Soft skills are just as critical as technical aptitude when preparing for a career in this booming field.
Fresh-faced with my English degree in hand on graduation day, I would have never believed it if you told me that I’d embark on a successful, decades-long career in cybersecurity. For one thing, the discipline of cybersecurity was barely defined at the time, but also, because I never would have imagined joining a technical field without a technical college degree.
Considering the dire state of the cybersecurity skills gap, it’s a good thing I did pivot to a career in security. The shortage of cybersecurity professionals around the globe has never been more acute. Research by (ISC)2 places the estimate at just under 3 million with roughly 500,000 of those positions located in North America. Couple this with the continued explosion of threats and the industry is in dire need of support.
The government has taken note of this need and, in response, developed the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy. With this program, federal employees can gain hands-on training in cybersecurity, one of the fastest growing fields in the country. This reskilling effort is part of the administration’s commitment to developing a federal workforce of the 21st century, as outlined in the President's Management Agenda and the recent government reform plan. The Federal Reskilling Academy received 1,500 applicants for its first class and kicked off its three-month curriculum April 15. It’s worth noting that the inaugural class was made up of current federal employees who do not work in the IT field and was designed to help them build foundational skills in the field of cyber defense analysis. Like me, many of these participants will take a non-traditional path to succeeding in cybersecurity.
Despite what some may believe, soft skills are just as critical as technical aptitude when preparing for a career in this booming field. It’s likely the successful applicants to the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy exhibited several invaluable soft skills that made them rise above the immense number of applicants during the interview process, including:
- Communication and collaboration: Cybersecurity is not simply an issue that impacts the security or even IT department. Every single stakeholder within an organization is both part of the challenges and solutions businesses face when trying to prevent and mitigate risks. Professionals within the security industry must be avid communicators and team players. They need to be willing to collaborate with teams from other areas of a business and help bridge the gap between departmental needs and potential risks.
- Analytical mindset: Ponemon Institute estimated the average organization deals with over 200,000 security events each day. While sophisticated, intelligent security tools are helping security analysts sift through all this information, it is important to have an analytical mindset in cybersecurity. Security analysts are often tasked with connecting the dots from seemingly disparate alerts to potential threats lurking in their networks.
- Keen understanding of human behavior: While cybersecurity does entail data analysis, it also requires social engineering and a keen understanding of human behavior. The best cybersecurity professionals can think like a hacker one minute and then think like a business-level employee the next. By doing so, they can prepare for potential external threats, as well as potential internal vulnerabilities.
- Research and writing experience: To set an organization up for cybersecurity success, businesses need a well established and documented security plan, including organizational policies, user guidelines, communications plans and more. Professionals experienced in extensive research, reporting and writing are critical to the development of a cybersecurity plan that leaves no stone unturned and no guideline unclear.
- Curiosity and creativity: Joining the field of cybersecurity is a lifelong learning experience. Change is unavoidable and cybersecurity professionals must always remain curious about what threats may come their way, as well as continually offer creative approaches to proactively addressing malicious actors that target their organizations. The best cybersecurity professionals—above all else—are explorers and forward thinkers who address today’s challenges while always keeping an eye toward the future.
With that, I congratulate the first graduating class of the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy and look forward to meeting the many cybersecurity leaders this program (and others like it) will help shape.
Chris Triolo is vice president of customer success for Respond Software.
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