybersecurity engineer looking to make the right final moves to get to the advanced career level. Remember that the advanced level of a career is the culmination of all of the skills and knowledge obtained over time, and diversification is your friend here. 

You definitely will want to earn both a degree and certification and take this as far as possible. Earn that master’s degree in cybersecurity (if you have not already) and collect as many certifications as you can to verify your knowledge and skills mastery. Hiring organizations expect a lot out of an advanced-level cybersecurity engineer and the more verifiable education and training you receive, the better off you will be.



  1. Cybersecurity Career Pathway, CyberSeek
  2. GIAC Security Expert (GSE) Certification, GIAC
  3. 5 Cybersecurity Certifications That Will Get You Hired, Springboard Blog
  4. CISSP – The World’s Premier Cybersecurity Certification, (ISC)2
  5. Average Cyber Security Engineer Salary, PayScale
Posted: October 8, 2019
Greg Belding
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Greg is a Veteran IT Professional working in the Healthcare field. He enjoys Information Security, creating Information Defensive Strategy, and writing – both as a Cybersecurity Blogger as well as for fun.