What Is a Security Engineer? 2021 Career Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 4, 2021

Learn what it takes to build and maintain cybersecurity systems.

A woman in a blue shirt and glasses working as a security engineer stands by her desk holding a tablet and smiling at the camera.

Like other engineers, security engineers build things—in this case, they build security systems. Security engineers are tasked with implementing and monitoring security controls to protect an organization’s data from cyber attacks, loss, or unauthorized access. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about:

  • What you can expect from a job as a security engineer

  • Why you might consider a career in security engineering 

  • How to get a job as a security engineer

What does a security engineer do?

As a security engineer, it’s your job to keep a company’s security systems up and running. This might involve implementing and testing new security features, planning computer and network upgrades, troubleshooting, and responding to security incidents.

Watch this video to learn more about the work from Rob, a security engineer at Google.

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Rob at Google discusses what a security engineer does

Security engineers may also be called cybersecurity engineers, information systems security engineers, information security engineers, or network security engineers.

Tasks and responsibilities

The day-to-day tasks you can expect to perform as a security engineer will vary depending on your company, industry, and the size of your security team. To give you a better idea of what the job entails, here are some tasks and responsibilities found on real security engineer job listings on LinkedIn:

  • Identifying security measures to improve incident response

  • Responding to security incidents

  • Coordinating incident response across teams

  • Performing security assessments and code audits

  • Developing technical solutions to security vulnerabilities

  • Researching new attack vectors and developing threat models

  • Automating security improvements

Industry and workplace

You’ll work with technology and a range of technical skills as a security engineer. But that doesn’t mean you have to work in a technology company. Reports of internet crime rose by 300,000 in 2020, according to an FBI report. Reported losses due to cybercrime exceeded $4.2 billion [1].

As information security continues to grow in importance across industries, so too does the need for security engineers. This means you can find jobs in healthcare, finance, government, manufacturing, or retail, to name a few.

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

Both security analysts and engineers are responsible for protecting their organization’s computers, networks, and data. While there might be some overlap in their tasks, these two jobs are distinct. 

Security engineers build the systems used to protect computer systems and networks and track incidents. Security analysts monitor the network to detect and respond to security breaches. Many security engineers start out as security analysts. 

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Read more: How to Become an Information Security Analyst: Salary, Skills, and More

Why pursue a career in security engineering?

Working as a security engineer gives you the opportunity to make a big impact at your company. Your efforts can help safeguard your organization’s profits and reputation. You’ll also work in an evolving environment where new threats emerge regularly. This can be an exciting option if you enjoy a challenge and love to learn.

Security engineer salary

Your deep knowledge of computers, networks, and security best practices is often well-compensated in the world of cybersecurity. Here’s a look at average salaries for security engineers in the US according to several top sites (as of July 2021). Keep in mind that factors such as location, experience, industry, and education can impact how much you make.

GlassdoorPayScaleCyberseek
$109,920$93,931$106,000

Job outlook

Jobs in the cybersecurity sector 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 (four 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, and Virginia have the biggest cybersecurity talent gaps—and the most opportunities for those with the right skills [2].

Security engineer career path

Security engineers might start off as information security analysts or penetration testers before building the knowledge and skills needed to design and implement security systems. After gaining experience, you may go on to become a security architect, IT security manager, director of security, or even a chief information security officer. 

How to become a cybersecurity engineer

Security engineering is typically considered a mid-level IT role. This means that working toward a career as a security engineer means building a strong foundation in both IT and security skills and gaining on-the-job experience. If a career in security engineering is a good fit for you, these are the steps you can take to get there.

Read more: 10 Cybersecurity Jobs: Entry-Level and Beyond

1. Develop your cybersecurity skills.

Security engineers need a deep understanding of a range of security tools and technologies, as well as an up-to-date view of the threat landscape. Here are some key skills to build through online courses, bootcamps, or cybersecurity degree programs.

  • Coding: Ability to write secure code in languages like Python, C++, Java, Ruby, and Bash means you can automate tasks for more efficient security practices.

  • Networking and network security: Many vulnerabilities are found in networks, so it’s essential that you know how to secure a network architecture. Be sure you’re familiar with routing protocols, encryption, firewalls, and virtual private networks (VPNs).

