What Is a Security Engineer? 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what it takes to build and maintain cybersecurity systems.

[Featured image] A security engineer stands in front of a desk with a light, laptop, and desktop computer in an open office with lots of windows.

Like other engineers, security engineers build things—in this case, they build security systems. Security engineers implement and monitor security controls to protect an organisation’s data from cyber attacks, loss, or unauthorised 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 involved as a security engineer from Rob, a security engineer at Google:

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 in 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. Internet fraud in the United Kingdom rose by 25 per cent between March 2020 and March 2022 according to the Office of National Statistics [1]. The UK lost £1.7 billion to cybercrime between January 1 and June 30, 2022 alone [2]. 

As information security grows in importance across industries, so does the need for security engineers. This means you can find jobs in health care, finance, non-profit, 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 organisation’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. 


Why pursue a career in security engineering?

As a security engineer, you have the opportunity to create a significant impact at your company. Your efforts can help safeguard your organisation’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 basic salaries for security engineers in the UK according to several top sites (as of April 2023). Keep in mind that factors such as location, experience, industry, and education can impact how much you make.


Job outlook

According to a 2022  report conducted by Ipsos for the UK Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology, the demand for cybersecurity jobs in the UK has increased dramatically in the last year with a rise of 58 per cent [3]. Many industries have reported job openings that are hard to fill due to a talent gap. The study shows that 44 per cent of positions come under this bracket, with many companies choosing to outsource cybersecurity responsibilities.

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 chief information security officer [4]. 

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.

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 degrees.

  • 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 organisation 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 means workplace skills like communication, leadership, problem solving, and collaboration are crucial.  

2. Get qualified.

Getting professionally certified in cybersecurity can help you develop key skills and make yourself more attractive to recruiters and employers. In the UK, 62 per cent of cybersecurity firms had employees who were working towards cybersecurity professional certifications [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).


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 organisation before you take on more security responsibilities.

4. Join an organisation for security professionals.

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

  • The Chartered Institute of Information Security (CIISec)

  • Security Industry Authority (SIA)

  • British Security Industry Association (BSIA)

  • National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)

  • The UK Cyber Security Council 

Next steps

To take the next step toward a career in cybersecurity, start by learning the basics with a Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate. Prepare for an in-demand role through this series of courses from the experts at Google whilst earning a qualification to add to your CV.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Article sources


Office of National Statistics. "Nature of Fraud and Computer Misuse in England and Wales: Year Ending March 2022, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/natureoffraudandcomputermisuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2022." Accessed October 31, 2022.

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