One of the great things about trying to break into cybersecurity today is the wealth of knowledge that is readily available to help you on your journey. You can enroll in a traditional associate’s or bachelor’s program through an accredited university, you can enroll in a cybersecurity bootcamp which can last anywhere from three months to a year, or you can self-learn with online resources such as Udemy, TryHackMe, Blue Team Labs Online, etc.
With so many ways to gain the skills, you need to be successful in this industry it can be overwhelming knowing where to start. It was a struggle that I personally had and wish I had more information about it before I began my journey into the cybersecurity field. I have found that each learning path has its advantages and disadvantages.
Bootcamps- Be job ready in 3-12 months!
- Plenty of bootcamps to choose from with rotating start dates.
- No pre-requisite knowledge needed.
- Geared towards hands-on training.
- Gain knowledge quickly.
- Costly, can cost as much if not more than a traditional degree program.
- Fundamental knowledge not always covered in course.
- Speed of learning can be overwhelming for those without general IT knowledge.
My very first learning path in cybersecurity was with a bootcamp through Arizona State University. Like many at the beginning of the pandemic, I considered a career change but did not know what I wanted to pursue. I had years ago wanted to get into cybersecurity but had to put those plans on hold with the birth of my first daughter. In my previous blog post, I mentioned how a bus with a bootcamp advertisement helped start me on my path into cybersecurity.
Enrollment in the bootcamp was simple, I filled out an online information request form. spoke with an advisor to confirm my commitment to the bootcamp and seeing the program to completion. I was eager and ready to begin my journey and happily confirmed my desire to see this through.
This bootcamp was not cheap, to enroll was over $13,000 and required me to apply for student loans to cover the costs of the program. They did have various payment plans but the student loans were the only viable option for me with my financial situation. One good thing was there was a one-week period after the course started that if I did not feel it was right for me, I could walk away with a refund (not all bootcamps may offer this).
I started the bootcamp with almost no IT knowledge and was concerned about if my lack of fundamental knowledge would hinder my ability to keep up in the course. There was pre-work required to be completed before the first day which did help build a little confidence in my ability to absorb the information.
We began slowly with the background of cybersecurity the first two weeks before quickly moving to hands-on training. We covered numerous topics including Linux and Windows administration, building and securing cloud environments in Azure, setting up and monitoring Splunk and ELK Stacks, penetration testing, web vulnerabilities, and much more.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my time in my bootcamp and feel it did provide me with a wealth of knowledge, I did not feel it had me job-ready in 6 months as was advertised. I still lacked the fundamental knowledge needed to understand the why behind each concept I learned. I found I had more questions than answers by the end of the course.
Is it for Me?
Bootcamps can be a great way to ramp up knowledge quickly. They can help those with or without a background in IT quickly understand the field and have knowledge and skills that will be vital in their future career.
Be sure to research any bootcamps you are considering thoroughly before enrolling. Analyze the cost of the bootcamp, especially if the costs are high. If you are able try and connect and speak with people that have already gone through the bootcamp and see what their likes and dislikes of the bootcamp were. Did they feel the knowledge and skills they received were worth the cost? What support and career assistance were they offered?
Not all bootcamps are the same and some will prey on your lack of research to get you in the door. Once locked in you may find that the cost is not worth the payoff. Be sure to do your due diligence as your time and money are valuable and should not be wasted.
Accredited Degrees- The “Traditional” Learning Path
- Well-structured programs.
- Focuses and builds foundational knowledge.
- Many companies still require degrees for mid to senior positions.
- Networking opportunities with fellow Alumni
- Can take up to two to four years to complete depending on degree program.
- Degrees are costly investments which can be cost prohibitive for some.
- Geared towards learning concepts more than hands-on training.
After completing my bootcamp I was in limbo, I did not feel I had the knowledge needed to be an effective member of a cybersecurity team, but I did not know which direction to head in for my next learning path. I had made attempts at self-learning but found that I was unfocused and would subject jump when I encountered something new and interesting. While on LinkedIn one day I saw one of my connections had posted about completing their degree with WGU, then another, and another, and another.
Everyone that I saw posting about their experience had nothing but good things to say about the program. Intrigued, I decided I would research different degree programs, after all almost every job posting I came across listed some form of a degree as a requirement.
After researching several online degrees, speaking with several connections enrolled in various programs, I decided the program at WGU was the best fit for me.
