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7/23/2009
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One In Two Security Pros Unhappy In Their Jobs

Major career survey finds security professionals are well-paid, but feel unchallenged and underutilized

You'd think most professionals in a hot industry like IT security would feel content and challenged technically and creatively in their jobs -- but not so much. According to the results of a new survey that will go public next week at Defcon in Las Vegas, half of security pros aren't satisfied with their current jobs, and 57 percent say their jobs are neither challenging nor fully tapping their skills.

The survey, conducted by renowned career coaches Lee Kushner, CEO of security recruiting and career coaching firm L.J. Kushner & Associates, and Mike Murray, a security expert, was aimed at taking the pulse of the security profession in hopes of making it more career-oriented than it is today.

Kushner and Murray say they were surprised by security's high number of unhappy campers -- 52 percent of the around 900 security pros who participated in the survey are less than satisfied with their current jobs. Only 27 percent said they are are satisfied, and about 21 percent said they are more than content, according to the survey. "People in security are generally passionate about what they do," Murray says. "You'd think in a progressive industry that [it wouldn't be the case] that one out of two are not happy...that shocked me."

Salary isn't the problem, either: Around 45 percent said they make more than $100,000 a year. "It's pretty telling that [they're] well-paid," Kushner says. And when asked why they change jobs, money was not the main driver. Turns out, 37 percent said they move on to get closer to their career goals, 30 percent to learn new skills, 22 percent for quality of life, and 10 percent for higher salaries.

"The fact that money came in fourth was pretty interesting," Kushner says. Salary is typically one of the top three reasons for a job change, he says.

Security pros tend to change jobs frequently, as well -- 34 percent move to a new job every two to three years; 31 percent, every four to five years, and 32 percent at the six-year or later mark. It's a vicious cycle for job satisfaction, too: "A third probably leave their jobs within two or three years," Kushman says. "There's a breakdown of loyalty, so employers start to think near-term. That probably creates an attitude of employers becoming less and less willing to invest in their people because they have the attitude that they will build a skill and leave them."

Then there's less job satisfaction, so employees tend to move on regularly, he says.

Murray says the job satisfaction responses indicate that IT security pros feel they could be doing more. Aside from the 57 percent who felt their jobs' technical challenges were less than what they were capable of handling, 58 percent said they didn't feel recognized enough for their job accomplishments, 56 percent said their job requires less effort than they are capable of, 67 percent said they don't have enough resources in their organizations, and around 46 percent said their positions don't offer much opportunity for creative thinking. "If I had to guess, it sounds a little like the industry is bored," Murray says. "Forty-one percent say they are doing less work than they could produce."

All in all, IT security pros appear to be "unchallenged" today, he says.

Some of that, however, may be in the way they approach their jobs, Kushner and Murray say. Only 17 percent of the respondents have written career plans, which the pair both preach as a key strategy in getting ahead and finding job satisfaction. "That's a glaring number...83 percent have not even gone through that type of exercise," Kushner says.

Kushner says the survey shows IT pros with higher salaries and longevity in the field typically do have career plans.

The theme of dissatisfaction may be, in part, because they don't know how to communicate or demonstrate their underutilized skills to "show their value," he says. "It's going to be more important for security professionals to dig into their own pockets to build in their careers and invest in themselves more so than counting on their employer [to do so]," he says. For instance, that may mean fronting a trip to Black Hat or another conference when the company won't send them.

Kushner says his biggest takeaway from the survey was that security pros are not really mapping out their career paths. "That generally leads to unhappiness, and you wind up in a job you don't really like," he says. The key is taking a position that provides the skills and development you need, he says.

The security industry is still in its infancy compared with software development or other IT-related fields, and it has mostly grown organically, with many self-taught hackers and other professionals, Murray and Kushner point out. Their hope with the survey results is to provide career guidance and clear paths for existing and new security professionals.

Murray and Kushner will conduct a career workshop at Defcon on July 30 from 1-4 p.m., where they will also reveal more results from the career survey, which they first announced during Defcon last year.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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