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  • Writer's pictureKyser Clark

Is a Cybersecurity Certificate Worth It?

Updated: Aug 29, 2023


Cybersecurity certification

So you're looking to start a cybersecurity career and are considering your training options... great! In this article, I will explore if cybersecurity certifications are "worth it" compared to other training options.


Summary

  • Quick answer: YES! Cybersecurity certificates are undoubtedly "worth it."

  • Certifications are a popular and effective way to enhance cybersecurity skills and knowledge.

  • They are highly sought after by employers in job postings and listed in almost every cybersecurity job ad.

  • Certifications instantly verify a person's skills and knowledge.

  • They are challenging to obtain, requiring 1-4 months of focused study.

  • Tests require the ability to apply best practices in real-life situations.

  • The difficulty of exams quickly increases knowledge and skills.

  • Certifications make a job candidate stand out, gains respect as a peer in the industry, and give necessary knowledge & skills to solve complex problems.

  • I highly recommend certifications to break into the field or level up an existing cybersecurity career.

  • Certifications are cost-effective compared to other training options.

  • They provide a very high return on investment (ROI).


Is a Cybersecurity Certificate Worth It?

Certifications are my absolute favorite way to level up my cybersecurity skills and knowledge. Certifications are easy to start, relatively inexpensive compared to other training options, and highly sought after by employers in job postings. Almost every cybersecurity job posting lists multiple certifications. This is because certifications are a great way to instantly verify a person's skills and knowledge.


Certificates are more than "just a piece of paper" or "proof you can pass a test." Certifications are usually quite challenging to obtain and require 1-4 months of highly focused study to pass the exam, even for "entry-level" certifications. You can't just memorize definitions and terms to pass exams; you must be able to apply best practices in a wide array of real-life situations. The difficult nature of certification exams increases your knowledge and skills rather quickly compared to other training options. The difficulty in passing certification exams is another reason employers demand them from job candidates.


Certifications make you stand out as a job candidate, give you respect as a peer in the industry, and give you the knowledge & skills necessary to solve the complex problems within cybersecurity. The pros easily outweigh the minor cons. Therefore, I highly recommend getting multiple certifications to break into the field or level up your existing cybersecurity career.


Compare and Contrast

Generally, there are four training options:

Training Method

Cost

Time to complete

Value

Bang for your buck

"Worth it?"

Boot camp

$$$

Medium

Medium

Low

No

Degree

$$$$

Long

Very High

Low

Depends

Certification

$$

Short

High

High

Yes

Self-learning

$

Continuous

High

Very High

Yes

Certifications

A cybersecurity certification is a recognition given by an organization to acknowledge an individual's specific abilities and knowledge in cybersecurity. Acquiring certifications involves completing challenging exams assessing one's expertise in cybersecurity, including ethical hacking, information security management, and network defense. These certifications are highly valuable in the industry because they establish a measure of competency, enable employers to evaluate the skill level of hires or current employees, and often serve as prerequisites for specialized roles or projects. As a result, they play a role in career progression, establishing credibility and ensuring that personnel possess the skills to combat ever-evolving cyber threats.


Pros:

  • Affordable

    • $554.51 on average (for both training and exam voucher(s)).

    • Slightly more expensive ($618.51 on average) if you study/practice part-time

  • Gain skills very quickly (about 1-2 months if you study/practice full-time).

    • about 2-4 months if you study/practice part-time

  • They are highly sought-after by employers as they are listed on most job postings.

  • Self-study.

    • (This can be a con if you prefer to have instructor-led training)

  • Self-Paced.

    • (This can be a con if you prefer a set schedule).

  • Semi-custom learning path.

    • (This can be a con if you prefer a fully structured path).

Cons:

  • Very difficult to pass exams, and you must pay for another voucher to re-take the exam in most cases.

  • Somewhat of a hassle to maintain as most certifications require re-certification after three years.

  • You must pay small maintenance fees to maintain an active certification in most cases.

  • Some employers/peers may not care about your certifications.


