By Douglas Santos, Systems Engineer at FortiGuard Labs.
When people ask me what I do for a living, and I answer “cybersecurity”, I know what many think.
Some assume I started life as a hacker and was recruited for my skills. Or, that I spent years accumulating degree after costly degree, on track to a mysterious and highly technical career.
Both are wrong. Over the years I’ve seen firsthand the many (mistaken) assumptions that go along with cybersecurity. That it’s too difficult, that it requires too much training, or that it is only meant for people with very specific, hard-to-get skill sets.
I believe these assumptions are preventing people from considering a career in this field, and therefore adding to the global cybersecurity skills shortage. With the world facing more cyber risks than ever amid the global pandemic, as well as an explosion in remote work and online transactions, it’s critical that we set the record straight on what a career in this field is - and isn’t.
It starts with education and training. When I got my first job in my native Brazil as a programmer for a major, global technology company, I had no degrees. I simply had a love for computers that started the day my father brought home a used one for me to tinker with. Shortly after, I saw a movie about computer experts and just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Over the years, I eventually went to school, but more to further my career than to start it. In between, I was able to pursue certifications offered online on my own time, so that between work, school, and my own studying, I was able to quickly become skilled in programming, networks, and eventually security.
Even better, I was able to use my variety of skills to try many different jobs such as supporting customers with business-critical projects at a global technology company.
Photo: Getty Images.
The most difficult thing about it is to have the correct mindset. You must be prepared to be always learning (as I think it is true for most sought after careers in tech nowadays), have a can do attitude and be able to learn things fast, as it is a really fast paced environment. But it’s not rocket science, and the availability of tools and the collaborative spirit of the industry helps a lot.
A big part of building up expertise in cybersecurity is just jumping in and doing it. At no time would I say that I was “in IT” or “in security”. Rather, I was carving my own path within the technology field, using my security skill set to open doors and make me a stronger candidate for new roles.
Because I’ve been fortunate enough to wear so many hats in my career, I also know that the silos other IT workers put themselves in are often self-imposed. We can call ourselves developers or network administrators, but our work often crosses boundaries, and our knowledge is easily transferred between disciplines. I’d even argue that cybersecurity is the most transferable — and marketable — skill under the IT umbrella.
I’d also argue that Canada is a great place to pursue that skill. In a world where remote work is more commonplace than ever, there have never been more opportunities for experienced security and network professionals to find interesting work.
In 2017, I made the decision to relocate and place myself in Vancouver — an environment where there was no shortage of exciting opportunities and a chance to really advance my own growth. The city is well-known as a growing hub for those in the cybersecurity profession.
I currently work as a systems engineer at FortiGuard Labs, in a threat research lab that provides global support for Fortune 500 clients. We find that the availability of top talent from local schools, as well as the momentum we see behind local technology startups and active user group communities, make it an excellent place to call home.
Whether you’re an IT professional looking to refocus your career, or someone with no technical background looking to enter the field, know that simply being in Canada — and Vancouver in particular — leaves many paths open to you.
The cybersecurity industry has no shortage of jobs and opportunities - the only thing we lack is talented people like you. As we move into 2021 and the question of career options take center stage, now’s the time for anyone interested to take the leap. If I can do it, you can too.
Douglas Santos is a systems engineer with FortiGuard Labs in Burnaby, B.C.
For more info on Fortinet’s cybersecurity training programs, visit training.fortinet.com.