How to Get Into Cybersecurity Without a Degree

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

With soaring demand for skilled professionals, cybersecurity is a growing area of employment. Find out how you can find a role without a degree.

[Featured Image] Coworkers use their cybersecurity skills to assess threats while reviewing information on a clipboard in an office’s technology room.

Cybersecurity is an area of significant employment growth, with a growing need for individuals, businesses, and organizations of all kinds to protect themselves and their customers from hackers, cyberattacks, and security breaches. What’s more, research shows that the need for skilled professionals is outpacing the number of individuals who possess the suitable skill set, suggesting ample opportunity for those who do.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates 32 percent of industry growth in the decade spanning 2022 to 2032, a significantly faster rate compared to the average across all jobs. Along with an increase in positions this will bring, the average salary in the cybersecurity industry is $112,000 per year [1].

In light of this, more and more people are looking to get into the field of cybersecurity, and colleges are creating and funding more cybersecurity courses at all levels. Despite the apparent growth and interest, however, employers struggle to recruit, with a skills gap between role and candidate, leaving many positions unfilled.

With the number of jobs waiting for skilled professionals and the fact that technical industries like cybersecurity are so fast-moving, more and more people are looking at alternative options to a degree course and entering the industry by other means.

In this article, you can explore ways to get into cybersecurity without a degree and discover some entry-level positions in cybersecurity to help you begin your career.

What does a cybersecurity professional do?

As a cybersecurity professional, you could perform many different types of tasks, including creating and developing tools and programs to keep organizations safe. Because cybersecurity covers a diverse range of roles that protect an organization's systems, data, networks, and devices from cyberattacks, you may have various tasks depending on your precise role. For example, you may implement security systems or work in a position dedicated to uncovering new types of threats. You’ll also find some non-technical cybersecurity roles, such as writing cybersecurity policies and selling cybersecurity insurance.

How to get into cybersecurity without a degree

A degree is an excellent way to gain knowledge and develop skills, but it’s only one of the methods available to prepare for a cybersecurity career. Employers in cybersecurity often focus on the relevant skills you possess. Many people enter the profession without a degree, choosing instead to gain practical experience, self-study, and relevant certifications relating to the latest cybersecurity technology.

Let’s view some steps you can take to enter this fast-paced field without a degree.

Step 1: Get experience

In this fast-changing technical role, experience is essential. Some employers may give on-the-job training, but it’s still beneficial to have experience before you apply for a role to maximize your chances. Look for opportunities to gain experience in programming, analysis, database administration, or an IT role, if not cybersecurity directly.

Experience can come from something other than paid work. Look for volunteer work or even get experience through personal projects. Gaining experience in an entry-level role, such as a systems administrator, junior penetration tester, or security specialist, can help you build your skills and professional background.

Step 2: Develop essential skills

Employers look for cybersecurity skills that are a mixture of technical and workplace skills. While cybersecurity is a specialized profession and requires you to understand programming, have knowledge of hardware and software, and network security, you also need the workplace skills necessary to work with others, solve problems, and think and work under pressure.

Below, you’ll find some essential capabilities to focus on developing:

Technical skills

  • Cloud security

  • Wireless security

  • Network security

  • Operating systems

  • Risk analysis

  • Data analysis

  • Programming and coding

  • Ethical hacking

  • Threat modeling

Workplace skills

  • Attention to detail

  • Creativity

  • Problem-solving

  • Leadership

  • Working under pressure

  • Decision-making

  • Critical thinking 

  • Communication

  • Curiosity

Step 3: Build a portfolio

A portfolio is a visual tool that allows you to showcase your work to potential employers by collating it all in one place, which you can send via a link. You’ll build your portfolio over time and keep adding to it. Include personal projects, projects you’ve worked on through work experience, courses, certifications, and bootcamps.

Step 4: Self-study

Self-study is an excellent learning strategy that offers many options to choose from. It’s highly flexible, allowing you to take on as much as you want to around your schedule, learning in a format that suits you best. You may opt for books, podcasts, online courses, or video tutorials. You’ll find many free options, but it’s vital to make sure you use credible sources.

Step 5: Attend a bootcamp

Bootcamps are a great way of building your practical skills and knowledge. Bootcamps are usually run online by industry professionals, allowing you to learn and practice technical skills in a flexible way that suits your schedule. Bootcamps are available at a range of levels, and often, beginner courses allow you to gain the skills you need for an entry-level role rather quickly.

Step 6: Get certified

Consider building your resume with tangible credentials that validate your skill level. Ccertification offers an excellent option to achieve this. You’ll find a range of cybersecurity certificates available, covering a wealth of areas.

Some certifications you might consider include:

  • CompTIA PenTest+

  • CISCO Certified Network Associate

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

  • GIAC Security Essential Certification (GSEC)

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

Step 7: Network

Building a solid network of cybersecurity professionals helps you learn new things, gain insight about working in the industry, access resources, and provide connections you might be able to use to gain employment. Check out professional organizations and the National Cybersecurity Society, online communities like NetSec Focus, and use professional networking platforms like LinkedIn. Attend networking events, conferences, and workshops in person.

Step 8: Find a mentor

Learning from others in the know by finding a mentor helps to boost your skills, gives you personal insight into a role, and allows you to avoid mistakes that your mentor made and can warn you about. A mentor may also answer any questions you have and advise you on an industry they know well. You’ll find formal mentoring programs where you work with a mentor, or it can be an informal relationship.

Step 9: Create your resume

Once you have the skills, experience, and certifications you need to start applying for entry-level positions in cybersecurity, it’s time to create a resume that documents everything you have to offer employers. Include all experience, whether paid or not, and clearly outline your relevant skills throughout your resume with a dedicated section for your certifications.

It’s essential to tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for, so use appropriate keywords and specifics and ensure you include everything the job description asks for.

Entry-level positions in cybersecurity

Entry-level positions are your first step, and you’ll find various cybersecurity options. Some possible jobs you could pursue, along with the average annual base salary of each, are listed below.

  • Cybersecurity analyst: $98,725

  • Information security analyst: $112,648

  • Network security engineer: $126,212

  • Systems administrator: $92,582

  • Junior penetration tester: $98,574

  • Incident responder: $49,194

  • IT auditor: $97,722

  • Access manager: $72,849

*All salary information is sourced from Glassdoor as of February 2024.

Get started with Coursera.

You have many available paths to choose from when starting your cybersecurity career without a degree. Self-study is an excellent starting point and a way to learn new skills and enhance your resume. For example, you can learn the fundamentals in a course like Foundations of Cybersecurity, offered by Google. Or, you can boost your resume with credentials after completing the Google Cyber Security Professional Certificate or the Microsoft Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate—all available on Coursera.

Article sources

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Information Security Analysts,” Accessed February 27, 2024.

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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.