Career Advice Tuesday – The Importance of a Degree

August 24, 2010

Dear Sirs,

Is it possible to get job in computer security without a degree?  I have a CCNA, certifications in ethical hacking and I am  a 2nd year Bsc student.

I’m really interested in the security field, and I’m wondering what I should do as far as courses or if I even need to finish my degree before starting my career.

Thanks,

Student Ready for Next Challenge

Dear Student,

This is one of the hardest questions for us to answer, even though the true answer is simple:

It depends.

In the IT field in general, and security specifically, there have been a number of people who have been successful without a degree in security (or even without a degree at all).  In the early days of the industry, there largely weren’t any degree or certification programs, so most people in the industry were without any formal education.  The most common example is Bill Gates – one would be hard-pressed to say he’s not successful without a college education. I (Mike) am a good example as well – my formal education is in Philosophy, and that hasn’t stopped me from being successful within the security field.

These days, however, many jobs are requiring some sort of degree.  Many entry level security jobs at larger companies are actually looking for a formal degree in some information security related discipline (or at least a degree in computer science).

Here’s the thing – if you’re going to be self-motivated, driven to succeed and willing to spend a large amount of time on your own personal branding and investing in other ways to ensure that you can demonstrate a commitment to the field and your own career, then I’d say that a degree isn’t necessary.

But realize that you’re going to be cutting yourself off from many job possibilities, especially early – you may have to work harder, taking internships and working on visible security projects to replace the signal that the degree provides to employers early in your career.

And, ultimately, the lack of a degree will limit your career path in other ways – most high-level executive jobs at big companies require a degree (even a higher-level degree like a Master’s or Ph.D.).   And if your goal is to work in a different country, often a degree can be a requirement for proving your qualifications for immigration purposes.

In short, like everything in life, having a degree is a tradeoff.  You’ll have options that you won’t have without one.  But you’re going to be trading time for those options.

The question ultimately comes back to you – what do you really want, where do you want to end up, and what’s your career plan?

Mike & Lee

Posted by mmurray | Filed Under Career Advice Tuesday, Planning 

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