With our lives increasingly stored as digital data, we’re all aware of the importance of cybersecurity. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there were more than 300,000 cybercrime complaints in 2017, and losses were estimated to be in excess of $1.4 billion — and those numbers will only grow.

But that growing threat has a bright side — as a career path, cybersecurity is booming, which offers a real opportunity for professionals with a tech and computer science background to advance their careers with an advanced degree or certificate.

In demand

“There's a growing need for cybersecurity professionals in all industries today,” says Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council. “You know everyone communicates and conducts work on their computers, on their iPad or iPhone. So there is a need for every organization and every individual to protect themselves from the bad players out there.”

Chris Camacho, CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, agrees. “With 350,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions in the United States and an expected global shortfall of 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs by 2021, the question goes beyond ‘How do we fill these gaps?’ to ‘How do we build a workforce that is adequately prepared?’.”

Flexibility and convenience

While this represents a great opportunity for professionals who already have a background and familiarity with computer-related work, there are barriers.

“People looking to augment their careers tend to have houses and families,” says Jason Pistillo, president and CEO of the University of Advancing Technology (UAT) in Tempe, Arizona. “They would probably articulate ‛I don't have time’ or that school is not flexible enough for them.”

Pistillo says a certificate or full degree program in cybersecurity for working professionals has to be designed properly. “At UAT we make sure flexibility and convenience is maximized, because adults tend to have plenty of time if they realize it, but it's in smaller blocks — they have 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there — they can still get four hours a day, but they have to do it in smaller chunks. What we do is try to focus on what are the skills to keep people really active. If you're learning tech, it's a hands-on sport — you need to be able to really be touching and doing when you're not in class as well.”

A certificate or degree from a reputable school like UAT can have a great impact on your career. “What I find is that the larger the company the more inclined they are to require an undergraduate degree or a master’s or a specific set of certifications,” says Zylstra. “And I think in the next couple of years we'll probably go into economic slowdown — inflation is going up, interest rates are going up, and things will tighten up and then the people who have the certificates and degrees are the ones who will get the jobs.”

Pistillo stresses the supply and demand aspect. “Cyber is a niche of a niche. You go into computer science and that's a pretty small thing in the world — only 3 percent of all college students are studying it, and cybersecurity is a boutique niche of that.”

Pistillo and UAT know what they’re talking about. As he notes: “We’ve been producing grads in this field since 1997 — before the word ‛cyber’ was invented. In the cyber space, having an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in those areas, including certificates, is a big deal — and we've been doing it the longest.”