Career / Career Progression

Unlocking Your IT Security Career Pathway

by Karin Klinger
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Published on January 17, 2017

UPDATED: We updated this article on September 15, 2017, to reflect relevant changes to various certification curricula.

Unlocking a career in IT security can be tricky, but we're here to help! We take some time with trainer Keith Barker to map out a certification pathway to help you reach your potential and achieve your IT security career dreams.

IT Certification Pathways Advice from Keith Barker

Keith Barker is our resident ITsec trainer and expert, so we asked him what an ideal certification pathway would be for IT pros looking to unlock a career in IT security.

  1. CompTIA Security+: Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CompTIA Security+.

  2. Cisco CCNA Security: Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCNA Security .

  3. Palo Alto PCNSE

  4. Cisco CCNP Security: Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CCNP Security.

  5. White Hat Hacking

  6. (ISC)2 CISSP: Learn more about the certification from our Roadmap to Success: CISSP.

  7. Supplemental training, not necessarily for certification, but to build out your understanding of all that security topics impact within IT: Linux training Network training Microsoft system administration training Penetration Testing with Linux Tools

It's important to realize, especially when you're just getting started, that IT security is complex, with its tendrils touching nearly every aspect of the IT environment. With this in mind, it's critical to have a firm understanding of, if not certification in, networking, system administration, programming and development, DevOps, and more.

A robust and well-rounded knowledge base helps you better understand system vulnerabilities, while your security training helps you address those vulnerabilities and mitigate risks.

New IT Security Professionals

Most ITsec pros have one thing in common: they didn't start out as ITsec pros. Most get into security after first serving as IT generalists. And their experience, in general, IT serves them well as it creates a foundational understanding of systems and processes before they start exploring a specialty.

If you're an IT generalist, or just getting started in your security specialization, do all that you can to get hands-on practice now! As Keith says, "Don't just learn it to learn it. Learn it to know it."

Learn more about building good IT training habits from Keith's webinar.

The Experience Conundrum

Oscar Wilde said that "Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes."

One of the challenges for new ITsec professionals is how to get hands-on experience in order to land the job you are working toward. This is a question that comes up frequently, and with good reason. Here are five tips for getting hands-on experience to help you get started earning that coveted experience.

Mid-level ITsec Professionals

Following Keith's recommended certification path above, you should have a few years of experience working in ITsec before jumping into Check Point, White Hat Hacking, or CISSP, all of which are intermediate or advanced certifications.

Take Your Time

There comes a point in the career of an ITsec or InfoSec pro when you simply can't cram anymore. For most, that happens after you've earned the entry-level security certifications and have a few years of experience under your belt. Once you reach this point, it's not just about learning fast but learning well.

When you're ready to start tackling advanced security topics, take your time to learn well by practicing your new skills and knowledge.

Keeping Pace Professionally

According to Keith, "ITsec pros can advance their careers by doing three basic things: Stay current, stay current, stay current!" Never let your certifications lapse and keep up to date with new information and technologies.

The pace of the IT industry and the constant evolution of security threats make ITsec a field where it is absolutely critical to keep current and even do what you can to stay ahead of the proverbial curve. As a result, it's important to be active in communities of ITsec pros who are pursuing similar career or training goals.

Join the CBT Nuggets Learner Community or other online communities to develop a network of colleagues and professional resources who can help you throughout your professional journey.

Maybe more with ITsec than any other field, constant vigilance means a lot of reading. Lots.

There are many excellent websites, forums, and online communities where you can go to get the 4-1-1 on InfoSec and IT security issues.

Here are some of our favorites:

Special thanks to Digital Guardian for introducing us to a couple of these blogs!

Wrapping It Up

As you work to advance your IT security career, certifications are critical to demonstrate your knowledge and skills, as well as your commitment to ongoing learning. Follow Keith's recommended certification and training path to set your career on a trajectory that will help you achieve your professional goals.

Every ITsec pros' path is unique, so follow your passion and curiosity as you work to develop new knowledge and skills. Whatever path you choose to follow, commit to it and learn with passion!

Watch. Learn. Conquer!

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