Cracking the Code: Nontraditional Paths into Cyber Security

Cyber security today is more important than it has ever been before. More and more business sectors are realizing that they are in need of cyber security measures and it is projected that the cyber security market is expected to reach $244.4 billion by 2024. Fortunately, there are many different ways to find oneself working in the cyber security field that doesn’t necessarily require a cyber security specific degree. Hiring practices in the cyber security industry have changed significantly and these days nontraditional pathways into cyber security are far more common and likely than you might assume. 


Cyber security has recently hit the spotlight in the United States due to concerns surrounding election security. While people were certainly wary of vulnerabilities in the 2016 election, there is even more concern swirling around the possibility of foreign cyber threats affecting the 2020 presidential election. In this situation, cyber security becomes tantamount to national security, and who better to protect the democratic process of the United States of America than those who have served in the armed forces?

It turns out that veterans are perfectly suited for a career in the cyber security industry. Even if they weren’t directly involved with cyber security when they were in the military, the ability to make fast and accurate decisions, work well within a team, take responsibility, adapt, and solve problems as they arise are all vital skills within the cyber security field. When it comes to transitioning from a previous career to one in cyber security, coming from a military career is one of the best as the foundational skills learned during service in the armed forces are highly transferable.

There is also a huge amount of educational resources available to veterans who want to pursue a career in cyber security. The SANS VetSuccess Academy, National Centers of Academic Excellence, and FedVTE all have programs specifically aimed towards former service members that are looking to educate themselves further in the field of cyber security. Additionally, the GI Bill not only helps to pay for a college education but also gives veterans access to other programs that can help them land a cyber security job after they end their service.


Cyber security has also become incredibly important in the world of healthcare. As healthcare providers become more technologically dependent and continue to embrace Electronic Health Records (EHR) as the new standard of record-keeping over analog medical files, they open themselves up to cyber-attacks. Big data has entered the world of healthcare and with it the pressing need for cyber security professionals. The healthcare industry has become a prime target for cyber-attacks due to the huge amount of valuable information that is stored pertaining to patients from billing information to medical records protected by HIPAA.

This also opens up an opportunity for those working within the healthcare industry to develop cyber security skills and provide solutions for the unique cybersecurity problems present within the healthcare industry. The healthcare industry has many cyber security challenges ranging from simple employee errors like the use of unencrypted devices or weak passwords to cloud storage threats, malware, and ransomware attacks. Those already working within the field have a firsthand view of where cyber security issues may present themselves and have an edge when it comes to forming plans to defend against them.

The healthcare industry is an excellent non-traditional pathway to cyber security as it not only provides the opportunity for those working within it to switch their career focus but is also in a situation where it is in dire need of cyber security talent. 


Finally, one of the best ways to enter the cyber security field is to just get your hands dirty and go do it. Seriously: whether you have a passing interest in cyber security, love solving puzzles, or even love video games and want to protect your favorite game from cyber threats, you can take steps to break into the cyber security field without ever obtaining a computer science degree. It takes some serious hard work and time invested, but it can certainly be done.

The first thing you should start doing if you’re interested in a career in cyber security is educating yourself on the basics of cyber security from networking and systems to applications and coding. These are key parts of what an entire career in cyber security will involve, so it is important that you take the time to familiarize yourself with them. You can also get more hands-on and build yourself your own lab where you can mess around with different aspects of cyber security like capturing network traffic inside your own home, decoding it, and seeing what information is actually being sent out from your house via the internet.

After you get a good handle on the basics of what it takes to become a cyber security expert, the next step is to go out and start networking among those in the field that could give you an opportunity. There are plenty of conferences revolving around cyber security that you can attend to rub elbows with those in the industry, and it will also allow you to make friends with people that might be able to show you more than a YouTube video or online course ever could.

Getting into cyber security definitely doesn’t require that you be a computer savant or spend years getting an industry-specific degree. Sure, having a background like military service where you might have learned a thing or two about computers provides or an innate understanding of why cyber security is essential as a background in healthcare certainly helps, but it isn’t required. At the end of the day, all you really need in order to break into the burgeoning cybersecurity industry is the drive and willingness to learn.

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