Key education for information security careers: A computer science degree?
The importance of closing the cybersecurity skills gap
Closing the information security and cybersecurity gap is becoming a priority. The cybersecurity skills shortage is projected to lead to 3.5 million unfilled jobs by 2021, according to analyst firm Cybersecurity Ventures. This is why finding new and innovative ways of closing the cyberskills gap is a topic that is central to many of information security’s initiatives for the coming years.
Securing a job in the information security field means having the right education and skills to keep up with the rapid changes in technology. While formal education is important, it is more so for information security professionals. This is because a key part of a successful career in this sector is maintaining the drive to continue learning daily, keeping their knowledge up to date by attending courses and workshops that focus on hands-on practice and by acquiring current certifications in the chosen IT sector. This is true in the entire information technology field but even more so in information security, where professionals need to be always a step ahead of the “bad guys” and master technology as it is developed.
College degree, or vocational training?
Academic degrees are not a requirement for many positions in the field, as many skillsets can’t be taught in a classroom and require real-world experience and specific trainings and certifications to augment one’s cybersecurity training. However, adding a college degree is also a good idea to meet the formal knowledge requirement many positions ask for and to give professionals the general IT preparation that will help them choose their favorite field and jumpstart their career.
More vocational colleges and universities are providing students with the education and skills necessary to compete for jobs in high-demand IT occupations. Educational institutions are creating degree programs (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s) in computer science to get more students interested in studying IT security-related topics and meet the need to correct today’s industry shortage of a skilled workforce. In particular, many schools now provide coursework that emphasizes IT Network Security and have developed specific cybersecurity curricula that can give a head start to information security professional careers.
The high-profile hacks of recent years have only served to underline the need for education. Reacting to the 2016 DNC hack, Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU), said this: “Unless we take action and prepare students to fill these open positions, we will continue to read about serious data breaches every few weeks. As providers of cyber security specialists, career education colleges and universities can help ensure America’s workforce is equipped with the skills necessary to combat the growing threat of cybercrime.”
How can a computer science degree benefit students interested in information security?
An undergraduate degree in computer science is often great for securing an entry-level role in the IT world. It’s even better if coupled with one to two years of an internship or other experience in the security field. In a demanding market that is looking for professionals already formed and ready to tackle IT infrastructure protection, pursuing a formal computer science degree that you can build on with IT certifications and continuing education experience will really help you stand out from the competition.
A college degree? Yes. This is the minimum credential required as college grads to get even the most basic, entry-level job.
Grant Suneson, featured writer at 24/7 Wall St., reviewed data from the U.S. Census Bureau on the average earnings of college graduates by field of study to determine the highest- and lowest-paying college majors. In doing so, he revealed that Computer Science studies are at the high-earning end:
“Computer scientists have some of the brightest job prospects of any sector. Many companies have reported having a difficult time finding skilled computer scientists, even though more than 1.2 million Americans in the job market have a computer science degree. Employment in the industry is projected to grow 19% in the coming years, much faster than overall employment growth. With demand for computer scientists growing, the industry’s salaries will likely remain relatively high.”
Suneson also cited average annual earnings of $85,398 and an unemployment rate of 3.1% for computer science graduates.
Security education and training can qualify you for high-profile job categories
With the right security-related education and training courses, professional career certifications and skills, there are greater chances of qualifying for expert-level roles involved in a large variety of technical or managerial tasks. Individuals holding a Bachelor’s degree in computer science may pursue an array of careers including positions such as IT Security Analyst, a role that is currently in demand.
In fact, as more hackers attempt to illegally access business systems, cybersecurity and information security professionals with an analyst’s background are more consistently sought after. This is due to their capacity to analyze business processes for risks by carrying out a vulnerability assessment. In this way, they can help the company find solutions to fix the issues before they lead to massive data loss.
Computer analyst jobs normally available include:
- Security Analyst
- Information Security Analyst
- Data Security Analyst
- Network Security Analyst
- Cyber Security Analyst
An Information Security Analyst’s salary (source):
- Median salary of entry-level: $63,000
- Median salary for mid-career: $82,000
- Median salary for experienced: $89,000
- Median salary for late-career: $91,000
|Occupation||Projected Industry Growth (2019-29)||Projected Change in Number of Jobs (2019-29)|
|Information Security Analysts||31% (much faster than average)||40,900|
Computer science professionals with formal degrees and certifications can also find lucrative employment in the information security/cybersecurity field. Potential roles include Information Assurance Analyst (if interested, see Top 30 Information Assurance Analyst Interview Questions and Answers for 2019), Malware Analyst or Risk Analyst. Although many computer science positions overlap, all roles carry different responsibilities and require a diverse set of skills. Therefore, it is important to be familiar with the specific position and learn what type of knowledge, skills, abilities and tasks (KSA-T) are needed to succeed in these roles.
Finding the right school and program of study in information security
There are many sites on the Internet to find suitable higher education schools. A good place to start is Study in the USA®, which provides helpful information about U.S. universities and colleges to students and connects those students with reputable programs in the United States. To get a full list of institutions, interested parties can also visit the College Navigator and search by program/major. If looking for ranks and ratings and choosing degree-granting institutions with statistical data that mark their value, then the College Scorecard is available. It is also worth visiting the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center, which identifies “which colleges have the highest and lowest tuition and net prices.”
For a quicker, more pointed search, there’s the Computer Science Degree Hub, a “trusted resource guide for finding the latest up-to-date information about the best accredited computer science degree programs offered by first-rate colleges across the United States,” or Security Degree Hub, which will “provide students with useful, unbiased rankings and information on the various security schools, degrees, and employment opportunities for those interested in [computer or cyber] security,” as mentioned on the site.
A number of schools are recognized by listings that rate and rank universities and colleges in different fields according to established criteria.
- Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is ranked #1 School of Computer Science and in Information and Technology Management (S. News and World Report) and has career-focused programs. In addition, CMU’s Heinz College is ranked #2 in Information Systems Management (as per MastersInDataScience.org) and has appeared on lists of the Best Graduate Schools for Cybersecurity by CSO Magazine, Digital Guardian, Universities.com (#1) and CyberDegrees.org
- UMUC is also at the forefront in the cybersecurity studies, with its headquarters situated between the DoD’s Cyber Command in Maryland and the Cyber Corridor in Virginia. It is often cited as best cybersecurity college program in publication listings
- Technical schools such as Southern Technical College offer Associate’s Degree in Network Engineering and Administration, providing specialized training with general academic curricula at post-secondary levels to prepare students for a career in computer technology. Their courses allow students to apply their knowledge through hands-on, real-world scenarios and simulation using current network technology
- Western Governors University offers career-aligned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cybersecurity and information assurance. The Bachelor of Science in Network Operations and Security degree program includes 14 sought-after industry certifications
These are just a few of the many options available!
There is an understandable concern about the shortage of computer science professionals available to meet the demands of a growing market. In addition, computer and information technology occupations are expected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that pursuing a degree within the field can be a rewarding career move today.
A number of initiatives are in place to assist employers in finding local cybersecurity talent. The Community College Cyber Summit (3CS), for example, will be hosting a 3CS Pre-Summit Job Fair on July 30th, 2019 to help companies identify potential candidates. Professionals might find the InfoSec World 2019 Conference & Expo on April 1st-3rd, 2019 a great chance to meet like-minded individuals and participate in summits and workshops to sharpen their cybersecurity skills.
This is a great time, then, to enter the field by exploiting all possibilities to increase skills and knowledge for this role. More multidisciplinary college programs which combine several fields of study or academic interests with STEM-based majors are today addressing the complex training IT security experts require for specific information security or cybersecurity careers. These focused degrees are creating a deeper interest and connection to the profession. Degrees can represent a good preparation for professionals who will then hone their skills and keep their knowledge up to date through proper certifications and intensive training programs that are more focused on practical skills and current technologies.
In summary, then, computer science college degrees can augment one’s cybersecurity training carried forward through courses that focus on specific topics or involve intensive lab work.
- Who Needs a College Degree? Filling the Skills Gap With Qualified New Collar Professionals, SecurityIntelligence.com
- How Universities Can Help Fill the Security Skills Gap, tripwire.com
- FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces Computer Science For All Initiative, obamawhitehouse.archives.gov
- Crack into Cyber-Security Training at Community Colleges, CommunityCollegeReview.com
- Study Cyber Security in the USA, studyusa.com
- The Highest and Lowest Paying College Majors in America, msn.com (Grant Suneson)
- Best Computer Science Schools in 2018, Best Value Schools
- University and College Contacts, nist.gov
- Information Security Analyst, US News Money
- What is the Difference Between Cyber Security and Information Security?, Computer Science Degree Hub
- How to Become a Security Analyst, CybersecurityEducation.org
- Cybersecurity Jobs Report 2018-2021, Cybersecurity Ventures
- IT Degrees & IT Careers, learnhowtobecome.org