Let’s talk about Education, Bootcamps, Certifications, and Skillbridge.
There is much debate about education for cybersecurity. Do you need a degree? Do you need certifications? Which certification should I get? There is not just one right path into cyber. You really can decide your own journey. I know there are many cyber degrees that have a lot of outdated information. On the other hand, I’ve heard great things about WGU from many people. I don’t have a cyber degree currently. I have a Bachelor’s in Music and Master’s in Organizational Development and Leadership. A degree is not required to get into cyber, but depending upon the employer and the position, it could help even if the degree is in an unrelated field. In some positions, especially federal and DOD contractors, specific certifications are required. I suggest deciding on the roles you will be seeking and then earn the certifications required and other training needed for those roles first. Don’t waste your time on certifications that will not benefit your career, unless you are doing it for other reasons. For military and veterans, don’t forget about the educational resources that are available to you, including: For Military/Veterans – GI Bill, TA ($4,000 per year for credential assistance/college education), Onward to Opportunity (O2O), VET TEC, FedVTE.
There is a lot of mixed information online regarding bootcamps. I’m sure there are some that are not good, take your money, give you mediocre training, and do not give exam vouchers. I have heard those stories. However, my experience was the complete opposite. If you are looking to attend a cybersecurity bootcamp or are currently in one, don’t get discouraged by negative anecdotes you read on social media. But do your homework! The training program should also publish the statistics of how many of their graduates get a job in cyber, how long it took, etc. Be careful of misleading and carefully worded statistics as well. For people who are pivoting careers and don’t have prior cyber experience, a bootcamp may be a great option for you. You learn a lot in a short amount of time, and it’s something you can do even while working your current job.
If you are just starting out in cyber, I recommend that you earn Security+ first. It is the certification that will get your foot in the door. ITIL, CompTIA A+, and Network+ are great, but Security+ is what hiring managers want to see at a minimum on your resume. I have a document I created after passing the Security+ exam that talks about tips and advice for passing the exam. If are interested in that, send me a message, and I’m happy to forward it to you. Once you have Sec+ and landed your first cyber job, you can then choose which additional certifications you want to earn. Again, there is no right or wrong way to approach certifications. In my case, I am working in a defensive role currently, but I’d like to become a penetration tester in the future, so I’m going to focus on certs such as CEH, Pentest+, PNTP, EJPT, GPEN, and OSCP. My cybersecurity bootcamp experience from CyberWarrior Academy gave me training and vouchers for Security+, Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), and Network+ all as part of the tuition, so there were no hidden costs, and they told me upfront the benefits of each.
I could write an entire article series on Skillbridge alone. I believe it is a life-changing opportunity that everyone leaving the military should take advantage of. Whether you are ETS-ing or retiring, do a Skillbridge! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, and you are in the military, then you need to google Skillbridge right now and read up on it. Essentially, it is an opportunity for you to make your transition from military to civilian employment smoother. During the last six months of your active-duty career, you can do an internship with a company or a training program. This is full-time. You are still receiving your full pay and benefits while upskilling into your new civilian career. There are many opportunities to do this in cyber. Talk with your command team and ensure that it is something that they will support since you will need your commander’s approval. The Skillbridge I chose is called Cyber Warrior Academy. I briefly talked about it in my last article. But expanding on that, one of the things that set this bootcamp apart is that every Wednesday there is a Career Ambassador that speaks to the class. This is a cyber security professional working in this field who imparts their knowledge on the students. It is an invaluable experience.
Personally, after each session, I connected with them on LinkedIn, and some even became friends and mentors who have helped me tremendously in my career transition. If you want more info on CWA, don’t hesitate to reach out to them and someone will help you out. If you’d like to know more about my experience, feel free to message me on LinkedIn and I am happy to share. Here is the Skillbridge LinkedIn page, which is called the DOD Skillbridge Community of Practice. There are new opportunities posted there often. This is how I learned about Cyber Warrior. I actually was set to do a different program, but at the last minute, they cut the cohort because not enough people had signed up for it. At the time that was disappointing. However, it was a blessing in disguise because I found a much better one.
You should begin the Skillbridge process two years before separating from the military. In my experience, I spent 3-6 months researching programs and trying to find the one that was right for me. Then it took another 6 months to get it approved. This happened for many reasons, but expect there to be many roadblocks and setbacks and ensure you have plenty of time to get approval well before you are 180 days from your ETS or retirement date. Contact your local Skillbridge representative to get more information.
There is an official list of approved Skillbridge companies/opportunities, which are current industry partners/employers. These are companies that are vetted and approved. However, you can also do a custom program of your choice. Essentially, choose a company to intern with or a training program to attend. You will need them to sign paperwork agreeing to the terms, mostly that they can’t pay you during the internship (once on terminal/transition leave, you can get paid), and it needs to meet the criteria for a Skillbridge. If you think this article series could help your friends, please share it! Also, stay tuned for next week as we talk about Networking, Mentorship, and Conferences.
Welcome to part 3 of my series: How to Break into Cyber Security with no Prior Experience. From deciding to switch careers and go cyber, it took me 10 months. In these articles, I’m sharing my personal experience and what I believe helped me succeed in getting into this amazing field. The response from my first 2 articles has been amazing. I am enjoying writing these and sharing the iota of cyber knowledge and experience I have. Let’s continue to help each other in the awesome field of cyber!