How to Hack Into a Cybersecurity Career: the Ultimate Guide

Do you want to start a career in cybersecurity but you’re not sure where to begin? Then you’re in the right place.

We developed this career guide for everybody looking to change their career, or start fresh, in the field of cybersecurity. Here’s the content you’ll find below:

  • Is Cybersecurity the Right Field for You?
  • The Rising Demand for Cyber Professionals
  • What Do Cybersecurity Professionals Do?
  • The World of Cybersecurity
  • Common Entry-Level Cybersecurity Roles
  • Typical Salaries for Entry-Level Cybersecurity Jobs
  • Pivoting Careers
  • How to Break into Cybersecurity 

Technology is a powerful force driving new businesses, global communication, economic growth and innovation for everything in our lives. We often don’t realize that with every new addition to our digital world, from cloud servers to personal laptops and every single IoT device, we’re not just adding to the wonderful interconnectedness of our world. We also provide hackers with one more point of access to our data.

Cybercrime threatens our privacy and sensitive data, and that’s why we need strong information security infrastructure to shield our digital world from external threats. Cybersecurity professionals dedicate their careers to securing and protecting internet-connected systems, hardware and software from cyber threats, but because of the rapid development pace for new technology, the demand for cybersecurity professionals is increasing across every industry. Yet, we are not educating and training enough skilled professionals to satisfy that demand—that’s why there is a significant skills gap in the current job market. 

cybersecurity student working on tablet from their couch.

Is Cybersecurity the Right Field for You?

Hollywood may have convinced you that tech-minded employees must have high mathematical knowledge, but that’s far from reality. The vast majority of tech professionals have varying levels of academic education and come from different backgrounds, including non-technical ones. 

It’s important to realize that your level of experience and unique background have already given you important skills that are likely to translate into an exciting and rewarding career.

While cybersecurity is not generally thought of as a “creative” job, the ability to build unique solutions from scratch and to think outside the box are highly sought after in the tech field. 

Soft skills, such as creative thinking are at the top of the list for employers, particularly in cybersecurity.

Essential soft skills needed in cyber professions: 

  • Critical thinking
  • Adopting new tech quickly
  • Collaboration with others
  • Attention to details
  • Well-rounded communication
  • Ability to learn and improve
  • Collaboration with others

The cybersecurity sector is incredibly multifaceted, making it easy for anyone to find the right specialization to fit in. 

What’s more, because cybersecurity is such a dynamic and diverse industry, opportunities for growth and advancements abound and you are likely to never get stuck in a rut as you discover and embrace new tools and technologies.

Where Are You Starting From?

  • Are you a young professional working in a job that doesn’t satisfy you?
  • Are you looking to change careers and enter the technology sector?
  • Are you looking for your first tech job and want to learn more about cybersecurity?
  • Are you working in an IT-related field and want to specialize in cybersecurity?

At whatever stage of your professional life you might currently be, getting started in cybersecurity is absolutely doable.

Whether or not you have a tech background, you can study and practice foundational cybersecurity skills by training at the NC State Cybersecurity Bootcamp.

Our program takes novice tech learners to cybersecurity professionals in under a year with part-time live and online classes. Expert instructors work with learners alongside state-of-the-art tools to prepare you with job-ready skills.  

There are no prerequisites to join the bootcamp, so use this opportunity to gain practical experience, create a network of cybersecurity professionals, and gain job-ready skills you can put to work.

The Rising Demand for Cyber Professionals

The need for cybersecurity professionals is exploding with projections of a 33% job rate growth by 2030. Currently there is a 0% rate of unemployment worldwide among the cyber sector.

Now is an incredible time to gain cybersecurity skills with over 460,000 cyber jobs open in the US at the time this guide was published. Over 21,000 positions are waiting to be filled in North Carolina!

A Look Into The Cyber Sec Profession 

Cybersecurity professionals spend their days building secure networks and systems, detecting and mitigating threats, leading recovery projects, and preventing costly cyber attacks. 

Here are the main areas of cybersecurity you could specialize in at the entry-level stage:

  • Operational Security. Your job will be to track data as it moves in-and-out of your firewall and across the network. You will reduce the likelihood of data getting stolen, compromised, or held for ransom.
  • Network Security. In these roles, your main goal will be to prevent unauthorized access to your company’s network. Technical controls and identity management are key in network security. 
  • Application Security. Applications are the programs and software you use every day at work or your personal devices, such as Microsoft Office, Skype, Slack and others. Applications can be made secure by updating, testing and patching them regularly. 
  • Information Security. In these functions, your main focus will be to protect the integrity, confidentiality and availability of sensitive information and proprietary data.

The World of Cybersecurity

Technological advances have shaped our way of life and defined entire historical eras long before the Internet and computers. The way we trade goods and share ideas was reinvented multiple times along the way, especially with the invention of the printing press and, later on, intercontinental sailing and the discovery of new lands.

