How to Become a Security Architect: 2021 Career Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 10, 2021

Security architects play a strategic role in protecting their organizations.

A security architect holding a tablet in a grey shirt stands in a brightly lit office, smiling at the camera.

Security architecture refers to the overall security system required to protect an organization from security threats. As a security architect, it’s your job to design, build, and maintain your company’s security system. It’s a critical advanced-level role on nearly any cybersecurity team.

Whether you’re just getting started in cybersecurity or already have experience working in the field, setting your sights on a security architect role could be a rewarding career goal to work toward.

What does a security architect do?

A security architect plays a critical management role within an organization’s information technology (IT) or cybersecurity department. In the role of a security architect, you’re tasked with keeping your organization safe from digital threats. Let’s take a closer look at what the job entails.

Tasks and responsibilities

The day-to-day tasks of a security architect will vary depending on the industry, size of the company, and the current state of the company’s security infrastructure. Here are some tasks you might perform in this role:

  • Designing and updating overall security strategy

  • Budgeting for new security software or hardware

  • Managing security improvement projects

  • Overseeing security testing strategy, including vulnerability scanning and penetration testing

  • Performing regular threat analysis to keep up-to-date on the current security landscape

  • Managing a cybersecurity team

  • Ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations

Learn more about security architecture and why it’s important from Mark Buckwell, a security architect at IBM

video-placeholder
Loading...
Architecture forms the foundation of goods security.

Security architect skills

In this advanced-level role, many security architects have had years to develop a set of skills needed to be effective on the job. Even if you’re new to cybersecurity, you may already possess some of these technical and workplace skills, taken from real security architect job listings on LinkedIn.

Security architect technical skills

  • Cloud security: With many organizations working (at least in part) in the cloud, you’ll need to understand best practices for keeping cloud environments secure.

  • Network security: You’ll balance business and security requirements to ensure an organization’s network is both safe and functional.

  • Software development and DevSecOps: Experience in software development can empower you to more effectively implement security principles into the development process.

  • Identity and access management: It may be your job to protect data from unauthorized access while making that data accessible to those who need it.

  • Scripting language: The ability to write code in Python or PowerShell to automate tasks helps you work more efficiently.

  • Linux, Windows, and Mac operating systems: Depending on your organization, you may need to address security concerns unique to each operating system.

Security architect workplace skills

  • Collaboration: Security architects often work with company stakeholders to ensure the security infrastructure addresses business needs. 

  • Mentoring and coaching: You may be tasked with managing a security team or training new cybersecurity professionals.

  • Written and verbal communication: As a driver of security policy, you’ll often need to document your work and communicate complex topics to colleagues with non-technical backgrounds.

  • Problem solving: Maintaining an organization’s security means staying one step ahead of hackers and other threats. 

  • Project management: Understanding project management can help you oversee the implementation of new security products, procedures, or technologies.

  • Integrity: As a high-level security professional, you may have access to the same sensitive information you’ve been hired to protect. Furthermore, others might look to you for what is or is not acceptable behavior.

Security architect vs. security engineer: What’s the difference?

A security architect creates the vision for a company’s security systems. It’s then the job of the security engineer to figure out how to implement that vision. If a security architect decides to add a new security tool to the infrastructure, the security engineer would be responsible for installing and configuring it. 

Read more about what it’s like to work as a security engineer (and how to get started). 

Placeholder

Why pursue a career in security architecture

Working as a security architect means taking a more strategic role on your organization’s cybersecurity team. If you enjoy working with others to solve complex problems and don’t mind taking a step back from hands-on technical work, a career in security architecture could be a good fit.

Security architect salary

Security architects are often among the highest-paid members of a cybersecurity team. The average base salary for a security architect in the US is $153,702, according to Glassdoor data (September 2021). Your actual salary will depend on your company, location, and level of experience, among other factors.

Job outlook

Cybersecurity jobs, including cybersecurity architect, are projected to grow by 31 percent between 2019 and 2029, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s much faster than the average rate of growth for all occupations (4 percent). 

In many parts of the US, there are more cybersecurity job openings than there are qualified candidates. States like New York, California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland have the biggest cybersecurity talent gaps—and the most opportunities for those with the right skills [1].

Security architect career paths

Security architect is considered an advanced-level role within cybersecurity. Depending on your career goals, you might choose to pursue the management side of security by working for a larger company managing a larger team or target and work toward an executive security role.

You may also choose to specialize by further developing your security skills in a niche like cloud, network, or application security.  

How to become a security architect

Successful security architects are able to take a high-level view of an organization’s security needs and craft solutions to meet those needs. Becoming a security architect often means developing your security and leadership skills while gaining experience working with information security. If this sounds like a career for you, here’s an outline of how to get there.

1. Start with an entry-level cybersecurity job.

Most security architects move into the role after gaining several years of experience working in cybersecurity. Browse some job listings on LinkedIn, and you might see requirements ranging from three to eight years working in information security. Entry-level roles to look for include:

  • Cybersecurity analyst

  • IT auditor

  • Security specialist

  • Incident responder

After gaining a year or two of experience, you might move into roles like penetration tester, cybersecurity consultant, or security engineer on your professional path toward becoming a security architect.

2. Consider a degree.

Some 95 percent of security architect job listings request at least a bachelor’s degree. Twenty-three percent ask for a graduate degree [2]. While it is possible to get your first job in cybersecurity without a degree, having one could open up more opportunities for advancement and make you a more competitive candidate in your job search.

By earning a degree in computer science, cybersecurity, information technology, or a related field, you can build some of the foundational IT and security skills recruiters are looking for.

3. Develop your cybersecurity skills.

If you’ve worked in IT before, you may already have some of the technical skills needed to become a security architect. But even if you’re completely new to cybersecurity, you can start developing these skills through online courses, bootcamps, or cybersecurity degree programs.

Read more: 15 Essential Skills for Cybersecurity Analysts

4. Get certified.

Another way to gain new skills (and validate those skills to hiring managers) is to earn a cybersecurity certification. Certifications that might prove beneficial to aspiring security architects include:

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

It’s common for cybersecurity professionals to earn more than one credential over the course of their careers. If you’re trying to break into the industry, consider an entry-level certification, like the Security+ or Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP). 

Learn more: 10 Popular Cybersecurity Certifications for 2021

Get started in cybersecurity

Ready to take the next step in your cybersecurity career? Earning the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate can help you develop the job-ready skills required for an entry-level role. You can learn at your own pace without having to quit your job or give up other life obligations.

Placeholder

IBM Cybersecurity Analyst

IBM

PROFESSIONAL CERTIFICATE

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Article sources

1. CyberSeek. "Cybersecurity Supply/Demand Heat Map, https://www.cyberseek.org/heatmap.html." Accessed September 9, 2021.

2. CyberSeek. "Cybersecurity Career Pathway, https://www.cyberseek.org/pathway.html." Accessed September 9, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 10, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Learn without limits