Demand for network security professionals is growing by the minute. Currently, there’s a workforce gap of nearly 4.1 million workers in the cybersecurity field, which would require a 145% increase in the current number of professionals (2.8 million) to fill, according to IT security nonprofit ISC2. This creates major security concerns for governments and companies working to protect data assets, and it also highlights the need to step up training of cybersecurity professionals.
Data is an extremely valuable asset in many industries, including banking, retail, and healthcare. As cyber criminals become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques, the need for network security engineers who know how to protect data will continue to increase. Computer science professionals looking to advance their careers in the high-growth field of cybersecurity should examine the necessary steps in how to become a network security engineer.
Network Security Engineer Job Description
The job description of a network security engineer includes designing and administering security systems for organizational networks. A network security engineer protects systems from cyber threats, including bugs, malware, and hacking attempts. The IT professional should be able to identify existing issues and build safeguards to avoid future threats. Testing and configuration of hardware and software systems is involved.
What Does a Network Security Engineer Do?
Charged with maintaining the integrity of an organization’s data, a network security engineer continuously monitors the network for security breaches, carries out simulated attacks to identify vulnerabilities, and develops security protocols to thwart potential threats. A cybersecurity engineer deals with viruses, phishing attacks, spyware, Trojan horses, and other common vulnerabilities.
Those interested in becoming network security engineers are well served by developing skills related to securing data, such as installing firewalls and data encryption programs that protect sensitive information.
Steps to Become a Network Security Engineer
Aspiring technology professionals can pursue a network security engineer career by taking the following steps.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
Most positions in network security require at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a computer-related field, such as computer science or programming. Through management information system (MIS) programs, for example, graduates can learn about emerging technologies and other information that can prove useful in becoming a network security engineer. A targeted degree program, such as Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in cybersecurity, provides a direct foundation in network security career training.
Degrees in other fields can also serve as stepping stones to careers in network security. For example, through offerings like online business administration programs, students can study the differences among businesses and organizations in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The foundational business knowledge gained can allow graduates to apply general knowledge to more specialized fields. In addition, understanding the various organizational structures can lead to deeper understanding of what types of data each generates and how data protection needs differ.
Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree
Some employers may prefer that candidates hold a master’s degree, which can be helpful in preparing graduates for pursuing leadership positions. One example is an online master’s in software development, which helps graduates learn versatile skills that may be applicable for multiple career paths. Skills covered include developing and building upon programming skills; mastering databases and cloud environments; and designing and creating accessible interfaces. The curriculum is wide-ranging and highly specialized.
Maryville University’s 30-hour degree program, which can be completed online in as few as 12 months, includes these courses:
- Intro to Programming
- Database Principles
- User Interface Design
- Data Structures
- Object-Oriented Software Architecture
Another master’s degree option — and one that provides career specificity for students wondering how to become a network security engineer — is Maryville University’s online master’s in cybersecurity program. Students can take advantage of the Maryville Virtual Lab and train remotely from practically anywhere in the world and on any online device. The curriculum is designed to teach techniques that can prepare students to pursue careers as network security engineers.
Courses in the online master’s in cybersecurity degree program include:
- Mobile Device Hacking and Forensics
- Incident Handling and Breaches
- Forensic Examination and Analysis
- Controls for Effective Cyber Defense
Step 3: Build on-the-Job Experience
Beyond education, on-the-job experience and the initiative to advance one’s own skill set goes a long way toward standing out in a crowd. One way to gain a foothold as a network security engineer is to become fluent in related computer fields, such as data networking and programming languages.
Other steps that can help in boosting career advancement include:
- Legitimizing network security skills through certification, like the Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- Showing initiative to stay current with trends affecting large amounts of data
- Gaining a basic level of experience through an internship or similar on-the-job experience
Network Security Engineer Skills
Talents and skills best suited for careers in network security include:
- Analytical skills for thoroughly examining computer systems and networks and for identifying vulnerabilities
- An attention to detail that prevents stealthy cyber attacks
- Resourcefulness or ingenuity for anticipating security risks and implementing new ways to neutralize them
- Problem-solving skills for quickly uncovering and fixing network flaws
- Communication skills to train co-workers and leaders on threats and protection protocols
Technical network security engineer skills include:
- Knowledge of current information security trends
- IT networking and programming skills
- Ability to test for, track, and resolve threats including malfunctions and attacks
- Security protocol-building skills including authentication systems
- Ability to administer firewalls, routers, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other security tools
- Ability to maintain server, LAN, and WAN architecture
- Infrastructure documentation and event reporting capabilities
- Knowledge of cyber laws and compliance
Network Security Engineer Salaries and Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 32% growth rate in network security engineering careers from 2018 to 2028. Growth in the field is driven by a greater understanding of the importance of data security amid a steady rise in attacks, including large-scale data breaches, mobile malware attacks, and ransomware threats to institutions ranging from municipalities to health organizations.
As for compensation, the field of network security generally rewards experience with higher pay. PayScale confirms the follow sliding pay scale for network security engineers:
- One to four years of experience: $74,000
- Five to nine years of experience: $88,000
- Between 10 and 19 years of experience: $103,000
- More than 20 years of experience: $114,000
Education and training in network security may also provide pathways to other network security jobs offering higher levels of compensation, such as lead software security engineer and chief information security officer.
Start Your Journey Today to Becoming a Network Security Engineer with Maryville Online
These days, computers are part of nearly every aspect of our lives. To help develop the cybersecurity and software development experts of the future, Maryville University offers a host of online computer science degree programs. Students can complete these courses online and have more flexibility to fit education into their busy schedules. The online master’s in software development degree program in particular helps students deepen their understanding of software design and application development and can start professionals on the path toward becoming a network security engineer. There’s no application fee, no previous experience required, and it can be completed in as little as one year.