Cyber security – protecting computer systems from malicious attacks or unauthorized usage – is one of the fastest-growing career fields in today’s economy. The latest research shows that from April through June 2012, the U.S. accounted for 22.5% of global hacks. So it’s no surprise that employment of information security analysts, web developers and computer network architects is projected to grow 22% from 2010 to 2020.
With openings for analysts, developers, programmers and more, there are opportunities across many industry sectors. Is a career in cyber security for you? We turned to experts Renee Patton, U.S. Public Sector Director of Education for Cisco Systems Inc. and Senior Professor Chuck Lay, College of Engineering & Information Sciences at DeVry University in Chicago, as well as Sharin Figg, a senior at the DeVry University Federal Way campus in Washington and head of its Cyber Defense Club, who recommend asking yourself these questions when considering this path.
1. Are you a gadget addict?
Are you never without your smartphone, tablet or other digital gadget? If so much of your productivity and livelihood revolves around these gadgets and their ever-changing abilities, you should also be curious about what’s going on inside those gizmos, too. “You should be asking, ‘What makes this operate the way it does?’” says Patton.
2. Sudoku: totally fun or utterly frustrating?
Cyber security experts have to excel at puzzling things out. “An interest in solving problems – thinking of different strategies or approaches – is one of the most important characteristics you can have,” Patton explains. “You almost need to be a detective sometimes,” says Lay. “You need to think of questions like, ‘How did somebody hack into the database?’”
3. When you go to the movies, do you identify more with the hero or the villain?
“You have to be motivated by doing good versus doing ill,” Patton says. “You should see the larger societal implications of a breach to a network system or power grid and be willing to address it.” Show your tenacity, says Figg. “Cyber security is like the Greek myth of Sisyphus,” she says. “It is a never-ending uphill battle, and just when you think you have reached the top, someone creates a new exploit and the struggle starts again.”
4. How wild is your imagination?
Being an abstract thinker is another key attribute. “Students who feel comfortable with modeling abstract things tend to do very well,” Lay says. “You have to be at that level where you can think without seeing that networking device, that hacker.”
5. Are you good at explaining complicated ideas to your less tech-savvy friends?
As a cyber security expert, you may be helping people who don’t know a firewall from FireWire. “You have to simplify and boil down your explanations,” Patton says. Essentially, you’re wearing two hats: knowing the technology but also knowing how to brief others about the situation. “In the past, the job was 80% technology skill set and 20% presentation. Now it’s fifty-fifty,” Lay adds.
6. Has anyone ever called you a “good listener”?
Whether you’ve been praised for listening to personal stories from family and friends, the work-related concerns of colleagues or the needs of your clients, you already understand the importance of hearing what others are saying. “Part of communication skills includes listening closely,” Patton stresses. If you’re not hearing everything your customer or client is telling you, chances are you’ll miss something important.
7. How are you at triage?
Cyber security pros can get hit by a lot of different requests all at once. When it comes to deciding which to address first, “you have to be really good at assessing risk: ‘this is a minor breach’ versus ‘this a major breach,’” says Patton. When a business has been hacked, employees can get scared – understandably. Someone needs to remain calm and reassuring, and that should be you.
8. Do you collaborate well?
Despite stereotypes about IT types being antisocial, you must be “comfortable working in small teams,” Lay says. “Sometimes information on how to fix things is just not available, so you have to do a lot of research and development” – and bouncing ideas off others is often the best way to come up with a quick solution to a problem.
9. Do you look ahead?
A cyber security expert must remain ever vigilant, because you never know what virus some hacker on the other side of the world is devising. “You’re trying to stay ahead of people who are motivated to cause problems,” Patton says. Keeping up with quickly changing cyber security developments, whether by reading industry blogs or taking new courses, is also key to succeeding in this field. “You have to be a lifelong learner,” she adds.
10. Do you tend to notice the little things?
When it comes to cyber security, overlooking a small detail can be the difference between a minor hiccup and a full-scale crisis. “You can be a great communicator, you can be really curious, you can be a good problem-solver,” Patton says, “but if you don’t have that attention to detail, then all those other things are null and void.”
Careers like cyber security, which fall under the umbrella of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, will continue growing at a fast clip relative to other occupations: 17% between 2008 and 2018, compared to just 9.8% for non-STEM jobs, according to the Economics & Statistics Administration. 
Employers are struggling to fill the positions even now, and the prospects for securing jobs in STEM fields in the next decade are looking very good. These 10 questions are a good starting point to figuring out if cyber security could be the specialty you’re looking for. Yes, skills are crucial, but who you are as a person, what you enjoy doing and how you handle certain situations can also contribute to building a successful career.
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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Information Security Analysts, Web Developers, and Computer Network Architects, on the Internet