How to Become a Security Engineer
| Michael Cooke, PhD, EIT Modified on March 23, 2022
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As the world continues to increase reliance on computers, cybersecurity remains important. Becoming a cybersecurity professional is not easy. However, this career can deliver high salaries and a sense of purpose.
Security engineers earn an average annual salary around $73,000 as of February 2022, according to Payscale. By midcareer (5 - 9 years of experience), the average salary is $103,484.00 per year. The average compensation approaches $120,000 annually for experienced professionals.
Engineers may follow a career path in information security, cybersecurity, or IT, leading to a security engineering position.
What Is a Security Engineer?
Today, almost all organizations need computing professionals to manage their hardware and software resources. A critical part of security engineering roles is ensuring that only approved persons can access the company's data, information, and programs.
Depending on the industry and size of the organization, securing software assets may require many professionals, each with a specific focus. For example, different people may be responsible for monitoring internal workflow, issuing and managing employee credentials, and devising defenses to ward off cyberattacks. Security engineers may perform all of these activities.
Education Requirements for Security Engineers
Securing computing resources requires a deep understanding of how networks work and communicate. Therefore, most employers require that security engineers have at least a bachelor's degree in a computing degree discipline. Common majors include computer science, computer programming, computer networking, information systems, information security and cybersecurity.
It is possible to break into the security field with an associate degree, but you may earn a lower salary than colleagues with more advanced degrees. Whether you have an associate or bachelor's degree, you may need or want to continue your education.
Having an advanced engineering degree may open up higher salaries or executive positions. People in these roles often have a master's degree or doctorate.
Continued education will be necessary throughout a security engineer's career. Education coupled with experience may lead to career advancement. Earning certifications can demonstrate expertise in specific areas. Security engineers should continually educate themselves on industry topics like new hacking techniques.
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Required Experience for Security Engineers
In addition to a bachelor's degree in computing, security engineers also need experience. The necessary experience varies depending on the employer, but most require some experience in another security position.
An example career path may be joining a company as an information security analyst and then moving into a security architect role after some time. In this position, you will begin to aid in constructing security systems to thwart bad actors, such as hackers.
It may take 1-5 years of relevant experience to become a security engineer. An advanced degree coupled with an internship can put you on a faster track.
Many companies and government organizations recruit students for cybersecurity internships. Typically, organizations seek students in the last two years of their degree program. Performing well in an internship may lead to employment consideration.
Depending on whether you intern with a company or agency will dictate the level of work you will perform. For example, smaller companies are more likely to expect you to take on an active role. For example, you may work on actual threats or help develop software tools to guard against potential attacks.
Certification Requirements for Security Engineers
Engineers that build electrical, mechanical, and structural systems where physical risk can be great often require a professional license. However, many engineers, including security engineers, are not required to have this license.
Many employers and clients that hire security consultants prefer or require certifications. These credentials exhibit the necessary skills and expertise for particular tasks.
The most significant certifications are Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Certified Information Security Manager (CISM). These certifications are for experienced security engineers seeking management and executive-level positions. However, these credentials require periodic recertification. Security engineers that obtain these certifications may demand higher salaries.
Many other security certifications exhibit specific skills or experience with particular industry tools or protocols, including the following:
Common Security Engineer Certificates
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- CompTIA Security+
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
- Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator (CHFI)
- Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)
- CISCO Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- NIST Cybersecurity Framework (NCSF)
- AWS Certified Security - Specialty
How to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer
Security engineers, also known as cybersecurity engineers, generally follow similar paths during their careers. The journey begins with education. Those interested in becoming security engineers need at least a bachelor's degree.
Once in the industry, working under one or more senior engineers for a few years is common. During this time, entry-level engineers should absorb as much information as possible. Most importantly, professionals should learn best practices for identifying and mitigating security threats like ransomware, malware, and denial of service attempts.
It is also a good idea to begin mapping out a career plan that includes certifications or pursuing an advanced degree. You should be flexible, but outlining specific steps will help you stay on track to reach your career goal of becoming a security engineer.
Steps to Becoming a Security Engineer
The best place to start is with a four-year degree in computing. An internship is a great way to introduce yourself to a potential employer once you graduate.
Your first job is likely to be supporting a more senior engineer. Any position that deals with computer security will be helpful as this time is primarily a learning phase that will last a year or two.
If possible, you should move to a higher-level position before year five. Some companies offer rotating assignments that give new engineers a chance to explore different specialties during this time.
At about year five, start thinking about improving your credentials. Some options include obtaining specialization certificates or CISSP or CISM certification.
Now is a good time to advance your education. Obtaining a graduate or terminal degree will be a great asset for negotiating a higher salary or pursuing an administrative or executive position.
After a few years in this position, you can choose to stay on the technical side or move to administration if you have your CISSP or CISM certification.
Should I Become a Security Engineer?
Experienced midcareer security engineers can earn near or more than five-figure salaries. Security engineers are similar to security officers. They protect valuable information like personal, financial, and other important data that could pose great harm to others if compromised or lost.
Security engineers can work in nearly any industry or organization, including the private sector, a nonprofit, or the government.
The Job Hunt
Finding the best opportunity requires time commitment and planning. Job hunting includes using all resources available to you, such as family, friends, and other contacts that may work in or know of openings in the industry. Another resource is the career placement office at your school, which could provide a list of employers that hire graduates from your institution.
Additionally, be sure to monitor online job boards such as those below.
Resources for Future Cybersecurity Engineers
Frequently Asked Questions About Security Engineers
What are the skills required to become a security engineer?
Depending on the specific job responsibilities, a good understanding of cloud computing, computer networking, and computer programming are invaluable. You will also need to be well-versed in using several internet security tools, such as AWS, Google Cloud, iCloud, and Azure.
What degree is needed to become a security engineer?
Most employers require at least a bachelor's degree for security engineers. However, other combinations such as an associate degree and extensive experience or an advanced degree may also enable you to become a security engineer.
How long does it take to become a security engineer?
It will likely take you approximately five years to become a security engineer. For managerial or executive positions, 10 years or more is average. These figures assume that you have the necessary educational background and certifications.
Is it hard to become a security engineer?
"Hard" is difficult to quantify, as it is relative to your perspective of what "easy" is. Security engineers do very important work. Therefore, the qualifications must be significant enough to instill confidence that they can meet the challenge.
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