So what are employers looking for in a security professional these days?
The hot job openings today are mainly in software and code security, forensics, e-discovery/litigation support, policy management, and security auditing expertise, says Lee Kushner, CEO of security recruiting firm L.J. Kushner & Associates.
"Anything dealing with software security... Those who understand code review and securing the development side both from the vendor, enterprise, and services side," Kushner says. "And... vendor-certification -- making sure third parties are compliant with their security posture."
Next month's annual Defcon hacker conference may not be the first place you'd think of to go for security career-building tips, but that's where Kushner and Mike Murray, director of Neohapsis Labs, will be giving the youthful generation of hackers a reality check on what skills they need for a career in security. Its not just the number or variety of security certifications you have after your name -- nor the volume of bugs you find -- that will necessarily get you noticed, they say.
There's no shortage of security jobs nor of candidates today, Kushner says, but more of "a shortage of good people and good jobs. The key is having good people getting the chance to broaden their skills more, and to find jobs that don't turn them into one-trick ponies."
Being heavily technical is a big plus, but you don't want to be too one-dimensional in your area of expertise. "There becomes a certain amount of diminishing returns from pure technical skills alone," Kushner says.
And with the warp speed of the security market, a single technology specialty can quickly expire. "Skills are trendy," Murray says. "If you become the world's expert in wireless security, you have about three years" of a window until the next big thing.
Kushner says the number one complaint employers have about security candidates is that they are either too broad in their technical skills -- without the depth -- or too deep into one technical area.
Take a security pro who does only penetration testing. "If they look to find another job, the job they are qualified for is traditionally the same job they had at Company A. Company B can't really offer you much more money," he says. "There's only a certain amount they can pay for a specific skill. They'll always make a good living, but there's only certain resale value on the market for that skill."
So how can you build out your security career for the future? Kushner and Murray recommend making a five-year plan now, doing some research and fact-finding on what it will take to get there, and being sure you're experiencing the kinds of projects that will make you more marketable.
Sometimes, just staying put for a while is the best strategy, Kushner says. "A lot of times I tell people to stay at their job and make the most of it, and to try to leverage their internal capital so they can get exposure to different things."
Kushner says his firm often recruits for a sort of "internal product manager," someone who works "the way a product manager works for a vendor -- gluing the technology, business, and customer sides all together," he says. "This individual is looking to manage a wide variety of technical projects, and can throw that back against compliance and regulatory [requirements]... Knowledge of the technical subject matter. And at the same time, [he or she] can understand where the business side is coming from."
It all comes down to depth and balance. "A candidate looking for a job as a security professional represents [himself] best as an IT professional that understands security, rather than as a security person who understands IT," says Ralph Logan, principal of The Logan Group.
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading