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Student Insights on Cybersecurity Careers

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Hi, our names are Aubrie, Kyle, and Lindsey! We participated in internships at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Program Office this past year. This is a career pivot for Aubrie, meaning this is her introduction to cybersecurity from another career; she is earning her master’s with a concentration in cybersecurity. Kyle was an undergraduate intern majoring in Computer Engineering. He is almost finished with his education and will soon be transitioning into the workforce. Lindsey is a high school member of the program. The three of us come from different academic and career backgrounds, but we are all just starting our cybersecurity path. Entering cybersecurity post-college, during college, and pre-college all bring different opportunities and learning experiences.

This week is Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week – a time to build awareness about the variety of cybersecurity careers that are available and share resources for those interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity. We hope to do just that in this blog by sharing some insights from the student perspective.

Tell us a little about your exposure to cybersecurity before coming to NIST.

Aubrie: Until 2021, I was a high school teacher and had little exposure to cybersecurity other than the mandatory IT training that teachers had to take. However, my school district was attacked by ransomware and around the same time I received a flier for a local university’s Cyber Open House that informed me about the various cybersecurity careers and master’s programs being offered. I then made the decision to shift my career away from teaching to go into cybersecurity. That is when I started my journey into cybersecurity, and NIST has opened my eyes even further to the multitude of career possibilities within cybersecurity.

Kyle: I also didn’t have much exposure to cybersecurity prior to NIST. Over the course of my education, I’ve taken a few basic cryptography courses and learned about encryption and hashing methods, but within the realm of cybersecurity there are many more topics that I do not know about.

Lindsey: Before coming to NIST, the majority of my exposure to cybersecurity was through school. I am in a tech program called the Academy of Information Technology (AOIT) in which not only am I given the opportunity to take specialized tech classes, but I am also given extra lessons regarding technology. Through these lessons and other generalized lessons at school, I learned about cybersecurity and the risks of the digital world.

During your internships, each of you worked on a project related to cybersecurity careers. What was the most interesting thing you learned about careers through your project work?

Aubrie: One of the most interesting things I learned about cybersecurity careers is the sheer demand, from IT specialists to careers that concentrate on governing and overseeing. Alongside that is the work that is being done within the public and private sectors to ensure that training and education is aligned to existing cybersecurity jobs. This alignment helps mitigate barriers and facilitate desirable career advancement. For instance, to assist with the alignment of learning and training I created some resource lesson plans and assisted with a social media plan for Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week. 

Kyle: For my research this summer, I had the opportunity to compare the NICE Workforce Framework for Cybersecurity to existing job postings with the goal of evaluating the alignment of the Framework with those postings. Through my project and my employment with NICE, I’ve learned about numerous opportunities to break into the cybersecurity workforce. Through the many initiatives NICE and its communities promote, there are numerous resources which job seekers can use to learn or gain hands-on experience.

Lindsey: This summer, I researched how to best market cybersecurity careers to the K12 audience in order to help to build the future workforce. I learned just how important it is to teach the future generations about cybersecurity careers. Without them, cybersecurity has no future, so the earlier we can help them learn about the importance of cybersecurity, the better.

What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to someone who is interested in cybersecurity, but doesn’t know where to start?

Aubrie: The number one piece of advice I can provide is to find a mentor. The mentor could be a teacher or upperclassman at school, a professional you know in the field, or a person in your family network. This is the person you go to for advice, with your questions, and they will advise you on best possible paths forward. It can be hard to find one, but don’t give up and keep reaching out to those around you even if they have never met you.

Kyle: As mentioned in the previous question and as Lindsey said, there are so many resources to learn and break into the cybersecurity field. There are many different forms of learning and many of them are listed on the NICE website.

Lindsey: I would advise you to look online, as there are hundreds of free and low cost resources for cybersecurity learning, both on the internet and in person. NICE has a lot of resources like these on their website. Personally, I find the NICE-Affiliated resource CyberSeek very useful, as it allows for people all over the country to find a job that works for them based on their credentials and skills.

Anything else you would like to add?

Aubrie: Stop thinking that cybersecurity is a “techie” field. We need people who are cross trained in multiple areas of knowledge. Even if you want to make a career pivot, there is a niche in cybersecurity for people of varied experiences. You just have to find the right niche and figure out what modifications to your knowledge base will be needed. For instance, a cybersecurity environment needs cybersecurity enablers or employees that support a positive and effective work environment. An example would be Human Resource workers who are knowledgeable of the cybersecurity workforce environment, which leads us to Lindsey’s response below. 

Lindsey: If you are interested in a cybersecurity career, go for it – there are so many easy ways to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for a position in the field, and we need more people in cybersecurity than ever.

Kyle: The need for cybersecurity continues to grow and there are so many positions available. While doing my research, I looked at many job positions and found that there are many opportunities for different people of varying skill levels. If you’re interested in a cybersecurity-related position, you’re bound to find one for you.