  • Penetration testing: Penetration tests help you identify weaknesses in current security systems so you can recommend upgrades and fixes.

  • Operating systems: Depending on the organization you work for, you may be tasked with securing environments running on Windows, MacOS, or Linux operating systems.

  • Endpoint security: As more and more people work from home, you’ll need to be able to secure endpoints in multiple locations using firewalls and other technologies.

  • Up-to-date knowledge of security trends and hacker tactics: The world of cybersecurity is constantly evolving. Stay ahead of hackers and other bad actors by keeping up with the latest in the industry.

  • Intrusion detection and intrusion prevention systems: While analysts may be the ones monitoring network activity on an IDS or IPS, you should know how they work and how to troubleshoot them.

  • Database platforms: Data is often a company’s most valuable asset. Since it’s your job to protect it, you’ll want to understand how data is structured, stored, and accessed.

  • Workplace skills: As a security engineer, you’ll often need to collaborate with a security team, present findings and recommendations to executives, and encourage good security practices across teams. This makes soft skills like communication, leadership, problem solving, and collaboration crucial.  

If you’ve worked in IT before, chances are you already possess some of these skills. If you’re new to the field, start learning job-ready cybersecurity skills from the industry leaders at IBM with the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate.

2. Get certified.

Getting certified in cybersecurity can help you develop key skills and make yourself more attractive to recruiters and hiring managers. Fifty-nine percent of cybersecurity job listings request at least one certification, according to a study by security consulting company Burning Glass Technologies [3]. 

Some of the most requested certifications for security engineers include Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), CompTIA Security+, and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). 

Security engineer certification path

Many cybersecurity certifications, including the highly sought after CISSP, require several years of industry experience to qualify. If you’re just starting out in cybersecurity, consider an early-career credential, like the CompTIA Security+ or GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC). After gaining a few years of experience as a cybersecurity analyst, consider a mid-career certification, like the CompTIA PenTest+, Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP), or Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA).

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3. Start with an entry-level IT or cybersecurity position.

Many security engineering roles require previous experience in IT and cybersecurity. Many engineers start out in entry-level IT positions before shifting into security as a cybersecurity analyst or penetration tester. Starting in IT can help you gain hands-on experience and build trust within your organization before you take on more security responsibilities.

4. Join an organization for security professionals.

Join a professional organization for more opportunities to build your skills and network with other professionals. By networking, you can keep up to date with what’s happening in cybersecurity, including new job opportunities that might not get listed on public job boards. Some organizations to consider include:

  • SANS

  • ISACA

  • CompTIA

  • Center for Internet Security (CIS)

  • (ISC)²

Do I need a degree to become a security engineer?

About 66 percent of online job listings for security engineers request a bachelor’s degree, according to data from Cyberseek. Another 22 percent of listings request a master’s degree [4]. While a bachelor’s degree is the most common entry-level qualification, it is possible to have a successful career as a security engineer without one, so long as you have the right skills. Common majors for cybersecurity professionals include computer science, cybersecurity, or information technology.

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Next steps

Take the next step toward a career in cybersecurity by enrolling in the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate. Gain hands-on experience with industry-specific security tools and virtual labs as you learn from experts at a top cybersecurity company. Upon completion, you’ll have a credential for your resume.

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IBM Cybersecurity Analyst

IBM

PROFESSIONAL CERTIFICATE

Related articles

Article sources

1. FBI. "2020 Internet Crime Report, https://www.ic3.gov/Media/PDF/AnnualReport/2020_IC3Report.pdf." Accessed July 20, 2021.

2. Cyberseek. "Cybersecurity Supply/Demand Heat Map, https://www.cyberseek.org/heatmap.html" Accessed July 20, 2021.

3. Burning Glass Technologies. "Recruiting Watchers for the Virtual Walls: The State of Cybersecurity Hiring, https://www.burning-glass.com/research-project/cybersecurity/." Accessed July 20, 2021.

4. Cyberseek. "Cybersecurity Career Pathway, https://www.cyberseek.org/pathway.html." Accessed July 20, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 4, 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.

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