It is interesting to note that no matter how powerful and revolutionary, those technologies weren’t part of an interconnected system. Pirates could attack and destroy one ship, but the larger armada remained unaffected. Instead, with the internet, one hacker has the power to attack and destroy multiple computers, servers or whole systems with just one piece of malware.

The creation of a global interconnected network essentially means that just one bad actor can sink an entire fleet with a single cannonball, so now we need an increasing amount of defenses and the professionals who know how to create and maintain them. 

The Public Sector

Our public institutions and their sensitive, classified and private data often become the target of hacking groups. The federal government and state legislatures are investing a lot of money into their own cybersecurity workforce. And after all the hacking attempts during recent national elections, that is hardly surprising. 

Yet, cybersecurity experts keep warning us that, given enough time and money, almost anything can be hacked. Cybersecurity impacts everything from financial institutions to politics, media, diplomacy, private life and much more. Machines and artificial intelligence influence public opinion through complex disinformation and misinformation campaigns, disrupting our perception of reality and the good standing of our free press.

The Private Sector

Let’s face it, our private information can be found on all kinds of websites and applications. Especially after the pandemic, our credit card information is saved in so many e-commerce sites and food delivery apps. Health and biometric data for so many of us are stored in smartwatches and fitness apps. And of course, all of our private pictures are stockpiled in digital format on cloud servers. 

We trust the companies that create these applications to shield our data and keep it secure, and many businesses have indeed made cybersecurity an absolute priority. That type of commitment does not come cheap; according to some projections, companies will spend over $1 trillion on digital security, globally, this year alone.

Cybersecurity ensures:

  • Online platforms, websites, streaming apps and all forms of information sharing stay secure
  • Private medical records stay between you and your doctor
  • Payment systems don’t leak sensitive financial information
  • Businesses can store proprietary documents in virtual servers without the risk of it becoming compromised

Putting the right cybersecurity architectures in place is essential to maintaining our way of life, but creating and implementing those security systems requires skilled professionals who can stay up-to-date with the latest innovations in malware, ransomware, DoS attacks and all other kinds of cyber threats. 

“The global cybersecurity market will be worth $300B by 2024, according to Global Insights.”


Common Entry-Level Cybersecurity Roles

cybersecurity professional working on laptop

In cybersecurity, we can draw a generic distinction between defensive and offensive cybersecurity roles. 

Professionals in Red Team roles work in offensive cybersecurity and spend their days testing potential inefficiencies and breakdowns in security systems. 

Sometimes called “ethical hackers”, these professionals use their cyber know-how to imitate cybercriminals. Doing so enables ethical hackers to identify system weaknesses and prevent attacks. 

Red Team Job Title Examples:

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

The Blue Team specializes in defensive cybersecurity. Professionals in these roles spend their days making sure that only authorized individuals are admitted to an organization’s network. 

They set up the monitoring and security systems of an organization based on its specific risk profile, and ensure their cybersecurity architecture remains secure. 

Red Team Job Title Examples:

  • Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst 
  • Information Security Researcher 
  • Cybersecurity Analyst
  • Cybersecurity Engineer

Both Red and Blue teams are needed across organizations to ensure maximum protection. Both teams join forces to improve security by running complex simulations to detect system deficiencies. 

This requires a lot of manpower to render systems and infrastructures secure, and that is excellent news for all aspiring cybersecurity professionals! 

It means that the tasks you’ll be performing are so varied that you’ll be able to use the full range of your skills, no matter what you decide to specialize in.

Typical Salaries for Beginner Cyber Jobs

Entry-level positions vary a lot in the cybersecurity industry. Due to the in-demand need for cyber professionals, many entry-level positions offer higher-than-average earnings.

There are so many websites that aggregate useful compensation data for cybersecurity jobs Here are some of our favorites

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2020, information security analysts made a median annual wage of $103,590. 
  • Reports from ZipRecruiter report the national average wage for cyber professionals as $120,317.
  • Market data from estimates average entry-level salary for cyber analysts salary located in NC at $69,622 as of August 27, 2021, but the salary range typically falls between $63,456 and $76,308.

Check out Glassdoor and SalaryExpert to look for similar information, or switch up the states and cities you are looking for in case you want to relocate. Don’t forget many cyber positions are remote!
Be sure to do your research regarding salaries before you start interviewing and negotiating your contract. However, always remember that your eventual compensation package may vary based on benefits, PTO options, and factors related to your experience, skillset and education.

Pivoting Careers

It may surprise you to know that a majority of successful cybersecurity professionals didn’t actually start their careers in this field. First and foremost, cybersecurity is a relatively new discipline within the world of computer science. It grew out of necessity at the same time the Internet was being invented. Secondly, our education system includes a vast range of computer science specializations that prioritize theory, whereas fluency in cybersecurity requires extensive practical training.   

The good news is that every single industry you can imagine is in need of cybersecurity professionals, so whatever industry you have experience in, you can leverage your expertise to switch careers and enter the cybersecurity field. Wondering how that’s possible? Think of it this way: cybersecurity isn’t just about understanding networks and systems. It’s about understanding the people who use them, how a particular organization operates and how a whole industry organizes its systems and data on a fundamental, analog level. 

