If you want a license to yank out someone’s tooth, you face a decade of collegiate and post-secondary education and training. And a rigorous state exam. The average dentist earns around $150,000. That’s roughly GS-15 or entry senior executive pay. The Veterans Affairs Department pays staff dentists in the vicinity of $100,000. The VA has 31 openings for dental people nationally, most of them hygienists or assistants. Becoming a hygienist takes at least two years of training before they let you wield a #33 scaler.
I’m not aware of any national shortage of dentists or dental support staff. Some regions are underserved, but in aggregate, the nation tends to produce enough dentists to go around. Dentistry may not be glamorous, but in many ways, it’s a crucial element to the nation’s public health.
Compare that to cybersecurity jobs. How often do you hear the nation needs a million more cybersecurity people? Paywise, cyber jobs range widely. I found an Ernst & Young position at $27 an hour. Accenture has an opening on GlassDoor at $145,000. The top cybersecurity official at a public corporation can easily earn a couple of hundred thousand or more. So there’s an upside.
It may sound dull to the uninitiated, but you and I know cybersecurity is not only interesting but also crucial to the nation’s economic health.
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Yet the barrier to entry into cybersecurity is far lower than that of becoming a dentist.
True, many colleges and universities offer two- and four-year degree programs in cybersecurity. No doubt people graduating them are well-prepared to enter the cyber workforce. A person can also get extensive cyber training in the armed services, presuming they’re willing to enlist and put in the required time.
It’s also possible to take the craft or apprentice route. I spoke with Sam Curry, the chief security officer at Cybereason and a long-time cybersecurity industry practitioner. “When I’m looking for cybersecurity analysts or people to do the job, I look for people with good short-term memory skills who aren’t afraid of technology,” Curry said. “So musicians, mathematicians, English majors, what have you. People who can engage in multiple tasks and they learn. That’s actually more important than the basics in some cases. Look for the mindset, the attitude.”
In some ways, cyber is like becoming an FBI agent. The FBI website carries an array of videos detailing the training people get to become special agents. In the weapons video, an instructor explains it doesn’t matter whether you are ex-military or have never touched a gun. They’ll get you proficient. So it is for many other required skills, once you’ve made it past the screening to get hired in the first place. No doubt trainees have driver’s licenses. But with training, they can complete the Precision Obstacle Course. It includes precise cone weaving — in reverse.
For the FBI, you likely need a law enforcement or related four-year degree, plus intelligence and the ability to meet physical requirements. But they’ll teach you the ropes.
Crucial as cybersecurity might be, somehow it’s not getting sold right. CNN reported this morning that for 1,200 flight attendant openings, Delta Airlines received something like 150,000 applications last year. The carrier received 125,000 for 1,000 openings this year. This for jobs starting at $25,000 with lousy hours, pouring ginger ale for grumpy and occasionally violent customers, all stuffed in filthy, mobbed airliners between stints in dreary airports. Okay, you get an occasional free standby flight to Cleveland.
If the low-paid, albeit crucial, flight attendant job draws a thousand people for every opening, surely the cybersecurity industry can draw in more people.