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Community is a Lifeline in the Day-to-Day World of a Cybersecurity Professional

By Wendy Batten posted Wed June 20, 2018 08:03 AM


In your day-to-day job as a security professional, do you often find yourself frantically typing queries into search engines to find answers to questions that your security team has? Do you feel like you can’t ever get ahead of problems because you’re scrambling too fast just to catch up? Does it seem like your skills are behind and you can’t keep up?  Do you sometimes think your company’s whole approach to security is built upon fighting fires?

If your answer to any of those questions is yes, then you are not alone, and the situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. The security landscape is too dynamic to lend itself to hard rules and fixed practices. It’s not a discipline for the weary. It takes grit, time, dedication and tenacity to be successful. To be an effective security professional you must be innovative and ready for the unexpected. But that’s one of the reasons you like cybersecurity, right?

The good news is that you have plenty of company. I’ve just returned from a whirlwind tour, attending our Master Skills University event in Florida and our European User Groups in Frankfurt, Stockholm, Paris & Rome.

My mission was to tell our clients, partners and colleagues about our new security user group community, but I also wanted to take the opportunity just to listen, so I asked people wherever possible how they do their job and what they believe constitutes success.

No Right or Wrong

I learned that no two organizations approach cybersecurity the same way. Take the issue of the skills crisis, which is global in scope and affects every organization. When I asked how people’s organizations are dealing with the shortfall, I got answers like these:

  • “Word of mouth with colleagues;”
  • “It’s up to me, so I study on my own time;”
  • “My country doesn’t have a good base of security skills in general;”
  • “Conferences and outside classes;”
  • “Internal training;”
  • “Company wiki;”
  • “Job shadowing and mentoring;”
  • and my personal favorite: “It’s sink or swim.”

When I asked security professionals how they got into the field in the first place, the answers were just as diverse:

  • “Studied it in university;”
  • “On-the-job training;”
  • “Implementing cryptography on OS/2;”
  • “It was by accident. I started as a software developer;” and
  • “A friend dragged me into it because he thought I’d be good at this.”

I can’t help but think of the contrast between these answers and those I’d get if I interviewed a group of accountants or manufacturing engineers. Those established professions have well-defined skills requirements, rich university programs, time-tested certifications and clear job descriptions. Career paths are paved and well-trodden.

“New Collar” Dynamics

In contrast, cybersecurity is what IBM calls a “new collar” job. There are many career paths, low barriers to entry and almost boundless growth opportunity. The flip side of such an exciting career is uncertainty and often poor direction from the top. As one client told me, “We suffer from hourglass syndrome: The technicians constantly have sand pouring on them, and as you go up the hourglass the lines of communication shrink.”

Many cybersecurity professionals told me that it’s up to them to find their own opportunities and define their own jobs. But if you’re the type of person who enjoys getting up each morning not being entirely sure what you’re going to do that day, then I can’t imagine a more exciting career.

That’s one reason the online landscape for security professionals is so vast. Change is constant, new challenges are always just around the corner and the profession laughs at formal job descriptions. In such an environment, human connections are essential.

As I queried audiences about how they do their jobs, I could see people in the audience visibly relax. It became clear that their chosen profession had few right or wrong answers and that each could help the others.

Which brings me back to the IBM Security Community. We launched it to enable security professionals with interest or expertise in IBM products to connect with each other for problem-solving, education, tips and even emotional support. Some of the discussion forums already have hundreds of members, and we’re still only a few months in.

The IBM Security Community helps our clients keep connected with local user groups and eventsinteract with each other and our experts through the discussion forums and top support topics, find education and training resources, access top technical content from Master Skills and presentations from recent user group meetings.  

My vision for the IBM Security Community is to give clients and partners a trusted resource to help them face the business challenges of today and to impact business outcomes tomorrow. We will do this together, because in the face of today’s advanced threats, isolation isn’t an option.

Join the conversation; Ask one question and answer another. Take our survey and tell us what you want from the community. We are listening.