Do Tech Employers Prefer Cyber Degrees, or Cyber Skills?

By Ingrid Toppelberg, CPO Cybint Solutions

In 2020, soaring cyber crime cost the world almost $1 trillion dollars, according to a joint report by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Facing an upsurge of attacks amid an accelerated transition into the digital world, businesses worked to step up their cybersecurity hiring. What they found, however, was that the talent pool was not large enough to accommodate the call to arms—globally, over three million cybersecurity jobs were left vacant in 2020.

The problem boils down to a simple discrepancy: Companies want to hire fast, but the traditional education system does not move as swiftly as hiring managers. Completing a Bachelor’s degree typically takes three or four years, with an added two years for an MSc. This leaves HR managers choosing between onboarding only Bachelor- and Master-degree holders, as rare as they may be, and giving a chance to those hacking their own training. 

IT-related disciplines are no strangers on the campus, especially since the Internet was once a purely academic network, connecting UCLA and Stanford. The offering usually includes both general and specialized tracks, including cybersecurity, and jobs in the field are also an option for Computer Science and Software Engineering graduates.

While the university is a venerable and important pillar of classical education, the modern era has also given rise to other forms of training designed to help professionals keep up with the world. Massive open online courses have been gaining more traction among people looking to upskill, and the pandemic brought millions of new users to the leading platforms in the sphere. Also growing is the bootcamp market, delivering focused and practice-oriented courses in a variety of tech-related disciplines, including cybersecurity, that usually take less than 6 months. 

Who does it better?

Businesses looking for cybersecurity professionals do appreciate university degrees: according to CyberSeek, for entry-level positions in the field, only up to 19 percent do not require at least a Bachelor’s degree. Rasmussen College also found that only 12 percent of cybersecurity jobs were open to people who are not holding at least a Bachelor’s degree, according to its 2019 research.

These stats, however, are indicative of the demand, but not necessarily of the skillsets and performance of those pursuing different educational pathways. A research by Triplebyte showed that bootcamp and university grads could both fare well in a test, which also revealed their strengths: Bootcamp grads were better with tasks that challenged their practical skills, but degree colleges shined in matters requiring theoretical knowledge.

Furthermore, job requirements may not reflect the way businesses feel about applicants who completed bootcamps as opposed to degree programs. According to CourseReport, companies, including top destinations like Cisco, JP Morgan Chase, and Slack, are open to hiring grads from coding bootcamps with a good reputation. They cite benefits including how bootcamps create “a real world software development environment.” Other reports also indicate high in-field employment rates for bootcamp grads, while a survey by Indeed suggests that most HR managers hold bootcamp grads in the same regard as college grads.

Zooming in on cybersecurity, we have to keep in mind that the subject area is seen as the more elite IT field. And yet, bootcamp graduates are among those hired by IBM Security, according to a recent BBC report. And there is a reason for that. The top three concerns for HR managers seeking security talent, as per a study by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, are relevant work experience, knowledge of advanced security concepts, and cybersecurity certifications. With their focus on hands-on training, bootcamps deliver on the former, and can also be a major help toward earning an internationally recognized certificate. While their graduates may have to catch up on the advanced concepts on the go, their challenge will be similar to those faced by recent college grads forced to quickly brush up their practical skills.

Finally, some universities, such as Holmes Institute in Australia, Grand View University in the U.S., and LCC International University in Lithuania, have been partnering up with bootcamps to add their courses to the curriculum of their tech students. This approach allows students to enjoy both the all-around in-depth approach of the academic education and the hands-on skill-focused training offered by bootcamps, leaving them equipped with both theoretical knowledge and practical skills sought by the industry.

All in all, the question of whether a bootcamp grad is a good fit for a vacancy ultimately depends on the job’s specifications. However, both recent university and bootcamps graduates are unlikely to be fit for high-tier positions, while in entry-level jobs, they both bring their respective strengths to the table. Thus, to make the final call, the HR manager must figure out whether the job in question is more geared to practical tasks or theoretical knowledge, and proceed accordingly. This not only makes both options ultimately viable, but also crowns their merger, a bootcamp on campus, as the ideal solution that eliminates the dilemma altogether. Going forward, thus, we can expect on-campus bootcamps to become the default option, bringing in the best of both worlds.

About the Author

As Chief Product Officer at Cybint, Ingrid Toppelberg puts her formidable professional education expertise to work developing relevant, best-in-class oriented programs for those entering the cybersecurity field or advancing their careers. In addition to her Cybint position, she currently serves as a Head Coach for the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Bootcamps, where she trains and manages MIT’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Bootcamps coaches. An economist by training, Ingrid also worked at Mckinsey & Company, where she specialized in digitalization and change management. Ingrid holds an MBA from MIT Sloan School Of Management and a bachelor’s in economics from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Other Topics