Four Tips to Begin (or Build) Your Cybersecurity Career

3.5 million cybersecurity jobs will be open by 2020. Want one of them?

It seems every time news breaks on a new cyber attack, the number of cybersecurity jobs that will be left open by 2020 grows. And it’s not that people are leaving the field. From virtual bank heists to electoral process interruptions to DDoS attacks, hackers aren’t just busting into accounts to change your Facebook status these days. Entire industries are getting disrupted and disturbed by cyber attacks that mean business.

Latest tally has 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs left unfilled around the world by 2020. If you’ve been considering pursuing a career in security — or advancing your IT career — there’s no time like to present to prepare yourself for the field.

Here are four tips to get you started on this secure path to the future:

1. Roll up your sleeves.

Suffice it to say: cybersecurity isn’t exactly a 9-to-5 job. Not only do attacks and the need to resolve issues happen at all hours of the day, the enthusiasm it takes to keep up requires a little more than clock in, clock out. Many employers will want to know if you have built a home lab for examining viruses, contributed to open source projects or taken learning the world of cyber threats into your own hands. Consider practicing your craft by building networks at home with discarded machines, joining online discussions of cyber threats and getting your hands dirty defending the world from hackers.

2. Always be learning.

While more organizations are reconsidering what they want in cybersecurity professionals, education and training are essential for anyone in the field — at any point in your career. Hackers are hardly sitting on their laurels, using old-school techniques to bust into new systems. They’re always evolving — and you should be, too. Check with your recruiter or survey job posts to understand what education, training and certification your career path requires. And if you’re already in the field, keep your eyes out for new certifications that will help you stay in and get ahead of the game. It’s the only way to keep up with the bad guys.

3. Get experience.

No need to wait around for that perfect cybersecurity job to build your experience. The thing about this career is you’re doing a little bit of all things IT. You might be examining code to find weaknesses, analyzing data for trends or irregularities, looking at networks to see where hackers can weasel their ways in, evaluating tech solutions to mitigate future risks or even educating employees on how not to fall for the next phishing scam. Each of these skills you can develop working in many areas of IT. Open your options to other careers in IT, but be also open with your employer or recruiter about steering your path toward security.

4. Socialize

Don’t let the movies fool you. Cybersecurity pros aren’t simply shadowy figures who battle hackers from the dark of their basements. Cybersecurity meetups happen every day, all around the world. Connecting with the cybersecurity community is not only a great way to share experiences, gain new ideas or swap cyber-war stories, but it’s the perfect occasion to network, too. You’ll meet others in the field, CIOs, CTOs, CISOs, even recruiters at these types of events. And in a world with growing needs for cybersecurity talent, it pays to introduce yourself to people who’ll be looking for someone just like you in the future.

A question for cybersecurity pros: what advice do you have for emerging cybersecurity talent? Tweet your tips with #SwoonOnSecurity and we’ll spread your expert advice.