Cybersecurity can often seem like a murky world of espionage and counter-espionage; where men in blacked out vans kidnap carefully chosen nerds from the streets of the country’s small towns to keep us safe from those pesky bad guys. However, to succeed in the world of cyber security you do not require a specific set of skills as the Liam Neeson of Taken 1, 2 and 3 will have you believe. This does beg the question of what do cybersecurity experts look for when hiring the next generation of keyboard-based James Bonds?
Thinking outside the box
The short answer is they look for curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. Most cyber professionals have a chequered history, with many having been kicked out of school for pushing the boundaries that one step too far. However, those successful in cyber are by nature very inquisitive – we like to know what makes something tick and why.
If you played with Lego or Meccano as a child and really enjoyed pulling models apart and then putting them back together in a different way, it’s likely that you have the raw skill set that cyber professionals look for. One of the key jobs in cyber is taking networks apart to find malware or holes in the security; which requires thinking a bit differently from the norm. Those who spent their childhood or teenage years inadvertently thinking this way through the art of Lego will naturally do well in cyber.
Undoubtedly, a certain level of technical skills is required when working in cyber. A good knowledge of IT networks, computing and operating systems to start with will help you get into the industry; but this will only get you a job, not a career. While technical skills can be learned online or through courses at university – some are even accredited by GCHQ – it’s the extra push on thinking outside the box that really makes good cyber professionals stand out. That keenness to learn new technical skills while testing the limits of what is possible in practice is key.
There’s a long-lived stereotype that cyber professionals are nerds who can’t hold a conversation or manage a team. While not completely inaccurate, in reality the best people in cyber are the ones who can explain what they’re doing, and why, to anyone up to a C-level executive in simple yet effective terms. They will also stick their head above the parapet and say what they think; leading their team by example by constantly learning new things and trying to find new ways of breaking a network or OS apart and putting it back together.
These leadership characteristics should be seen at all levels, regardless of how long you’ve been in cyber. Courage, self-confidence and humility are essential, as cyber professionals need to lead from every level in a business for their work to be successful.
At their core, cyber professionals genuinely care about looking after people. They care enough to work through hours of code to find the single bug that’s causing havoc for an overall network. The key mentality is of the kid who stands up to the bully in the playground – fundamentally, cyber as a job is about protecting people.
Far from what the screens of Hollywood would have us believe, cybersecurity professionals are tenacious rule-breakers, who have a genuine curiosity and keenness to break apart and fix the digital world. For those who would stick their hand up and ask the awkward questions while working hard to find the solution, cybersecurity could be the profession for you.