College Degree Not Required

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When I teach Learning Tree courses, I ask participants about their experience and background in the field of the class. I am increasingly finding that when I ask participants in Learning Tree’s System and Network Security Introduction that question the answers involve work and education in areas other than computers or cyber security. Many come from accounting, music, languages, or other backgrounds.

This parallels the questions I have been asked recently along the lines of, “What degree do I need to work in the cyber security field?” My answer is that while a computer-related background is clearly necessary, one can get that background through education or experience. And that education need not be a university degree! Today many people work in technology fields – including cyber security – who received all their education in the field through short courses and other “alternative” means. To be clear, I have both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in computer engineering. I learned a lot (much of which I have never used, though!), and I’m glad I did it. I might do it differently now, though.

While some employers want a degree in a particular field, and others just want people to have a degree, that is becoming less and less common. Articles and posts in The Huffington Post, The New York Times,  and The Atlantic question the need for a degree. Even a blog post on the site for the staffing agency Robert Half questions the requirement for a degree in many IT fields.

I’m not saying this to devalue any degree or anyone who has one, especially since I have two! I am saying this to encourage those without degrees or with degrees outside the IT or infosec areas to consider learning about cyber security and to consider it as part of their careers. It is clearly necessary to gain some IT background, but a commitment to continued learning in the field along with a strong security mindset are perhaps more critical.

At Learning Tree, the introduction to cyber security is course 468. For those who want a more succinct intro, there is the one-day bootcamp introduction course 4520. Neither requires more than a knowledge of computer use.

Whether you have a Master’s in Computer Engineering as I do, no degree at all, or a Ph.D. in something else, it is not too late to begin learning about cyber security. You can learn the concepts and particulars and work to gain practical experience. There are certifications, too, of course.

As a final note, even if you aren’t interested in infosec as a career or part of a career, it is too important a topic to completely ignore. It impacts all of our lives at some level.  Few people are professional chefs, but most everyone knows something about food.

If you are a cyber security professional, or infosec is part of your job, and you have a background other than in IT, please let us know in the comments below.

To your safe computing,
John McDermott

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