Cybersecurity Ed 101: Certifications vs Degrees
IT professionals have their own version of the age-old question, “Which came first the chicken or the egg?” Some often asked questions for IT professionals are: “What’s the best way to prepare for a career in cybersecurity? Do I pursue certifications, degrees or both?” It has even been a topic of debate in the Cisco Learning Network community. That’s because this isn’t as simple as it looks. There are significant differences that make both paths valuable and useful in their own way. While there’s no right or wrong answer to this question, the path you take depends on your career goals. Let’s take a deeper dive into certifications vs degrees.
One pro of a degree, is that it does not expire. This is not true of certifications. That said, a degree doesn’t change with the market and can become dated rather quickly. Having a Computer Science degree that is twenty years old might not mean much if you have no idea what is going on in the IT space.
Furthermore, it’s important to add that those who achieve the greatest success in cybersecurity typically have a bachelor’s (and possibly a master’s) degree complemented by certifications. More than 83% of job postings for cybersecurity workers ask for a bachelor’s degree or higher. That means “quick fix” bootcamps won’t necessarily close the talent gap, or allow a jobseeker to compete if the job openings require advanced degrees.
A con of getting a degree is how expensive and time consuming acquiring one can be. After all, a bachelor’s degree usually takes 4-5 years to complete, while some certifications can be completed in a few weeks. For many, that time differential makes all the difference.
Another con is that degrees can be too focused on theory rather than practical skills. If you have a degree but no certifications and you’re looking to try a new role or advance your IT career, a certification may be what you need to demonstrate new or advanced skills on a recently released operating system, platform or application.
One pro of a certification is that it is more cost effective and less time consuming than pursuing an advanced degree. Those whose immediate need is to find a job quickly may well find that they should prioritize certifications over advanced degrees.
One way employers ensure their staff has the necessary skills and experience in current and emerging technologies is through certifications and hands-on training. A certified staff can be extremely valuable. Acquiring specific certifications allows professionals to acquire the knowledge and skills to be more productive and efficient in their roles. Companies that invest in their staff through training and certification will have a more technically advanced work force able to respond to tough challenges more quickly.
Having a certification often makes your resume stand out and gives you an advantage over other applicants with a similar academic background. It may even be a qualifier for a position since certified professionals demonstrate current competency in technology and job skills. As always, though, consider the job role. If the job has a management or business component, a degree might be necessary. Additionally, some jobs actually require a Computer Science or other IT-related degree whereas certifications are not always required.
So what have we learned? As shown above, this is a question with no easy answer. What we can say is this: one of the awesome things about IT is that you don’t have to have 4 years of formal education to have a successful career in it. Professionals who are curious, hard-working, and have a passion for learning new things will be greatly rewarded in this field.
Acquiring certifications and a formal degree is a great combination to qualify you for a career path which you might not otherwise achieve with a certification or degree alone. Nevertheless, if you are in the middle of deciding what path to take, remember to think about how much experience you currently have, what areas within IT most interest you, and the kinds of jobs you’d like to apply for. One key point we want you to take away is whether you are pursuing a degree, a certification, or both, real-world experience may often be your most valuable asset. Whichever path you pursue, make sure you look for opportunities to gain experience that will be relevant in a day-to-day IT work environment.
Looking for certifications? Explore our 10-week cybersecurity training and job placement program.
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