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, you’ll want to aim for relevant degree programs, internships, and certifications. Read on to learn more.

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

If you like solving puzzles, you might enjoy a career as a cryptographer. The cryptography field looks at how to keep information secure so that only the person who is supposed to see it can. Often the job involves cracking—or hacking—codes that encrypt data. Cryptographers use their knowledge of codes and computers to keep data and information safe.

In today’s online environment, cryptographers develop computer-based code to make the internet safer. To be successful in this role, you need to understand computer science, mathematics, and programming. You might pursue a degree, take an internship, or seek certification in data security and computer systems to find your place in this continually evolving field.

What is cryptography?

Cryptography is the practice of writing and solving codes. A cryptographer is responsible for converting 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 defense 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 both mathematics and codes, and enjoy the challenge of creating effective ciphers, cryptography could be a good fit.

What does a cryptographer do?

Depending on the organisation you work for, your day-to-day tasks as a cryptographer might include:

  • Decrypting and dissecting ciphers and algorithms used to encrypt data

  • Creating security systems to guard against unauthorised access and protect data

  • Developing protections to ensure critical information can’t be edited, copied, or deleted

  • Analysing mathematical or statistical codes to solve security issues

  • Testing data security systems to identify vulnerabilities

  • Developing and managing an organisation’s encryption technology

  • Learning advanced coding strategies and new encryption programming techniques

  • Providing technical support for hardware and software engineers

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

Cryptographer skills 

Cryptographers need a mix of technical and workplace skills to do their jobs well. A foundation in maths 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 have:

  • Linear algebra, number theory, and combinatorics

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

  • Operating systems

  • Security software and hardware

  • Computer architecture

Workplace skills

Cryptographers may work primarily with programmes, but they still need to be able to collaborate with others, such as information security analysts or security architects. Many employers will look for the following skills in cryptographer candidates: 

  • Strong communication 

  • Creative problem solving

  • Adaptability

  • Organisation

  • Ability to be self-directed

  • Trustworthiness

  • Attention to detail

Cryptographer salary

The average cryptographer salary in India is ₹21,47,954 or an equivalent hourly rate of ₹1,032.67, according to Salary Expert [1].

How to become a cryptographer

To become a cryptographer, you’ll need at least a computer science or mathematics degree to qualify for this role. It’s common for some cryptographers to continue to do graduate work, even continuing to a doctoral level, to develop expertise in encryption and decryption.

While a degree isn't always necessary in cybersecurity, most cryptographers find that college is an effective way to acquire technical skills and qualify for entry-level jobs that lead to cryptography positions.

1. Consider earning a degree.

Employers will typically require a cryptographer to have at least an undergraduate degree in computer science, mathematics, or a relevant field to be considered for the role. Having a degree may provide you with the necessary knowledge to enter this technical career because of the coursework that’s required. A successful cryptographer must know code systems, programming, and system architecture. 

2. Get work experience.

Cryptography is not typically an entry-level job; it usually requires five years of professional information security experience. After university, 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 a role as an intern. Many companies hire college students with interest in cybersecurity for internship programs. Some even involve providing research assistance to cryptology teams, which can help determine if you would enjoy the research aspect of a graduate program. 

4. Get certified.

Certification can show a prospective employer that 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 organise 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

Explore whether a career in cryptography could be right for you. Start developing the necessary skills with the Google Cybersecurity Professional Certificate. Learn in-demand skills and add a credential to your resume.

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

Article sources

  1. Salary Expert. “Cryptographer Salary India, https://www.salaryexpert.com/salary/job/cryptographer/india/.” Accessed February 23, 2023.

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