In the 1860s, Horace Greeley, founder and editor of The New York Tribune, inspired a generation of young Americans by popularizing the phrase, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country.”
In the 1960s, the Oscar-winning movie “The Graduate” offered some tongue-in-cheek inspiration of its own when an older man takes aside recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock and says, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.”
In the 2010s, the vocational advice for young professionals could very well be, “Consider a career in cybersecurity.” The following are six reasons why.
1. High Demand
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the U.S. Department of Defense and the FBI alone would like to recruit 6,000 people with cybersecurity skills by the end of 2016. The technology tsunamis that are transforming society in so many positive ways are also making it more vulnerable to attacks on the privacy of data, the integrity of payment systems and the availability of critical infrastructure. Technology alone is not enough to prevent, detect, respond to and recover from cybersecurity incidents; there is also a critical need for skilled people. Depending on the source, the unemployment rate for cybersecurity professionals is currently near or below zero. The point is, demand is high and exceeds supply.
2. High Pay
High demand does not always mean high pay (e.g., teachers), and high pay does not always mean plentiful opportunities (e.g., Major League shortstops). However, in the case of cybersecurity, both demand and compensation are up, as the average income reported by cybersecurity professionals in the United States is three times the national median for full-time workers. Money is not always at the top of the list for why people are motivated to go to work every day, but it’s usually up there, and higher pay doesn’t hurt.
3. Highly Skilled
When something is so easy that anyone can do it, one can’t expect high demand and high pay to be sustained; however, this is not the case for cybersecurity professionals. In 2012, an article in the Harvard Business Review referred to data scientists — that is, the people who can coax valuable insights out of a messy, complex collection of data — as “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century.” Technical skills can be taught, but a natural capacity for conceptualizing, synthesizing and solving problems is unique and special — and apparently sexy, for some people. Cybersecurity is interesting, challenging, technology-focused work.
4. Highly Dynamic
Because information technology is in a constant state of change — thank you, Moore’s Law — so is cybersecurity. The latest college graduates may have grown up as “digital natives,” but keep in mind that at the time they were preparing to graduate from high school, no one had iPads. The fascinating battle between the technology makers and the technology breakers goes back hundreds of years, but the faster technology changes, the faster attackers can exploit it. From denial-of-service attacks, point-of-sale intrusions, attacks on Web apps and abuse by insiders to ransomware, cyber-extortion, malicious QR codes and malevolent fonts, if you’re looking for work that is repetitive and boring, a career in cybersecurity is certainly not for you.
5. Highly Transferable
Many jobs are tied to specific locations, but a career in cybersecurity is highly portable — after all, we are in an information economy. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that these jobs are located in virtually every geography, and it goes without saying that these types of jobs can be located virtually anywhere. In other words, wherever there is a network connection, you can be on the job (though there’s both an upside and a downside to that).
6. Higher Purpose
As a rule, cybersecurity professionals are not likely to be famous. On the contrary, they quietly provide committed, faithful and honorable service to their organizations, countries and society as a whole. What’s under constant attack is more than just our networks, devices, servers, applications and data; it’s also our mobile, flexible, connected way of life. Very much like the thin blue line of law enforcement or the thin red line of firefighters, the thin digital line of cybersecurity professionals will increasingly be recognized and appreciated as an important and meaningful vocation.