Cybersecurity Certification For Beginners To Get First

Which cybersecurity certification for beginners would I get first if I knew what I know now but was just starting in the field today? Here is what I’d do if I wanted to build a strong foundation, stand out from other beginner applicants, and earn more money in my first cybersecurity job or role

The first step towards a career in cybersecurity is being certified in CompTIA Security+; then the GSEC certification. It is also advised that one becomes certified in CompTIA Network+, which teaches the fundamentals of IT and networking. Learning a programming language like Python is advantageous.

Cybersecurity is one of the most in-demand fields today. The (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study, estimates a global shortage of 3.2 million cybersecurity professionals. The good news is, with the right certifications, you can start your cybersecurity career and help close this skill gap.

Woman with laptop researching which certification to pursue first

3 Entry-Level Cybersecurity Certifications For Beginners

When you’re first starting your cybersecurity career, it is difficult to know what steps to take to ensure you have a good foundation.

A good cybersecurity professional needs a solid foundation in the following areas: networking and IT fundamentals, security, and programming.

As such, your first step should be to get entry-level certifications in these key areas.

Here are three entry-level certifications to help set you on the path to a successful cybersecurity career:

1. CompTIA Network+: Networking and IT Fundamentals

It may seem like a jumpstart to your cybersecurity career, but the first thing is to take the CompTIA Security+ entry-level certification. 

But that’s not the case. Start with a networking certification, like the CompTIA Network+ certification, for a solid foundation.

The questions you might ask are “Why? Is learning computer networks helpful for cybersecurity? “

There are three reasons why you should have a solid understanding of how computers communicate as well as a basic understanding of other IT fundamentals before you start taking security certifications:

  • To understand how attackers might exploit systems, you need to understand how those systems work first.
  • Knowing about computer networks can help you troubleshoot more effectively.
  • If you want to get certified in the CISSP or other high-level security certifications, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of networking concepts.

The CompTIA Network+ is a respected entry-level cert that will take you through the basics of networking, the backbone upon which all data is transmitted.

You’ll learn about things like the OSI model, IP addresses, subnetting, and more. 

To earn this certification, you must pass one exam with 90 multiple-choice and performance-based questions. The exam costs around $392 and is available in English, and other languages.

2. CompTIA Security+: Security Fundamentals

After you’ve got your networking fundamentals down, it’s time to start learning about security.

Security is obviously a critical component of any cybersecurity professional’s skill set.

CompTIA’s Security+ certification is renowned worldwide. This certification covers risk management, network security, cryptography, identity management, access control, and operational security.

CompTIA Security+ certifies these skills:

  • Understand penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and compromise detection.
  • Install, configure, and set up network components, as well as troubleshoot problems, to ensure the security of the organization.
  • Implement concepts and systems design for a secure network architecture
  • Set up identity, access, and management controls by installing and configuring them.
  • Set up wireless security and public key infrastructure (PKI).

All of these are best practices for managing and reducing risks, including putting more emphasis on being able to find and fix security threats, attacks, and weaknesses.

Young tree representing new cybersecurity career and roots represent entry-level-certifications
Entry-level-certifications combo for beginner cybersecurity professionals

3. LinkedIn Learning: Programming with Python

How important is programming in cybersecurity?

Programming is essential for every aspiring cybersecurity professional. 

It helps you learn how to think critically and improves your problem-solving skills, both of which are necessary for creating effective security solutions.

Although coding skills aren’t typically required for most entry-level cybersecurity jobs, having programming knowledge gives you a big leg up and sets you apart from other newbie applicants because it shows you are adept at understanding different technologies. 

Also, you won’t be in an entry-level position forever. 

Exposure to programming can pave the way to easily move up to coveted mid-level and advanced cybersecurity jobs where programming skills are required.

Here are 5 Mid-Level / Advanced security roles where programming skills are useful:

  • Application or Security Lead
  • SoC Analyst or Threat Hunter:
  • Auditor
  • Penetration Tester
  • Chief Information Security Officer(CISO)

There are many different languages you can learn, but we recommend starting with Python.

Python is a versatile scripting language that is relatively easy to learn, and it’s used in a variety of cybersecurity applications.

Once you’ve got a handle on the basics of programming with Python, you can start automating tasks, building tools to make your job easier, and even developing machine learning models for detecting cyber threats.

LinkedIn Learning offers a comprehensive course on Python for beginners that covers all the core concepts you need to get started. The course is taught by Bill Weinman, an experienced software engineer, and it’s divided into bite-sized lessons that you can complete at your own pace.

As you can see, these trio of certifications – CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+, LinkedIn Learning: Programming with Python – will set you on the path of a successful cybersecurity career and help prepare you for better-paying entry-level jobs.

But going one step further can land you a non-entry-level job, even if you are a beginner.

Woman with laptop screen in front of her, hasback pain, exhausted by long-hour entry-level-job
Why skip entry-level-jobs

Skipping Entry-Level Jobs In Cybersecurity

Stepping into the cybersecurity industry can sometimes feel like stepping into a complex and ever-evolving maze.

While entry-level certifications are a great place to start, they do have a limitation which is that they can only qualify you for entry-level positions.

Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with starting your career with an entry-level position, but if you’re serious about climbing the ranks of the cybersecurity industry quickly, you should plan your certification path carefully so that you can avoid such positions altogether.

