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Is switching a computer science related career easy?

If you begin a career in cyber security, computer science or any similar field and want to switch your career to a similar one, is it easy?

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Nancy’s Answer

Nikita,
It is much easier to move between technology jobs than it is to move from outside tech and into tech without relevant experience. This is because technology work requires quite a bit of math, science, computer science and engineering coursework. If you think you may be interested in tech focus on math and science in high school. Being a good communicator helps in any career. When you start your first job, keep learning and networking with people to get exposed to other areas you may enjoy. Your skills will likely be in demand.
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Robert’s Answer

No. It is not easy to transition from Computer/Cyber Security to programming, even with a programming 4-year degree. It is actually very difficult, and nearly impossible the longer you wait. I know someone who tried to do that, and ended up having to switch to project management.

The reason crossover between the two fields is difficult is because the skills used by the fields don't really overlap. Computer Security for a company is considered to be an "IT" job. Entry level positions rarely require a degree. If they do, an AA/AS is usually sufficient, or a BA/BS in MIS or similar. I have never seen a job listing for a Computer/Cyber Security job requiring a 4-year degree in Computer Science/Programming.

Why? Because Computer Security entry level jobs are essentially button pushing jobs. You will be given some form of admin-level credentials to whatever security suite the company is using (McAfee, CrowdStrike, etc.) and your job will be to push the buttons in the app other programmers wrote to: check reports, produce reports, follow-up on policy violations reported by the tool about users (e.g. Frank in Accounting visited a known malware website), test the users for compliance with company guidelines, enforce policy (no VPN for a user until they bring in their laptop to be cleaned because a virus was detected on it), answer e-mails, and occasionally look at something someone sends them to see if it is okay to open. You will not, at all, be using any skills learned from programming, or any courses from a Computer Science/Programming degree.

If you manage to hang on with a Computer Security job long enough, they may eventually let you move up to a semi-engineering position where you reverse engineer known malware and try to determine what it was doing, how it managed to get past your defenses, and then work with your network and firewall teams to tighten those defenses. However, if you show yourself to be competent, likely you will get stuck on a management fast track to lead teams for the company's Computer Security office, as that will be more valuable to the company than having you look at decompiled attack code when they could just farm that out overseas or to contractors.

If you take a corporate Cyber Security/Computer Security job straight out of college, and stay in it one year, that will be one year of your programming skills atrophying. That is recoverable, and you could switch to a programming job without issue, and even be able to say you now can write more secure software due to your work in the field. At 18 months, your skills are starting to get seriously out of date, but as long as you do a little programming on the side, you could probably still switch out. After 2 years though, it is going to be a tough sell to apply to a programming job from a Security job, unless you have been keeping your skills sharp on your own time, doing side projects.

Going the other way (programmer to Cyber Security/Computer Security) is easy enough. However, note that the higher salaries commanded by programming positions do not map 1:1 for Security positions. As I said above, Security roles are considered more "IT" (which is a support business unit in most companies) and as such more "blue collar" than the "white collar" work of programmers/engineers, and it doesn't require as much in the way of a degree. So the pay is lower across the field. Sure, you can still make very good money in Security, but not at the entry level. Also note, unlike 9-5 programmers/engineers, Security is kind of like joining the military. A watch has to be "stood" -- which means someone needs to be reachable from your department 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even holidays. That will mean taking quick time off to pick up the kids from school will be hard, as will taking a vacation. It will also mean carrying around a work phone with you at all times. Many companies try to work around the 24/7 issue by hiring staff overseas as well, so when you are asleep they are awake, and vice versa -- but not every company is well funded enough to do that.

A strong note here, because you listed Cyber/Computer Security and Computer Programming in the question together, I answered it from that point of view. HOWEVER, if instead of doing security work for a company, you instead apply for, and get hired to do work for: the NSA, FBI, CIA, etc. you can make SUBSTANTIALLY more money (and you will also have to pass a national security clearance review). You likely won't be able to transfer out of such a career though, as all of your work would be classified, and you may not even be able to list on a resume that you worked for a federal agency for X amount of years if you leave the role. Many agents in security work have covers for their roles, and are required to stick to those covers, for their safety, as well as national security.

I would advise you to try to intern in a position similar to the one you are most interested in, and ask questions. Ask them about degree requirements, salary, working conditions, etc. If you have time, try to intern in another position which you are less interested in, and ask the same questions. You can also just ask to do interviews with people working in the field, instead of internships. Most people are happy to answer questions about their fields.
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Yelena’s Answer

Yes, it is rather easy and a lot of IT folks do it. It is even unusual to see someone who worked only in one role or one field for decades.
Besides, new avenues or work are coming along all the time, and no university education can cover technology that will be used in the field in 5-10 years, so be ready to make your profession something that is not even invented yet. Being in Tech means that you need to learn all the time, which can be stressful, but it also means that you naturally get immersed in a latest technological advances, so you learn on a job constantly.
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Bryan’s Answer

While I wouldn't exactly classify it as "simple," I would certainly deem it achievable. The realm of careers associated with computer science is vast. Possessing a degree in computer science opens up a multitude of opportunities within this field.

However, a challenge often arises when you initiate your career in one specific area and later aspire to transition into another. The skills you acquire are typically tailored to your current area of work, which might make it challenging to gain experience in a different sector you wish to explore. This could potentially mean having to start in a role that is more junior than your current position.
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Mark’s Answer

The concept of 'easy' is subjective, as evidenced by the varying responses above. If you're proficient in your field, tasks may seem straightforward. However, if you aspire to excel in a new area, it demands both knowledge and experience. Computer science and coding, though frequently mistaken as identical, are two distinct fields. With a robust computer science degree, you'll grasp a wealth of theory, making the adoption of new technologies a breeze. Learning a single programming language can certainly land you a job, but transitioning to another may pose a challenge. However, remember that every challenge is a new opportunity for growth and learning. Keep pushing your boundaries, and you'll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Mark recommends the following next steps:

Review a few difffernt skills from looking at published job descriptions
Determine what you like and what you are capable of learning
Look at different options ; 2 year degree, 4 year degree, bootcamp that fit your budget, timeline and goal
Obtain the skills needed and find the first opportunity ideally that has growth opportunies
Never stop your eduation.
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ash’s Answer

Absolutely, many people successfully transition into new roles. Here's a simple, actionable plan:

- Start by having conversations with people in the field you're interested in.
- Identify the differences between your current role and the one you aspire to.
- Improve your skills in these areas - there's a wealth of free training resources available online, such as YouTube.
- Get hands-on experience by working on a project or volunteering.
- Finally, make sure to update your professional profile to reflect your new skills and experiences.
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Jeff’s Answer

Hi Nikita,

Good question!
The one thing I can guarantee is that, if you begin your career in computer science, you will not finish it doing the same thing! Computers are always in flux. Everything changes and you can move into any area you want. That's one of the real joys of a computer career! I began my career as a large systems application programmer. I switched to a hardware test engineer, developing hardware and software to test personal computer adapters. From there, I moved into firmware development, developing BIOS code. My code was what set up all of the resources when you power on your computer and see the splash screen. After that, I went into academia as a professor.

Bottom line: you are not locked in to any aspect of a computer career and you can change and will have to throughout your career.

Jeff recommends the following next steps:

Always keep learning and stay up to date on the newest technology
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