The big draws of the program were:
- It is done completely online. My work schedule and location makes it difficult for me to commute to an on-campus.
- It is a self-paced program, meaning you can learn at any time around your schedule which is a huge advantage for anyone like me that works full time or has a family to care for.
- you have an assigned mentor to help guide you through your entire program.
- The cost of the program was lower than most that I found.
I enrolled in the degree program in August 2021 and am currently 14% done with the degree in only 3 months (my CompTIA Security+ certification transferred in as credits). I have completed three of the four required courses for this term and once the fourth is completed I can add more courses to this term.
I have found that this program is helping to explain the fundamental knowledge that I lacked in my bootcamp. It is allowing me to understand concepts and gain more in-depth knowledge than I was able to learn on my own. My mentor is incredibly supportive and is always there when I need her. I also discovered a perk that I did not know as part of the program through WGU’s partnership with Udemy to provide free courses as well.
Is it for Me?
Degree programs have long been the “gold standard” for proving your knowledge and many companies still require degrees for many positions in cybersecurity that may interest you. Degrees can open networking opportunities with fellow alumni, help get past the ATS for a job you are pursuing, or help you promote if you are already in the field. Having spoken with many in the field, the consensus I have heard is if you are interested in management or C-level positions in the future, you may want to pursue a degree at some point in your career.
Like bootcamps, it is important to do your research into any degree programs that may interest you and connect with those that are either in the program or that have graduated. Ensure the return on investment is worth your effort as degrees require more commitment than a bootcamp.
While a degree may have many advantages, for some the cost and time needed to complete a degree may not be a feasible option.
Getting Hands-on- Build Real Skills for Less!
- Plenty of free or low-cost training available.
- Some courses offer certificates of completion to prove your knowledge.
- Build a portfolio of provable skills.
- Hands-on learning normally retains information better.
- Focusing your learning can be difficult without structure.
- Can be costly or require subscriptions for access to resources.
- May waste time if the training is not a skill for your path.
The first training platform I ever used was Cybrary. It is an online training platform that allows you to follow along with video courses for many different IT or cybersecurity-related paths. I fully credit their Security+ practice exams for my passing of the Security+ exam.
I realized that while my bootcamp and my degree programs provide me with the conceptual knowledge I will need, the hands-on training that I have done on platforms such as TryHackMe, AttackIQ, TCM Security Academy, and many others, have exponentially improved my confidence and skillset. Adults learn and retain information better when they can apply their studies to hands-on situations to gain a better understanding. If you get stuck there are always write-ups available online to help you through the concepts you are learning.
Being able to not only learn what a reverse shell is or how to perform basic static analysis of malware but how to apply those skills in a real environment is infinitely more helpful than just learning the concepts behind them.
The only drawback to the wealth of training platforms that I have found is that it is easy to begin learning skills that may not align with the career you are aiming for in the field. It is important to research each course you take to ensure that it will further you along your path to your goals. It is easy to succumb to the desire to want to learn everything which may not be an efficient use of your time or hinder your learning.
Is it for Me?
Online hands-on labs are a very helpful training tool for learners of all skill levels. They can help you retain the information you are learning better and allow you to create a portfolio of the work you have put in with certificates of completion and write-ups of the labs.
Many training platforms offer free trials or free access to certain portions of their training to confirm if they are right for you before you purchase or subscribe. This is a great way to confirm if cybersecurity is the field for you before deciding if you would like to pursue a traditional degree or bootcamp. Some have even been able to gain employment solely based on the work and effort they have put in with this learning path.
Focus on learning the free courses first to help decide which training platform or focus is right for you. Subscribing to many platforms can quickly add up and you may not have time to take full advantage of each course or subscription you purchase.
Learning the skills necessary to break into cybersecurity has never been as easy as it is today. The amount of resources and knowledge available to begin your journey is almost endless. If you are considering a career in cybersecurity, I suggest starting with the free resources first then building on your learning path from there.
I have a resources page that houses a word document that is free to download of all the training platforms, YouTube and Discord channels, and helpful sites that I have found useful along my journey. I will periodically update the document on the page as I find more helpful resources.
Remember that everyone’s journey is different and that you absolutely can learn the skills needed to realize your goals of breaking into the industry.
If you are still not sure where to start, reach out to someone! The cybersecurity community is full of people willing to assist with any questions or guidance you need if you ask nicely!