Career Advice Tuesday – When is a degree a waste of time and money?

November 23, 2010

Dear Infosecleaders:

I am looking for some career advice. I am planning on entering the Information Security work arena. I am currently studying for the CISSP and am not finding it too difficult. I am 20 years experience in Telecoms and Technical Operations, managing large technical teams and physical security.

I don’t have current hands on knowledge of Windows Server, Linux or Cisco, nor any of their Certificates. I do have a PMP and a degree in Electronics and an MBA.

Will a Masters in Information Assurance or the more trashy named Cyber Security assist me in moving into this new field or just a waste of my time and money.

I am in my early 40′s and unemployed.

Thank you.

Get a Degree?

Dear GAD,

We’re both big fans of having a degree as part of your overall career investment.  Sometimes, you can’t get where you’re trying to go without having the right credential.

For example, a few years ago, I (Mike) was working at a Fortune 100 company as a senior security architect.  Looking at the senior management of the company (VP level and above), it became clear that, if I wanted my career to advance, I would have to have an advanced degree; every person in the company at VP-level had at least a Master’s degree, and everyone in the C-suite had a Ph.D.  In that case, it was clear that my lack of an advanced degree was going to be a career-limiter.

However, sometimes, going through the time and expense of getting a degree is a complete waste.  While I’m sure that we don’t have all of the details of your situation, my hunch is that it would be in your case.

You identify something that is far more likely to limit you than your degree situation: a lack of technical skill.   With an MBA and a degree in Electronics, you’re not hurting for academic credentials.  You’re hurting for knowledge and skills.

Were I coaching you directly, my advice would be to stop by Barnes & Noble on your way home and pick up books in whichever skills you feel are most lacking, and download some VMs for practice environments.  Maybe even go on Ebay and pick up some old Cisco gear, Checkpoint firewalls and IDSes to play around with.  Spend a month building a lab of devices and you’ll be up to speed pretty quickly.

It’ll cost you far less than a degree would and you’ll be marketable much more quickly.  Not to mention that, in an interview, you’ll have a story to tell.  (As an answer to “What have you been doing while you’ve been unemployed?”, one of these answers would impress me significantly more: “I went back to school”, or “I built a lab in my house and have been working on rebuilding my technical skills on my own.”)

Sometimes, a degree just isn’t the way to go…

Mike & Lee

Posted by mmurray | Filed Under Career Advice Tuesday 

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