Boot camps

A cybersecurity bootcamp training program aims to equip participants with cybersecurity skills like penetration testing and network defense. Unlike college degree programs, boot camps prioritize hands-on training to prepare individuals for entry-level roles in cybersecurity quickly. While they may not offer the breadth of knowledge or theoretical background as a college degree, boot camps provide skills highly valued by employers for specific positions. Graduates often complement their training with industry certifications to enhance their credibility and meet job requirements.


Pros:

  • Gain skills quickly (4.5-5.5 months if you attend full-time).

    • Some boot camps offer part-time attendance, which costs a little more and significantly extends the completion time.

  • Instructor-led.

    • (This can be a con if you prefer self-study)

  • Set course schedule and learning path.

    • (This can be a con if you prefer self-pacing and the ability to choose your own path).

  • Some programs incorporate certifications in the boot camp.

Cons:

  • Expensive ($13,252.34 on average).

  • Lack of Credentials (No degree and possibly no certifications). Job postings do not require proof of boot camp participation (unlike degrees and certifications).


Four-Year Degree

A college degree in cybersecurity is a program that offers an understanding of the principles and practices of cybersecurity. It typically includes network security, cryptography, ethical hacking, and information assurance courses. Students enrolled in these programs complete both coursework and practical labs to earn a bachelor's (or master's) in the field. In the cybersecurity industry, a college degree can be a foundation for career advancement for more advanced or managerial positions. However, it is essential to note that employers often value certifications and real-world experience to keep up with the changing landscape of threats. While having a degree provides a rounded education, it may not always replace the skills demonstrated by professional accreditations.


Pros:

  • Degrees are highly sought after by employers.

  • Learn crucial research, communication, and writing skills (unlike other options).

  • Online and in-person degrees are available.

  • Pre-determined course schedule and learning path.

    • (This can be a con if you prefer self-pacing and the ability to choose your own path).

    • Some schools allow you to specialize and take electives so you can specialize in a particular area.

Cons:

  • Very Expensive ($35,692 on average).

  • Gain skills very slowly (Typically, your first 2 years of courses don't provide cybersecurity skills, and it typically takes 4 years to finish the degree).

  • Not as "hands-on" as the other options.

  • Some employers/peers may not care about your degree.


Self-Learning

Self-learning and improving skills in their free time set job candidates apart in this field. Investing time in self-learning cybersecurity fundamentals, developing necessary skills, and researching existing trends are important approaches to gaining an edge before an interview. Demonstrating an enthusiasm towards learning new technologies while developing knowledge of industry practices through open-source study materials and home labs can make candidates stand out among their competitors. Employers often prefer those who demonstrate competence by actively seeking out information independently versus relying solely on course credits or a degree. Becoming self-taught in the rapidly changing world of cybersecurity is essential if one wishes to stand the best chance of being successfully employed in this continually evolving industry. There is absolutely no reason to forgo self-learning, as you should be self-learning on top of any other training option you are doing due to the breadth of free/cheap training options.


Pros:

  • Every skill you need can be learned at home for free or at a very low cost.

  • Gain skills very quickly (You can learn valuable skills in hours).

  • Seemingly endless online resources.

  • Very "hands-on."

  • Employers seek people who learn in their free time as it shows ambition and desire to be in the field.

  • Self-paced

  • Custom learning path

Cons:

  • No credentials to list on a résumé (degree, certification).

    • (There are ways to list your home lab projects on résumés though).

  • Self-study and self-paced means you may not know what or where to go for learning.

    • (This can be a pro if you know what you want to learn and where to go to learn it).


Now that you're totally convinced that a certification is "worth it" to break into cybersecurity, you may be wondering what certification you should start with and how to get started. I have you covered. Everything you need to know is in this article:

How to Get Into Cybersecurity (and Other IT Fields) With No Experience

https://www.kyserclark.com/post/how-to-get-into-cybersecurity-and-other-it-fields-with-no-experience If you want to know more about why I don't think cybersecurity boot camps are worth it, check out this article:

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