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October 17, 2019

Why Employers Seeking Cybersecurity Talent Look First for Soft Business Skills

What cybersecurity skills are most in demand in today's IT job market? Building firewalls? Spotting malware? Penetration testing?


Sure, those technical skills are important, but aspiring technologists of any generation should  sharpen their researching, writing, teaching, learning, and collaborating skills first, says Todd Thibodeaux, Chief Executive of CompTIA, the world's leading association for IT pros.


In this excerpted conversation from an episode of our Technologist Talk with Charles Eaton podcast, Todd tells us why employers seeking cybersecurity talent look for soft business skills before hard technical ones.


Todd: In the [cybersecurity] case… the challenges are different every day. You have different actors trying to penetrate your networks -- whether it's someone in their basement or whether it's a nation-state. You have different assets that need to be protected. You have different stakeholders there.


When you're doing network administration… you're doing some help desk… you're doing some cloud administration… those are a little bit more cut and dried. There's a lot more ambiguity to the cyber role… There's a lot more that you have to manage and balance. And in that consultative process… you have to look at outside resources, you have to look beyond yourself, if you don't know the answer to a [cybersecurity] challenge, because it's critical, protecting the networks.


So, this idea that you don't have all the knowledge, that you don't have all that you need means you have to be willing to go and ask other people for help. And if you're not willing to ask people for help, you'll never be successful. When people ask you for help, you should always help them. But you should never be afraid to ask for help – especially in the [cybersecurity] world where things change all the time.


Bob: [You say cybersecurity specialists should have] an aptitude for research and writing. Young technologists that aspire to go into the help desk world… may not think of their job as researching and writing.


Todd: I think it's around the ability to ask good questions and be a good listener. So, being able to formulate questions in your own mind and get to the root of the situation without thinking from your own perspective first.


When you're a good writer… you're hopefully writing with the other person, the reader in Todd-Thibodeaux with title mind… the ability to think from somebody else's perspective. What are they really trying to get at here? What's the question that they're really trying to address? Or what's the thing that I really need to know from that person to help me solve the problem that they're presenting to me? And I think that through writing and being able to express yourself in that way, you can really improve that skill.


Bob: A talent for teaching. Why is that great leverage in a cybersecurity career?


Todd: That's about passing down knowledge. That's about sharing what you know – the value of analogy and story and examples. Being able to teach in a way that you wouldn't think is teaching but it is because you're looking at that other person's perspective, and you're not only thinking about what it is they should know, but you're thinking about how can they best consume it. …Good teachers do that. They think about not just how they want to translate it but how the other person is going to best absorb it.


In the cyberspace, that's particularly true. When you're talking about complex issues and timely and sensitive things you have to be clear and concise in your communication.


Bob: It's often been said that the highest form of learning is teaching. Why is a passion for learning particularly important in the realm of cybersecurity?


Todd: Because things are changing so much. We still have phishing. We still have social engineering. We still have bots… but they all take different forms. It's the same thing, but they get more sophisticated. Or they get more complex. Or they're using different mechanisms… and you can't assume that you know everything.


So, you have to know [cybersecurity] backwards and forwards… if you really learned it and absorbed it in that way, then there's a lot more that you can communicate to other people than if you're just regurgitating what you read [online.]


Technologist Talk with Charles Eaton is a podcast from CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, Creating IT Futures, where we talk to business leaders, workforce professionals and talent developers about shaping technology careers.


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