Cutting your teeth on entry-level work is a smart move and it has other benefits:

  • Entry-level jobs often pay poorly and are typically less challenging and more repetitive. The monotony of constantly repeating the same actions is likely to wear you down quickly.
  •  Aiming for better-paying jobs helps you earn more money that you can invest in training and certifications that will help you advance more rapidly in your chosen cybersecurity specialization.

So, think of entry-level certifications as a way to learn the basics, but not as a way to get a job.

Instead, after completing an entry-level certification, get a certificate that is one level higher than an entry-level certificate and use it to enter the job market. Doing this will help you bypass entry-level jobs and get better-paying positions.

This is where the GSEC certification comes into play.

The GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) Certification

The GSEC is a great intermediate-level credential. In addition to the knowledge and abilities one would acquire through earning a Security+ credential, this course goes into greater depth. 

In a nutshell, GSEC concentrates on the following 6 topics:

  1. Security concepts and technologies: access control, authentication, and password management
  2. Networking concepts and technologies: network scanning, network protocols, network addressing, and mapping
  3. Windows security: the Windows operating system’s security features, including network security and user rights,
  4. Linux security: the basics of configuration, OS security tools, and utilities, and the management of processes and services
  5. Attack types: viruses, malicious code, 802.11 attacks and defenses
  6. Cryptography: The Basics (Steganography, Public-Key Infrastructure)

The GSEC certification is a great way to break into the cybersecurity job market and get paid more.

With a GSEC certification, you can show employers that you have what it takes to do intermediate-level cyber security work like a security technician, specialist, or administrator, and thus bypass entry-level jobs altogether.

But the challenge is the price of the GSEC. It can cost up to $8,000, which is a lot of money for many people, especially beginners.

However, the average salary for a GSEC-certified professional is over $91,000, which means that the credential will pay for itself many times over in just a few years.

Now that you know the best cybersecurity certification combination for beginners, I want to emphasize the importance of documenting your learning process as you develop your cybersecurity passion into a career.

I wish someone had told me this when I started my career:

Youtuber, podcaster and blogger documenting their careers
Career Advice for beginner cybersecurity professional

The Importance of Documenting Your Cybersecurity Career Journey

You’ve decided to pursue a career in cybersecurity. Great! The first step is getting the right education and certification. 

But there’s something else you need to do that will make you stand out from all the other candidates with the same education and certification. 

Most people considering a career in cybersecurity are preoccupied with getting a bunch of certificates in order to try to appease job postings. These certification programs are merely entry points to knowledge. 

It’s who’s using that knowledge that matters the most. 

So, here’s how to be “that” candidate: You need to document your learning process. 

Before enrolling in any cybersecurity certification course, pick up a medium, whether it’s LinkedIn blogging, a YouTube channel, or a personal website.

Then, DOCUMENT your learning as you progress through the cyber-related certification programs you’ve chosen.

“What cybersecurity-related questions have you recently learned the answers to? How did you figure out how to understand a certain concept? What project have you recently worked on? What did you learn? What weaknesses did undertaking the project reveal about you? and much more…”

Here are the reasons why documenting your cybersecurity journey is so pivotal:

1) Opens the door to a community:

As you share your tips and tricks with others, you’ll start to develop a following of people, who view you as a trusted source of information – which can open up new opportunities down the road. 

Furthermore, you’ll be introduced to like-minded individuals with whom you can share ideas, collaborate and support one another.

In his book, “Put your a$$ where your heart wants to be,” Steven Pressfield refers to such people as “spiritual friends.”

2) Teaches you to explain difficult concepts:

When you have to explain something that you just learned to someone else, it forces you to understand it at a much deeper level. 

This is important in cybersecurity since a lot of the concepts are very difficult to understand.

You’ll also be able to reflect on what you’ve learned.

It’s one thing to be able to regurgitate information for a test or interview, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to explain WHY that information is important and HOW you plan on using it in your work. 

When you take the time to document your journey, it forces you to think critically about what you’re learning and how it can be applied in a real-world setting.

3) Helps you build a personal brand:

A personal brand is a way for job seekers to market themselves by highlighting their unique value propositions, strengths, and experiences.

As you share your learning progress, you’re letting prospective employers know that you’re not only knowledgeable in the cybersecurity field, but you’re also continuously learning and keeping up-to-date with the latest trends. 

4) Helps with accountability:

It is really easy to get sidetracked or go off course when you are learning something new. By documenting your process, you are holding yourself accountable to keep going and not give up.

5) Helps get a job without work experience:

When you document your journey, you’re creating a body of work that prospective employers can look at when making hiring decisions.

In today’s competitive job market, simply having the right education and certification isn’t enough – you need to be able to back up your claims with evidence of your work. 

By documenting your cybersecurity career journey, you’re allowing employers to see for themselves what kind of worker you are and what kind of contributions you can make to their team. 

Seth Godin in his book, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work, talks about the importance of starting before you’re ready.

So, instead of waiting until you are a cybersecurity expert, grab a keyboard or a camera and showcase your morphing phase.

“And then what?” you ask.

The answer is simple: keep going and never stop learning.

Mike Chu

Mike is a web developer and content writer living as a digital nomad. With more than 20 years of devops experience, he brings his "programmer with people skills" approach to help explain technology to the average user. Check out his full author bio by clicking here.

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