Mysterious characters in hoodies hunched over keyboards. Touchscreen monitors in fervent war rooms whirling with binary code. Roles in the cybersecurity field are far from the intense coders and stereotypical hackers portrayed in movies and television shows. The profession may not be as glamorous as what Hollywood imagines, but it is a well-paying industry with limitless growth opportunities thanks to the ever-changing nature of technology.
The cybersecurity industry is acutely aware of the need to rid itself of its stereotypes to advance and fill open roles. While the industry still has work to do to earn a true departure from its "boys club" image, individuals with nontraditional backgrounds are increasingly being recruited as instrumental assets. Rightfully so — it's a career path for anyone with strong analytical and communications skills who thrives in creative problem-solving scenarios. If you enjoy crossword puzzles or a game of Sudoku, cybersecurity could be for you.
In my own career, I've always fallen into jobs. Opportunities presented themselves as "right place, right time" options, but I didn't feel particularly enthusiastic about the work I was doing. I found myself looking back on almost a decade of work in the finance industry without much passion. I knew it was time to explore out-of-the-box career opportunities that could challenge me in new ways. Fortuitously, a grad school colleague who worked in cybersecurity and was outspoken about his passion for the industry was precisely the spark of inspiration I needed. I admired his enthusiasm and after exploring the wealth of opportunities the cybersecurity industry offers, I took the leap in applying for an information security role at Adobe.
Immediately, I found myself excited about my daily work — an eagerness that has held strong now for the four years I've been in the role. Not only does this career provide opportunities for creative problem solving, but my soft skills are highly regarded as my most valuable assets. In fact, coming from a nontraditional background has been my greatest advantage in my cybersecurity role. My experience in revenue operations — where I developed strategic thinking skills, cross-team collaboration, and executive leadership awareness — have helped diversify my approach to problem solving and, in turn, become indispensable skillsets.
The cybersecurity industry thrives because of employees with nontraditional backgrounds who can offer fresh perspectives. For those interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity, soft skills are not the only assets that can carry over to this line of work, but they are also top considerations for hiring managers when looking to hire for any role. Take these top three soft skills:
- Strategic thinking: Helps proactively identify potential cyber issues and implement creative solutions for prevention.
- Cross-team collaboration: Enables empathetic and effective connections with people on a deeper level and is invaluable in leading teams toward a shared vision.
- Listening: While not often considered a soft skill, wise people admit that they don't know everything and, as such, they don't always listen to thoughts and feedback from peers. Diversity in thought is the engine driving the most successful teams.
Change can be daunting, especially later in your career, but my advice for anyone looking to make the switch to cybersecurity is to simply be brave and make the first move. The worst that can happen is you get turned down, and you'll at least brush up on your applying and interviewing skills. Similarly, be bold in having the confidence to apply, even if you don't think you meet every requirement. I, like many women, only ever applied for roles where I believed I met every single requirement. All that served was to let opportunities pass by and delay my career growth.
A great place to start is by expanding your network and inquiring about shadowing. If you don't know anyone in the cybersecurity industry, attend local meetups or research contacts on LinkedIn. Find people willing to invest in you and let you shadow different roles within their team. You'll soon home in on the specific role you are interested in and can then find online training courses to kick-start your cyber-skills development.
There's never been a better time to consider a career change to cybersecurity. As the industry increasingly seeks out diverse employees and welcomes fresh perspectives, I strongly encourage individuals with nontraditional backgrounds — and especially women — to explore the wealth of opportunities on offer for new entrants to gain experience, grow their careers, and truly enjoy and make a difference in what they do.