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Industry and education leaders agree that the demand for cybersecurity professionals will continue to rise but any career in the field must start with a degree

Cybersecurity experts representing industry and education delivered a resoundingly positive assessment of the cybersecurity job market at the recent symposium, “Decoding Your Cyber Career.” Sponsored by University of Maryland University College and Montgomery College on Feb. 19, the event covered a wide array of topics, including the latest industry trends, the current job landscape and tips for job seekers, as well as live hacking demonstrations.

Master of Ceremonies Mike Janke, a seasoned cyber entrepreneur and co-founder and board member of the startup development firm Data Tribe, summed up the job market in the most optimistic of terms. “The commercial cybersecurity and data science industries are booming faster than any area in the U.S. over the last three years,” he said.

Janke noted the parallel between the Washington metro area and post-World War II Silicon Valley where thousands of scientists moved from government work to commercial industry after the war. “In this area, we’ve seen a groundswell of government investment in cybersecurity and now we’re seeing the commercialization,” he said. “This area is the epicenter of cybersecurity. At any one time, there are 17,000 open jobs.”

Keynote speaker Clark Golestani, former global CIO at Merck and current managing director of C Sensei Group, offered a more focused look at the emerging cyber landscape in the Mid-Atlantic region.

After watching the banking and financial industries on Wall Street expand and build up their cyber capability several years ago, Golestani noted that every industry now is building up its cyber capability. “The budget for cyber over the last several years has almost doubled every 12-24 months,” he said.

Janke added, “Over time the economy goes up and down, but now, even in a downturn, the one area companies cannot cut and must continue to grow is cybersecurity.” Nothing is recession proof, but cyber is about as close as you can get, he said.

Degrees, Certifications and More Speaking to a packed audience of nearly 200 students, professionals, career changers and career advancers, Golestani stressed the importance of earning a cybersecurity degree and certifications.  While there may be talented individuals who can perform a cyber job well without a degree, he said the reality is that they likely won’t get hired without one.

“Most major corporations will screen you out the moment they see that you don’t have a degree,” Golestani insisted, adding that the heavy emphasis on credentials is driven by risk.

“Today, the stakes are high. When companies get hacked, CEOs lose jobs, stocks drop, investors flee, reputations are damaged,” said Golestani. He advised any prospective student to obtain a strong computer science background as well as cyber training and certifications.

In addition to deep technical skills, Golestani said certifications are valuable because the game changes so quickly. By example, he cited the Notpetya hack, which brought many corporations to their knees and sent a message to the world that cybersecurity is a nation-state game now.

Both Janke and Golestani asserted that demand for cybersecurity jobs is growing because of the ever-expanding threat landscape in which cyber threats represent a key risk factor in everything companies do. “The ability to alter data in an undiscoverable way will affect lives in ways we’ve not seen before,” Golestani predicted. “Nation states can execute cyber warfare for a lot less than a conventional missile program,” he noted.

Industrial controls and sensors are particularly vulnerable threat areas for the near future, according to Janke. He spoke of the Sadara Chemical hack of 2018 to illustrate the point.

“For the first time, a nation-state executed a hack, at the Sadara Chemical Company in Saudi Arabia, that was designed to take lives,” he said.

The symposium concluded with a focus on what employers are looking for in a cybersecurity professional. Francine Blume, assistant vice president of career development at UMUC emphasized the need for a degree, but also noted that employers are looking for experience, certifications and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to articulate what it is that you bring to the table.

“Employers want to know how you can help them solve a problem,” she said. “You must be able to articulate this in your resume, in an elevator pitch and in an interview. If you can’t, then you’re at a disadvantage,” she added.

But Blume and the other panelists also stressed that employers are looking beyond the GPA and the degree. As Janke pointed out, candidates must also have the emotional intelligence, or EQ necessary to succeed. “You work with people, you have to look them in the eye, you have to get along with them, and you have to handle stress,” he said.

The bottom line is that in the fast-growing, fast-paced, and high-risk cybersecurity field you need the combination of technical skills, education, experience, and soft skills to achieve career success.