Considering a career in cybersecurity? Don’t let misconceptions hold you back

Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by Fortinet.

While some industries have seen a decline in job prospects over the last 18 months, there’s one sector where job opportunities abound: cybersecurity. According to research from Deloitte, the demand for cybersecurity professionals grows by seven per cent every year. After all, almost every company has proprietary data to protect and, given the rapid increase in the number and severity of cyber attacks brought on by the widespread adoption of working and learning from home during the pandemic, the need for skilled professionals is now greater than ever.

I recently completed my Master’s of Computer Science in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa. From the start, I was eager to move into cybersecurity. This spring, I landed a job working in a software quality assurance and developer role at Fortinet, a global cybersecurity company, but with a significant presence in many parts of Canada. It’s exciting work that requires creative thinking and problem solving to ensure we consistently deliver a great customer experience, fast performance, and best-in-class security.

Because cybersecurity is a growing field, I get a lot of questions from other job seekers who are curious about this industry but never truly considered it due to their belief that a lack of technical skills will prevent them from pursuing a career in the field. From these conversations, I’ve found that there are many misconceptions about cybersecurity and what background you need to pursue a successful career in this space.

You need a specialized degree

There’s a pervasive idea that it’s “hard” to get into cybersecurity, even for people with a technical background. I heard this a lot and even believed it when I started looking at cybersecurity as a career path. I was working toward my computer engineering degree, and even I thought it might be hard without special courses or training programs.

The fact is, the most important factor to success is a passion for the work. I myself did not even take a cybersecurity course until mid-way through my undergraduate degree. And, while I found that the training was great, having a passion for cybersecurity is what truly propelled me forward.

The higher your level of interest in the topic, the more you will immerse yourself and your technical skills will come along naturally. This doesn’t have to involve a formal education as there are many free resources available for those with the drive to pursue them, including the library of free cybersecurity training courses available through Fortinet’s NSE Training Institute.

Cybersecurity is very niche

People often tell me they think cybersecurity is prohibitively specialized, but I disagree. Cybersecurity is everywhere. There are over 27 billion connected devices globally, including your mobile phone, laptop, TV, speakers, and even doorbell or fridge. Anywhere we keep a password or scan our face or fingerprint, we are interacting with cybersecurity.

From these everyday devices cybersecurity expands into a huge market. Once you understand this, it’s easy to start moving down the path and educating yourself about the industry and the very real threats facing us in today’s connected world.

You need a really technical skillset

While a technical skill set is certainly an asset, I’ve learned that the most valuable skill is curiosity. My path to a career in cybersecurity was curiosity-driven. I wondered how security was maintained and where my data was going every time I logged into a device. People don’t often think about that – we just log in, and that’s that. But I needed to know what was happening beneath the surface and this drove my success.

This trait is personal – you have it, or you don’t. I encourage people to take courses, watch videos, talk to experts, but, most of all, to be curious. Thinking outside of the box will teach you more about cybersecurity than you can imagine.

Girls just aren’t that into cybersecurity?

Even in 2021, there are still many gender biases and a lack of female representation in the tech sector. It should go without saying but gender does not determine if you will be good at cybersecurity. As a woman taking computer engineering, I’ve faced some dated perceptions. I remember during my undergraduate degree signing up for bug bounties, where individuals are compensated by organizations or developers for reporting bugs, and having my male classmates suggest I couldn’t find them – and that my time was better spent on social or beauty apps.

It was a learning moment no doubt, not just for me but for my classmates as well, because you can bet I went ahead and found those bugs. Now, I have my Master’s degree in Computer Science, and I’m employed in the cybersecurity field. Game, set and match.

Now that I’ve dispelled some of the myths about working in cybersecurity, I hope your curiosity is peaked. If you have a curious nature and passion for problem solving, this may be the path for you too. The field is vast and offers countless opportunities for people from all backgrounds and with researchers predicting more job openings than qualified applicants, now is the perfect time to begin your own journey in cybersecurity.

Ishita Shah is a software developer and quality assurance professional at Fortinet.