South Africa is afflicted with a double whammy of a shockingly high unemployment rate and a damaging shortage of skills – particularly in the technology sector and its supporting industries, including cybersecurity.
We also live in a society that places a perhaps unreasonably high social premium on university education at a time when technology-driven sectors evolve at a pace exponentially quicker than any degree curriculum can be conceived, written, approved and implemented.
The global security industry acknowledged before the Covid-19 pandemic that there were more than 2 million cybersecurity jobs vacant – including those in South Africa. The global move to having technology workers working from home has led to an increase in ransomware and other cyber threats, and it’s clear that the sector has a huge demand for security professionals despite advancements in artificial and machine learning.
READ: Four sure ways to promote diversity at top employment levels
As someone who started his career in cybersecurity by working in a computer retailer – and who does not have a university degree, but has a number of industry-specific qualifications – I challenge South Africa’s young people, particularly women, to consider a career in cybersecurity. Here’s why:
1. Cybersecurity skills are in high demand
There may be 2 million cybersecurity jobs vacant, but with as many as 5 634 cyber threat detections each day, predictions are that global businesses will need 4 million cybersecurity professionals in the next few years.
2. The work is well paid
Statistics may vary from country to country, but the average salary for a cybersecurity professional was nearly four times that of the average salary in the US a few years ago – and that was before demand for their services began escalating in line with soaring cybercrime rates.
READ: South African graduates may be mostly employed, but skills and jobs often don’t match
3. South Africans are perfect for the job
South Africans are world-renowned for their strong work ethic and their willingness to take on any task, even if it falls beyond their job description. We’re also naturally curious and determined to find a workaround to just about any situation (remember the pineapple beer phase of 2020?) – all attributes that make for a strong cybersecurity professional.
4. You don’t need a degree
All you need is determination and an internet connection. There are multiple recognised online resources, such as Udemy, where you can start learning all that you need to enter the profession – and at a fraction of the cost of a university degree.
5. Anyone can do it
The sector is typically dominated by men, but there’s no logical reason for that, and it’s a statistic that is ready to be disrupted and transformed.
6. Each day is different
Just like no two cybersecurity threats are the same, no two days working as a cybersecurity professional are alike – humans and machines reveal new ways of behaving and engaging every day, and you really do start to see the world in new and interesting ways.
What you need and where to train
What do you need to become a cybersecurity expert?
. The most important basic network and security qualifications before entering the industry are CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ certifications.
. There are various courses and online universities, such as Coursera, which allow a person to enhance their skills at little cost or even for free.
. There are many areas within cybersecurity and thus no all-encompassing skills path you’d be required to specialise in. Aspiring cybersecurity specialists could choose to put their focus into web penetration testing or security application writing, for example. I suggest researching the various areas within the field to identify those which appeal most to you, to inform the best skills development starting point for you.
. It is still possible to get involved in the cybersecurity sector without CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ certifications by making yourself available to become an intern at credible enterprises such as Dimension Data or DRS, where you’ll be introduced to basic cyber security skill sets that you can leverage to get into the industry.
Where to train?
. CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ certifications can be obtained either online or at a local training institution.
. There are also opportunities to study information security at university level, following completion of a South African matric certification.
. CompTIA Security+ is a global certification that validates the baseline skills necessary to perform core security functions and pursue an IT security career.
. CompTIA Network+ is an IT certification exam which verifies that you have the essential knowledge and skills in networking to develop a career in IT infrastructure.
Remember, cybercrime actors are creative, innovative and use data to create their campaigns and pursue their victims until they achieve the results they desire.
Bolzonello is country manager for McAfee Enterprise in South Africa