Why Community Is a Lifeline for Cybersecurity Experts

Think about your day-to-day job as one of the many cybersecurity experts working in the industry today: Do you often find yourself frantically typing queries into search engines? Do you struggle to get ahead of problems because you’re scrambling just to keep up? Do you feel like your skills are behind? Does it feel like your company’s approach to security is built upon fighting fires?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’re not alone. The security landscape is too dynamic to lend itself to hard rules and fixed practices. It’s not a discipline for the weary — it takes grit, time, dedication and tenacity to be successful. To be an effective security professional, we must be innovative and ready for the unexpected. (But this is why you like cybersecurity, right?)

The good news: You’re in good company.

The Cybersecurity Community: No Right or Wrong Answers

I recently returned from a whirlwind tour where I had the opportunity to ask cybersecurity experts around the world about how they do their jobs and their definitions of success. I attended the May 2018 IBM Security Master Skills University event in Orlando, Florida, as well as the recent IAM European User Group meetings in Germany, Sweden, France and Italy. My mission was to tell our clients, partners and colleagues about our new security user group community. During my tour, I also learned that no two organizations approach cybersecurity in the same way.

Take the skills crisis, which is global in scope and affects every organization. I asked cybersecurity experts how their organizations are dealing with the shortfall. I got many answers, including:

  • “Word of mouth with colleagues.”
  • “It’s up to me, so I study on my own time.”
  • “My country doesn’t have a good base of security skills in general.”
  • “Conferences and outside classes.”
  • “Internal training.”
  • “Company Wiki.”
  • “Job shadowing and mentoring.”
  • And my personal favorite: “It’s sink or swim.”

New Collar Dynamics

When I asked cybersecurity experts about how they got into the field in the first place, the answers were just as diverse:

  • “Studied it in university.”
  • “On-the-job training.”
  • “Implementing cryptography on OS/2.”
  • “It was by accident. I started as a software developer.”
  • “A friend dragged me into it because he thought I’d be good at this.”

I can’t help but imagine the contrast between these answers and those I might get if I interviewed a group of accountants or manufacturing engineers. Those established professions have well-defined skills requirements, rich university programs, time-tested certifications and clear job descriptions. Career paths are paved and well-trodden.

In contrast, cybersecurity is what IBM calls a “new collar” job. There are many career paths, low barriers to entry and almost boundless growth opportunity. The flip side of such an exciting career is uncertainty — and often poor direction from the top.

“We suffer from hourglass syndrome: The technicians constantly have sand pouring on them, and, as you go up the hourglass, the lines of communication shrink,” one client told me.

Many cybersecurity experts told me that it’s up to them to find their own opportunities and define their jobs. If you’re the type of person who enjoys getting up each morning not being entirely sure what you’re going to do that day, then I can’t imagine a more exciting career.

Connect With the Cybersecurity Community

The online landscape for security professionals is vast. Change is constant, and new challenges are always just around the corner. Human connection is essential in such an environment, which is why we launched the IBM Security Community. It enables security professionals to connect with each other to problem-solve, share learnings and tips — and even provide emotional support.

This community helps security professionals find local user groups and events; interact with other professionals and IBM experts; utilize education and training resources; and access top technical content from Master Skills University and presentations from recent user group meetings. (Some of the discussion forums already have hundreds of members — and we’re still only a few months into the program.)

My vision for the IBM Security Community is to give clients and partners a trusted resource to help them face the business challenges of today and impact the business outcomes of tomorrow. We will do this together, as isolation isn’t an option in the face of today’s advanced threats.

During my tour, I could see people in the audience visibly relax as I queried audiences about how they do their jobs. It became clear that their chosen profession had few right or wrong answers and that each professional could help the others. Join us, ask one question and answer another. Take our survey and tell us what you want from the community — we are listening.

Wendy Batten

Digital Marketing Manager

Wendy Batten manages digital campaigns for the performance marketing team at IBM where she is responsible for designing...