I really wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self these 6 things I wish I knew before starting cyber security. I obviously can’t go back in time so I guess this post is the next best thing. I have learned a lot over the years in cyber security, not only about cyber security topics but also, I have improved how I learn, approach problems, and how I manage time.
Lesson 1: You Will Never Learn It All
Especially in the beginning, it is very easy to go overboard with trying to learn every single concept as quickly as humanly possible. This is just not a good long-term strategy. It’s great to have a desire to learn, but be sure to balance this out with other things. Think about this like a crash diet. You can really be in a good groove for days, weeks, or months but what is going to happen when you can’t keep it up?
Lesson 2 Learn How to Avoid Burnout in Cyber Security
If you go overboard, you’re going to get burned out. Plain and simple. We all have different tolerances to burnout, but if you study 24/7, work crazy hours, and devote your whole 24-hour day to cyber security it’s going to happen to you. The best way to combat burnout is to put it all into perspective, you will never learn it all in a month and at some point, your work phone needs to be turned off. Create a plan for your learning path and enjoy the ride. This is one of the number one things I tell people when they ask me how to learn cyber security.
65% of security professionals considered quitting their jobs due to burnout
The Ponemon Institute conducted a recent study that found that 65% of security professionals considered quitting their jobs due to burnout. This is mostly due to the culture and the environment of cyber security programs. There is really a “always on” environment and this is not healthy. Most cyber security professionals are always working and when they finish work, they are studying for their next cert.
Burnout: Workplace Stress That Has Not Been Successfully Managed
A 2019 study by The World Health Organization (WHO) classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”. WHO states “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” “Successfully managed” is the key phrase here. We need to identify the conditions for burnout early on and develop a strategy to successfully manage it.
Lesson 3: There Is No Secret Sauce or Silver Bullet to Teach You Everything
There really is no secret course or book that will teach you everything you need to know. Many people starting their cyber security journey think there is one course or one book that will teach them everything. Accept that this knowledge comes with time and practice.
The Secret is Persistence
If this is something that is stressing you out, don’t worry. Everybody is in the same boat here. We are all learning with the same materials that are available to us all. If you really want to know about the secret sauce, it is persistence. Persistence is key to learning cyber security and being successful in the field.
Lesson 4: Avoid Jumping Between Topics and Courses
Let me be honest with you, I get really excited at the thought of starting a new course or certification. Does that make me weird? Let me give you an example, when I first joined Cybrary and Pluralsight, I was really excited to dig in. I cannot tell you how many courses I started and then watched maybe the first hour before jumping into another course and doing the same thing.
It’s very easy to fall into this trap, the course sounds very appealing, the topic is new to you, the thumbnail is flashy and then you lose interest. You’re not learning anything by jumping around this much. Stick with a topic until you at least understand the basics before moving on.
Lesson 5: Learn Early on That Google is Your Best Friend
Google is your best friend in cyber security and every technical field. Early on, many people get stuck on a problem and wait far too long before consulting google for an answer. Using Google is not admitting defeat in any way. I Google things I’m working on constantly, even stuff I know how to do pretty well. Even if you think you know something google it. There is no harm in double-checking or confirming your thoughts.
If I could just google it, then why am I getting certifications, taking courses, or going to college?
If you understand the topic you are googling well, you will be able to craft a search, and be able to quickly discern which information is relevant to your problem. Google does not hold the answers to every single problem. But there is so much information out there that you can identify a similar problem that has been addressed and apply your knowledge and understanding in how to implement a solution.
Become an Expert Googler
Every time you google something, even if is something that you know pretty well, you will learn something. I’m going to tell you something now that is very important to understand, if you’re stuck on something don’t just waste time. Google it, and spend that time learning instead of bashing your head against the wall. Everyone in the industry will tell you they are master Googlers.
Lesson 6: Just start!
Queue the “Just Do It” meme. But in all seriousness, people get hung up on execution. If you really want a career in cyber security, or a specific certification just do it! Action will always beat inaction. Personally, I really wish I got more involved with the community and doing ctfs earlier on.
Cut the Excuses
Hopefully, I don’t sound like a motivational speaker yet. But all too often I hear people say ” well, I’ll start studying next year after BLANK” or “I’m too busy now I’ll start it later, I just need to find the right course”. Time is your friend, start now. This applies to everything.
If time is isn’t the issue and the problem is more motivation-based, you really need to evaluate if you want to get into cyber security or not. If you’re not motivated to get started, then how will you be motivated to go to work, or to get new certs if your employer requires them?
Hopefully, you can take some good information away from these six lessons. If even just one person reading this takes these lessons to heart, I think I have done my job here. The key takeaway here is to clearly define your goal and go after it. Good Luck!