So, you want to be a security pro? Read this first

Here are some insights to help IT pros take advantage of the talent shortage -- as well as some reasons it might not be the right move for you

So, you want to be a security pro? Read this first

Of all the high-demand areas in IT, security stands out at the top. According to DICE, the number of security jobs skyrocketed by more than 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, to 50,000 openings, compared with 16.8 percent growth the year before.

"Security jobs are growing at a far more rapid pace than other areas of technology, which are also growing rapidly," says Bob Melk, president at DICE.

Meanwhile, in a 2015 survey by ISC2, 62 percent of respondents said they lacked adequate security staff, and 45 percent cannot find qualified candidates. In five years, the organization says, the shortfall in the global information security workforce will reach 1.5 million.

The inability of many companies to fill these jobs is only driving up salaries -- as well as IT professionals' interest in developing the skills to fill these jobs. "It pays well and is in high demand," says Julie Oates, senior technical recruiter at Mondo. "There are so many jobs out there, and there will be more and more."

Here are some insights to help IT professionals take advantage of the shortage -- as well as some reasons it might not be the right move for you.

Don't worry if you don't have specific security experience

Much of the demand today is focused on roles that require several years of experience, such as senior security software engineers, Oates says. Such roles can demand upwards of $200,000, she says. The ISC2 study also reports that the highest job growth will be for security engineers and architects.

At the same time, there is still a wide array of security needs, says Julien Bellanger, co-founder and CEO at Prevoty, an application security monitoring and protection company. "So many different types of skillsets are in demand for security, and no single person can field all these roles," he says. "You need a very large team to cover all the bases," including people who understand what's going on with the network and network traffic, the hardware appliances, the applications and the business logic of the applications."

Tony Martin-Vegue, risk manager at a Bay Area financial services institution, agrees that information security is "a huge and widely varied field that includes programmers, risk managers, PR experts who can talk to business professionals in terms they understand, people who understand human behavior and even people with an economics background. "If you have an economics degree or understand finance, I'd hire you as a risk manager even without security expertise because that's all economics and finance is, is understanding risk."

Similarly, he says, someone with a background in psychology would have the needed insights to understand why, for example, someone would click on a phishing link and how to deter that behavior. "You need a baseline of cyber or information security knowledge, but you can still use what you already know to educate yourself," Martin-Vegue says. "You're not starting from scratch."

Think long term

The greatest need in the foreseeable future is in the realm of software and application security, according to observers. "The greatest problem we face is related to insecure code and poor software development processes," says Jeff Combs, vice president of talent management at ISE Talent, an executive search and recruitment firm dedicated to information security professionals. "People have been developing software for 50 years or longer, but we've only been paying attention to issues related to software security in the last 10 years." For younger IT professionals considering a future in security, software engineering and coding is where the majority of opportunities -- and challenges -- will exist, he says.

Even now, the gap in supply vs. demand is wide, says Bellanger, especially as there is little training available in this domain, and talented developers might be more likely to flock to the likes of Google or the next Facebook rather than a job in security. "We get asked all the time, ‘Do you have any good application security people you can send our way?'" he says.

Two types of people are needed in this area, he says: program managers and actual practitioners. Businesses would be best off if they hired a program manager internally and then used that role to bring others onto the security team to help train and guide them.

From application security, IT professionals can grow into many other areas, like architecture security or learning more about the cloud, Bellanger points out, while other choices -- like network or hardware security -- might be more limiting. "If I had to make a choice today and was 18 years old, I'd go into application security or be part of a DevOps security team," he says.

Don't under-value your current skills

According to Martin-Vegue, if you're a systems, network or database administrator, "you really are 75 percent there for certain types of information security sub-fields," such as ethical hacking, penetration testing and information assurance positions. Professionals with these backgrounds understand things like how systems work and how users access them, he says, "so it's not a leap to go from setting up users, to checking compliance with standards and frameworks. It would be easy to segue if you already have that baseline."

In fact, Combs says having this type of background can be a real strength. "To be good in security, it's important to have a strong foundation in systems administration, network engineering or software engineering," he says. "Although there are many aspects that aren't technical, understanding how things work at the ground level or under the hood is what gives people the credibility and knowledge to build upon to be successful over the long run."

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