From teachers to retail workers, from 18 to 68 years old, cybersecurity is an enticing industry that’s accessible to anyone. All you need to get started is hands-on practice, the right career-prep training, and an understanding of how cybersecurity operates at the professional level.

Qualified cybersecurity professionals are rare and sought after by employers regardless of their age or prior professional background. By getting trained and certified you can shift your career and advance professionally without fears of being phased out.

close-up of hands typing on laptop at tabletop, with cybersecurity graphics overlaid

How to Break Into Cybersecurity

In today’s cybersecurity job market, you can enter the industry without a computer science degree, so don’t worry if your life trajectory didn’t include a traditional 4-year college degree. Tech giants like Google, Apple and IBM no longer require candidates to have a degree from a college or university. There are so many industry-recognized certifications you can pursue that future employers will value as proof of your expertise.

Yet, how fast you get a position in cybersecurity depends on your background and the skills you’ve built throughout your life.

Do You Have a Nontechnical Background?

The good news: there really are no prerequisites to start your cybersecurity journey. While the learning curve might seem steep, rest assured that many cybersecurity professionals, and technology professionals in general, have stood where you stand today. There are many ways you can get started and the only factors you should be considering right now is how much time, money and effort you want to dedicate to breaking into this new career. 

If you are unsure whether cybersecurity is right for you, there are a few inexpensive ways you can get a feel for the field:

  • Get an Introductory Guide: Learn about cybersecurity by diving into comprehensive textbooks covering the basics. When deciding what textbooks to start with, make sure to select ones with the most up-to-date information, as the cybersecurity industry evolves quickly. If you are generally disciplined and methodical, self-teaching might be incredibly effective for you. 
  • Subscribe to a Cybersecurity Education Channel: YouTube, Udemy and Coursera are just some of the many places you can find free explainer videos for cybersecurity topics. They can help you dive deeper or better understand any self-taught concepts, but keep in mind that they are unlikely to cover everything you’re learning in textbooks. Nevertheless, consuming video content can introduce you to fundamentals as well as more advanced aspects of the field in an easily digestible way.
  • Enroll in the NC State Cybersecurity Bootcamp Introductory Course: NC State offers a fantastic online, part-time cybersecurity program that features a stand-alone Introductory Course. In about a month, you’ll learn the fundamentals of cybersecurity directly from experts working in the field. Every class is delivered live, and you’ll participate in practical simulations to reinforce what you learned in class—plus, you’ll start building a network of like-minded cybersecurity professionals.

Do You Have a Technical Background?

Lucky for you, the skills you already have are probably easily transferable to the cybersecurity field. Especially if you are coming from the world of software engineering, data analytics, IT or full-stack development, you can easily transition into cybersecurity roles by getting certified with industry-specific exams.

Once you know which certifications make the most sense based on the type of jobs you’d like to get, you can decide the best way to go about getting certified depending on your familiarity with the exam curriculum.

  • Invest in an Advanced Cybersecurity Guide: You’ll find that most certifications sell textbooks and practice guides that cover the subjects included in the exam. If you have above-average self-discipline, studying by yourself can be an easy and cost-effective way to get these certifications. On the other hand, if you find yourself struggling a bit or if some of the concepts seem too complex, you might want to hire a tutor or join a study group to relate self-taught materials to in-depth comprehension.
  • Learn on the Job: If you learn best by doing, this approach might prove incredibly effective. Get a new job or keep your current one, but either way, ask your manager to assign you projects that will involve collaborating on cybersecurity initiatives. This is unlikely to teach you everything you need for your certifications, but it will give you a deeper understanding of cybersecurity and make you more comfortable studying it. 
  • Enroll in a Cybersecurity Bootcamp: Programs like the NC State Cybersecurity Bootcamp can teach you advanced topics in cybersecurity while also preparing you for those certification exams with specialized classes and study guides that cover the exact certification curriculum. The Cybersecurity Bootcamp at NC State gives learners hands-on experience through cyber labs and real-world simulations. Designed by industry-leading cybersecurity professionals, the program ultimately provides each learner with the comprehensive knowledge and training necessary to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

Taking the Next Step

"Take the next step" quote on a message board

We hope that this quick guide has given you a comprehensive lay of the land when it comes to cybersecurity and all the career opportunities it holds. What’s the best way to move forward from here? Only you can answer that question.

If you want to browse through more tech topics, we invite you to read more of our blog posts.

If you want to stay up to date with industry news, seasonal offers and success stories from our students, you can follow us on whatever social media platform you prefer: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.

If you would like to chat with our admissions team, please call us at 919.874.5441 or grab a time slot on our calendly.

There is no doubt in our mind that the NC State Cybersecurity Bootcamp is the best way to prepare you for a thriving future career in cybersecurity. From our expert instructors to our regularly updated curriculum to our excellent career services team, you’ll be signing up for much more than some classes: you’ll enter a brand new world where everyone around you is committed to your training and future career success.

Where you go from here is up to you. What’s your next move?

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