What Is a Cryptographer? 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A cryptographer is a data security professional with considerable expertise in encryption. To pursue this career path, aim for relevant degree programs, internships, and certifications. Read on to learn more.

[Featured image] Two cryptographers work together on an encryption algorithm on a computer monitor.

If you like solving puzzles, you might enjoy a career as a cryptographer. Cryptography is the field that aims to keep information secure so only the person who is supposed to see it can. The job often involves cracking—or hacking—codes that encrypt data. Cryptographers use their coding and computer knowledge to keep data and information safe.

To become a cryptographer, plan to develop strong computer-based skills, such as the ability to write code and decipher data, through a degree program, internship, or certification program.

Cryptology is one of many jobs in information security. The Government of Canada Job Bank predicts that the need for cryptographers over the next few years is moderate to good in several provinces [1]. Of course, it takes training to learn how cryptography works and how it fits into an information security infrastructure. You need to understand computer science, mathematics, and programming.

Data security is complex and constantly changing. At the same time, those wanting to beat that security are also continually improving their ability to break into computer systems and steal data. Fortunately, several types of degrees and certificate programs can prepare you for this fascinating career.

What is cryptography?

Cryptography is the practice of writing and solving codes. A cryptographer converts plain data into an encrypted format. Cryptography itself is an ancient field. For millennia, people have used codes to protect their secrets. Modern cryptography is the same; the codes' nature and methods used to encrypt and then decrypt data are different.

Cryptographers are critical members of the information security defence team. They study encryption methods to find new ways to keep data secure while creating keys to the code so that the right users can access the information they need. If you have solid data and analytical skills, are interested in mathematics and codes, and enjoy the challenge of creating effective ciphers, cryptography could be a good fit.

Learn more about what cryptography involves from Dan Boneh, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University:

What does a cryptographer do?

Depending on the organization you work for, your daily tasks as a cryptographer might include:

  • Developing cryptographic code

  • Implementing and optimizing cryptographic algorithms for your company's systems

  • Improving the speed of cryptographic capabilities

  • Collaborating with information security analysts, security architects, and other cross-functional teams

  • Identifying weaknesses in current security solutions

  • Testing cryptology theories

  • Providing technical support for hardware and software engineers

What skills does a cryptographer need?

Cryptographers need a mix of technical and workplace skills to do their jobs well. A foundation in math and programming is critical; working with users to help them keep their data staff is almost as important.  

Technical skills

Cryptography is a technical position that requires a firm foundation in math and computer science. If you're interested in pursuing a career in cryptography, here are some skills you should work on:

  • Linear algebra, number theory, and combinatorics

  • Programming (Python, Java, or C++)

  • Operating systems

  • Security software and hardware

  • Computer architecture

Workplace skills

Cryptography involves technical skills, but your workplace skills also matter. Many employers will look for the following skills in cryptographer candidates:

  • Written and oral communication: Clear language can help identify security problems and get solutions in use because it reduces errors when setting up security systems. It can also help ensure that everyone in an organization understands and follows information security procedures.

  • Critical thinking: As a cryptographer, you'll often be responsible for finding optimal solutions to complex security problems in an evolving security landscape.

  • Self-directed and adaptable: Encryption technology and cybersecurity threats are always changing, so you'll benefit from being adaptable and self-directed in keeping up with the latest trends and technologies.

Cryptographer salary

According to Glassdoor, the average annual base salary for a cryptography engineer in Canada is $60,940 [1]. The amount you make may vary based on your education level, amount of experience, location, and industry. 

How to become a cryptographer

Cryptographers need to understand computer science and mathematics at a college level. Also, most computer security jobs require an undergraduate degree, and some may even require a master's or doctoral degree. Some cryptographers continue to do graduate work, even continuing to a doctoral level, to develop deep expertise in encryption and decryption.

1. Consider earning a degree in cybersecurity or computer science.

A cryptographer needs familiarity with code systems, programming, and system architecture. These courses are covered in most university computer science and applied mathematics programs.

Employers often prefer candidates with at least a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity or a related topic. These might include computer science, data science, mathematics, computer engineering, or computer programming.  Earning a master's or doctoral degree may help you advance your career faster and will help you improve your knowledge of cryptography.

2. Start with an internship or entry-level job in information security.

Cryptography is not typically an entry-level job. After college, gain the experience needed by looking for a security analyst or system analyst role.

Another way to build work experience and learn more about cryptography is to take on an internship. Many companies hire college students with an interest in cybersecurity for internship programs. 

3. Get certified. 

Certification can show a prospective employer you have the knowledge to complement your work experience. Suppose you want to learn cryptology for a particular operating platform or use a particular technology. In that case, a certification program may be the way to organize your coursework and demonstrate your accomplishments.

Some common certifications among cryptographers include:

  • Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES)

  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

  • CompTIA Security +

Get started on Coursera.

If you’re interested in starting a career in cybersecurity, consider the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate. Start building cybersecurity skills with this program to help prepare you for an entry-level role. Learn at your own pace and earn a credential for your resume.

Article sources


Government of Canada Job Bank. "Cipher Expert in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/outlook-occupation/5476/ca." Accessed April 22, 2024.

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