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A chief information security officer (CISO) oversees organization-wide information technology (IT) security issues. These advanced professionals create data management and security policies, manage IT security workers, and introduce new technologies.
Someone might become a CISO to earn more money and advance their career after gaining significant IT experience. The role offers high earning potential in an in-demand field.
This page describes a day in the life of a chief information security officer. We cover typical duties, responsibilities, employers, and skills. We also briefly describe what it takes to become a chief information security officer.
What Is a Chief Information Security Officer?
CISOs are highly skilled, educated, and experienced cybersecurity professionals at the management level. Chief information security officers primarily guide their organizations' data security practices, policies, goals, and procedures.
As companies increasingly depend on their IT systems to efficiently and effectively run their daily operations, the need has grown for this specialized role. CISOs interact with other executives and may report to a chief information officer or chief executive officer. They typically manage other cybersecurity professionals, like information security analysts and security software developers.
Becoming a CISO requires a bachelor's degree in a computer science-related field and at least five years of relevant professional experience. Some positions prefer or require significantly more work experience and a master's degree. A professional certification can also help open the door to chief information security officer opportunities.
What a Chief Information Security Officer Does
A day in the life of a CISO varies depending on their position, employer, and industry. Their role may grow and shift over time as they develop experience. Chief information security officer is a high-level role that assumes the main responsibility for their organization's data protection and management.
Because of the high level of responsibility, this role can be stressful, especially amid data breaches. People who may thrive in this career include experienced IT professionals with strong leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.
Keep reading to learn about some popular key duties of a chief information security officer.
Primary Responsibilities of CISOs
Secondary Responsibilities of CISOs
The Day to Day for a Chief Information Security Officer
The day to day of a chief information security officer can vary significantly based on work sector and specialization. Use the sample schedule below for an idea of what to expect.
Where Chief Information Security Officers Work
A day in the life of a chief information security officer varies depending on where they work. Location can also affect specialization, pay, and job duties.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer and information systems managers, which encompasses CISO roles, can find the most job opportunities in states like California, Texas, and New York. Florida and Massachusetts also employ many CISOs.
More job opportunities for CISOs typically appear in cities rather than rural areas. The top-paying metro areas for computer and information systems managers include New York-Newark-Jersey City, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim.
CISOs work in nearly every part of the economy. Common work environments include the computer systems design, information, and finance and insurance industries. The management and manufacturing sectors also employ many CISOs.
The job of a chief information security officer can change depending on company size and scope. With large organizations, a CISO may spend most of their time working with other executives on big-picture information security issues. In smaller businesses, a CISO may perform some of the hands-on technical work to keep their organization protected.
Preparing for a Career as a CISO
Prepare to spend a significant amount of time and work if you want a career as a CISO. The path to becoming a chief information security officer is not short, and it is not an entry-level job. Most CISOs possess bachelor's degrees in computer science or cybersecurity-related fields.
Many employers prefer candidates with master's degrees, and earning an advanced degree can open the door to better salaries and more job opportunities. Consider a graduate degree in business administration, IT management, or another computer science or cybersecurity-related field. Many IT professionals earn master's degrees while working full time.
Earning a professional certification can also help a CISO qualify for more roles. As an executive-level job, a CISO typically needs at least five years of relevant professional experience.
Professional Spotlight: Steve Tcherchian, CISO
What's a typical day like for you?
It is not suitable for everyone. I am the epitome of a morning person. My typical wake-up time is 3:30-4:00 a.m. I begin my day by catching up on overnight messages and phone calls from Europe and the Middle East. My personal time is 5:00-6:30 a.m.
This is where I prioritize my health and mental well-being by going to the gym regardless of how I feel. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. Before I drop my daughter off, I'll spend time with her making lunch and preparing for her day. Then the grind begins.
Meetings, customer calls, and, on occasion, fires, as well as dealing with my to-do list — focusing on the most important items for the day that will move the needle. I enjoy what I do and the people I work with. I wouldn't change a thing about it for the world.
What other teams do you work with on a regular basis?
CISOs are classified into two types: inward and outward. I'm as outward as you can get. At our company, I work across all teams to establish the culture, set direction, and carry out strategic initiatives.
But I do just as much for our customer base and the industry on the outside. I work with our customers on strategy and problem-solving, advising on best practices and validating efforts. I also frequently present at various security conferences around the world and am a huge proponent of best practices in security and privacy.
Is there a lot of collaboration in your role? Or is it mostly independent work?
There must be. The role of the CISO cannot be compartmentalized. This is a common error I see in the CISO role. CISOs who are overly technical tend to work on technology with their door closed rather than spreading their knowledge, vision, and strategy throughout the organization. To be successful, a CISO must collaborate and work across teams.
Do you work in an office or from home (or a hybrid)?
We've been working from home for more than two years. I couldn't go on like this. You can't keep a tiger in a cage and expect it to thrive. Our company allows for the flexibility of hybrid work.
Personally, when I'm not traveling, I try to spend as much time as possible in the office and encourage my teams to do the same. We do this through a variety of fun activities such as lunches, team competitions, events, and more.
What's your favorite part of being a chief information security officer? The most challenging part?
I mentioned it before, and it bears repeating that it is what I do and who I do it with. People are my favorite. People are also the most difficult aspect. That is not meant negatively, but it is the truth. As a CISO, you can put all the fancy technology in place you want, but if you don't train your people on security awareness and make them part of the solution, people will always be a CISO's weakest link.
Any other insights about your day to day as a chief information security officer that may help people considering this career path?
For anyone interested in pursuing this career path, I am always happy to share experiences and coach on the best approaches. My door is always open.
For whom do you think this career is a good fit? Why?
You must be self-motivated. You can't wait for things to come to you in this role. You must be proactive in your search for what lurks around the corner. Get good at networking, meet like-minded people, and put yourself in situations where you can be as strategic as you are technical.
Steve Tcherchian is CISO and Chief Product Officer at XYPRO, a leading cybersecurity solutions company based in Simi Valley, California. He is on the ISSA CISO Advisory Board, the NonStop Under 40 executive board, and the ANSI X9 Security Standards Committee.
Tcherchian is a regular contributor to and presenter at the EC-Council. With more than 20 years in the cybersecurity field, Steve is responsible for the strategy, innovation, and development of XYPRO's security product line, as well as overseeing XYPRO's risk, compliance, and security. He works closely with XYPRO's HR department to ensure that it, too, remains cybersafe. Steve is often quoted in major media on cybersecurity issues and events.
Learn More About Chief Information Security Officers
Questions About a Day in the Life of a CISO
What does a CISO do from day to day?
The day to day of a CISO can vary significantly depending on their workplace. At large organizations, they may focus on leadership strategies and developing information security best practices and procedures. At smaller companies, CISOs may take a more hands-on role in technical information security practices.
How many hours does a CISO typically work?
Chief information security officers typically work full-time schedules in office environments. Some CISOs work more than full time.
What are some unusual tasks a CISO might have to do?
A less common day in the life of a chief information security officer may include responding to a security breach, coordinating disaster recovery projects, and overseeing training.
Is being a chief information security officer stressful?
The day to day of a CISO may or may not be stressful depending on the position, employer, and industry. As a high-level role that includes significant responsibility, being a CISO can be stressful, especially after a data breach.
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