How do I get a career in cyber security?

How do I get a career in cyber security?

We live in a digital society where our smartphones are rarely out of our hands and the ability to share data – whether you’re shopping online through a secure connection, handing over details to your doctor or tracking your heart rate on your smart watch – makes all sorts of tasks easier. It’s our reliance on technology and data sharing that makes cyber security so important, and means there is a big and growing need for people with the skills to keep our information safe in our ever-changing digital world.

What is CyberFirst?

CyberFirst is a student development scheme that is delivered by the National Cyber Security Centre. As a part of GCHQ, one of the UK government intelligence agencies responsible for keeping the UK safe from threats such as cyber crime, terrorism and espionage, it runs a bursary programme for university students and a degree apprenticeship programme for those who have just completed their A levels (or equivalent). The CyberFirst bursary gives you £4,000 financial assistance towards university each year of your degree, as well as £250 per week paid work experience in cyber each summer. The CyberFirst degree apprenticeship programme pays £17,900 per year.

Do you need a degree to go into cyber security?

A full-time university degree is not the only way to get a career in cyber security, but it is one of the most common routes in. However, more and more employers are offering cyber security apprenticeships as an alternative to the university graduate route.

How to get into cyber security with a degree

You could go to university and apply for a graduate job in cyber security in your final year. If you’re considering a career in cyber then you’re best off choosing to study a STEM subject (science, technology, engineering or maths) as this will allow you to apply to many graduate jobs in cyber security. On the other hand, if you already know you’re interested in a career in cyber, you could choose a degree course with modules that gives at least an introduction to some aspect of cyber security – computer science, computer networks or computer forensics courses are likely to include this, for example.

However, you will need more than a STEM degree to convince graduate employers in cyber security that they should hire you. Evidence of a passion for technology outside of your degree is likely to be on every employer’s checklist.

Lucy is at university on the CyberFirst bursary programme. ‘At the end of my first year I attended a CyberFirst residential Academy, which was an amazing experience. Over the eight weeks I had a crash course in many different aspects of cyber and this really inspired me to study cyber security at university and to pursue a career in this area in the future.’

To apply for a CyberFirst Bursary you need to be applying to study a STEM subject at a UK university and be predicted three A levels at B grade or above (two of your top grades should be in a STEM subject). Alternatively, if you are currently in your first year at university and studying a STEM degree, you can still apply for a CyberFirst Bursary. You are almost guaranteed a job on completion of the programme, either with the government or with a business or other organisation.

How to get into cyber security through an apprenticeship

Apprenticeships in cyber security are a work-based route that you can start after your A levels, without needing a degree. However, they may lead to a degree, among other qualifications. You’ll start working and earning straight away, while also receiving training and studying towards qualifications. You may study one day a week at university, or in longer week-long blocks, for example.

For many cyber security apprenticeships it doesn’t matter what A level subjects you study, though some will ask for at least one STEM subject. There are often A level grade requirements (typically Bs and Cs).

CyberFirst offers a GCHQ degree apprenticeship programme. You’ll start working straight away while also studying towards a degree. To apply you need to have at least 2 GCSE’s at grade B/6, one of which must be in maths, plus three C grades at A level, and these can be in any subject. Most importantly you need to love computers and technology.

Apprenticeships mean juggling the twin demands of having a job and studying, but you do earn a salary at the same time and gain a large bank of experience that the average university student wouldn’t get. It’s a good progression route, especially if university is not for you. So, if you are prepared to work full working days and you want to start your career in cyber security, then you should certainly consider a degree apprenticeship, such as CyberFirst.

What’s it like to work in cyber security?

Anyone can go into cyber security, but you will need these three things:

  1. A passion for unexplored technology. The cyber threat is always evolving so the way we defend against it needs to continually adapt in order to keep up; as a graduate or apprentice, you will be learning about code and about emerging technologies. Having a passion for technology, particularly the unexplored. You don’t have to have all the latest gadgets, but you do need to be the sort of person who likes to come up with solutions to make life easier by using tech (for example, by using it to organise your social life), and who loves sharing technology with others (for example, teaching a grandparent to use Facebook or order groceries safely and securely online).
  2. Communication and teamwork skills. According to Lucy, who is at university on the CyberFirst bursary programme, these are ‘the best skills to hone if you want this kind of career, as it’s only by pooling the skills and resources of others that you can get innovative solutions to the problems you face in cyber’. Working as part of a team is crucial to the success of cyber professionals defeating cyber threats. Consider carefully: are you happy to listen to others and also to share your own ideas with a group?
  3. A desire to do a job that protects and enables society. Lucy describes the critical nature of what cyber security professionals do: ‘Cyber security is essential to people’s everyday lives, and as the UK continues to increase the widespread usage and development of digital technology, then cyber will become ever more important. For example, without security surrounding critical national infrastructure, then the very basics such as provision of water, electricity and emergency services could be disrupted.’ Cyber threats are serious and so your desire to help quash cyber-attacks needs to be real.

Find out more and apply for the CyberFirst bursary and the CyberFirst degree apprenticeship programme.


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