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Mid-career web developer looking for advice on career change into Info Sec.

Discussion in 'Employment & Jobs' started by contactmc, Feb 27, 2015.

  1. contactmc

    contactmc New Member

    Mid-career web developer looking for advice on career change into Cyber Security or to pursue further education in web or software programming.

    Hello, I am 38 y/o and have been doing web design and front-end development for about 15 years. I left college to work at a startup and although the stock options never amounted to anything, I was fortunate enough to maintain a decent living as a web developer without a degree. I eventually ended up in a management role but then got laid off and now back to doing just programming. I stupidly haven’t kept myself up to date and my programming skills are nowhere near the level I feel comfortable with to continue long term as a web developer, and combine that with not having a degree is really putting a damper on my career outlook. I have come to a conclusion that no matter what I decide on doing, I really should get a bachelor’s degree. I am currently working in a pretty easy 9-5 job so I feel I can dedicate the time needed to get a degree through an online program somewhere.

    Here is where I need your advice! I am at a fork in the road and am looking at two options:

    OPTION 1 – Get a Computer Science degree and continue in the web development field or something else programming related.

    Option 1 Pros:
    • CS degree will get me past the HR filter. Degree really doesn’t matter when dealing with the actual technical person I would be working for/with but many times HR won’t let you through to meet them
    • I can leverage most of my work experience
    • Get formal training on some popular programming languages
    Option 1 Cons (mainly about continuing in this line of work, not the actual process of getting a CS degree):
    • Expectations to be an overnight expert in the web technology du-jour
    • Career longevity. I know this industry is relatively new, but I haven’t come across any web developer/programmer over 50 since I started in this career. And I always come across bias for younger talent
    • Increasing offshore outsourcing
    • Income potential. You can make a decent living as a web developer. Varies by region but I live near NYC and 100k+ is very doable here, but cost of living is high. Unless I become a high level specialist in something, I am looking at ~120k max in a non-managerial role.

    OPTION 2 – Get a degree in Information Assurance or some other cyber security related field. Preferably focusing on software/programming side rather than network engineering. But will be ok to go either way if long term prospects are better with one.

    Option 2 Pros (these are what I think are pros, please correct me if I am wrong!):
    • This is a really hot area and I am feeling this option might give me more career options and longevity.
    • Entry level salary of 80k+ with a bachelor’s degree (again, I understand regional differences but I am using NYC as a point of reference)
    • Average income of 150k+ after ~5 years of experience in a non-managerial role
    • Age and experience is not seen as a negative
    • Excellent job security, especially if able to pass government clearance
    Option 2 Cons (again, these are what I think are cons, please correct me if I am wrong!):
    • Never ending training to keep up with new technologies and threats
    • Likely to be “on-call” 24-7
    • High travel
    • Jobs are heavily concentrated in a few areas; Washington DC, Maryland, NYC, etc.
    • Low pay if working for government
    Questions for Option 2:
    • I understand both career paths have excellent outlook and both require ongoing upkeep of skills. I know about the web programming side but wanted to get some feedback as to the level of ongoing training that’s expected in the information security field.
    • What education level is adequate and what is recommended? AS, BA/BS, MS, etc.
    • Does a “security” degree give a big advantage over a CS degree? Would it be good to get a bachelor’s in CS and masters in a security related field?
    • What are must have certifications?
    • What are the typical paths taken from entry level to mid-career to senior level and average salary ranges? I read at some forum that one pretty much needs to start at a help desk or network support role and not get too over qualified too fast. Gradually getting additional certs and transition into security related roles. Is this accurate?
      I started as a web designer/developer at 35k, then in about 10 years reached what I feel was a mid-level manager position and salary peaked at 110k. Since being laid off from that position, I am at 85k as a staff web developer.
      Would I be looking at a long road before making +100k?
    • What is the average salary for a non-managerial position?
    • For the folks who have been doing this for a while, can you see yourself in this line of work for the long term? Like into retirement.
    • How is the work-life balance? I know travel is pretty standard for this industry.

    I enjoy working with computers and programming so I find both options interesting. And having been in management role, I prefer to stay away from it if possible. I don’t have any social or communication issues but office politics is not my game.

    I apologize for this long post but I just had a lot of questions and switching careers at this point in my life is a big deal and I am trying to get as best informed as possible.
    JK2447 likes this.
  2. dmarsh

    dmarsh Terabyte Poster

    You absolutely do not need a degree to have a successful career as a developer, I have friends earning six figure salaries as programmers that never finished college. You also don't need one to be a pen tester.
    Look at what edx, coursera, udacity, pluralsight, lynda, iversity, udemy have to offer. you can learn a hell of a lot without going to university.
    If interested in pen testing look at pen test sites, they are out there I tried a few but its not really my thing.
    If you are a programmer the best way to learn a new language is to buy a book and write some code. No need to go to college.
    In 20 years I can count the number of important meetings with HR on one hand, apart from my very first job, a degree was never relevant.
    Security is every bit as likely to be time and study intensive, probably worse than web development if you're doing it properly.
    "unless I become a high level specialist in something" yes do it absolutely!

    Yes you will have to keep up with technology, or pick 'stable' technologies, or move into management.
    Not all jobs have on call, I've never been formally on call in 20 years as a developer.
    I've been to USA, China, Germany, Italy on business, but again can count travel on one hand, lot development jobs do not require travel, its more typical to be stuck in a rather dull office.
    Yes the best jobs are in major cities, jobs outside major cities typically have poor pay. You can work around this if your skills are good enough and you are inventive.
    Some government jobs pay well because of the security clearance required, but yes generally the pay is not as good, simple answer is don't work there.

    I hear top developers can earn $200k+, I don't think the salary should affect your decision, you have to choose the career and make it work for you.
    Engineering positions tend to be high workload, burnout positions, that's why they prefer young guys they can drive them harder, also by the time people are 50, if they were any good, they've earned enough money and can take early retirement.

    I did some pen test courses, but don't work in the industry so will leave the rest for a security bod, goodluck !
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2015
    JK2447 likes this.
  3. SimonD
    Honorary Member

    SimonD Terabyte Poster Moderator

    As a guy in my 40s (I turn 45 next month) I can tell you that I haven't got a degree, in fact I left school with very little in the way of scholastic qualifications.

    Has not having a degree held me back? certainly not. I like to think I have been successful in my career, I was promoted in to a management position last year and whilst I am now doing on-call for the first time ever in my career I can't complain as I can tell you I have been called out no more than 5 times in the last 4 months.

    Like Dave said above, you don't need a degree to be successful, it's more than likely that with your age now you're less likely to be asked about a degree, it's certainly likely that if you were just starting out that it would be more relevant but you're an established dev.

    Of course you could always look at the world of Dev Ops, a mix of Development and Operations, a wider appreciation of everything (not something I could do as I am not a developer).
    Certifications: CNA | CNE | CCNA | MCP | MCP+I | MCSE NT4 | MCSA 2003 | Security+ | MCSA:S 2003 | MCSE:S 2003 | MCTS:SCCM 2007 | MCTS:Win 7 | MCITP:EDA7 | MCITP:SA | MCITP:EA | MCTS:Hyper-V | VCP 4 | ITIL v3 Foundation | VCP 5 DCV | VCP 5 Cloud | VCP6 NV | VCP6 DCV | VCAP 5.5 DCA
    WIP: VCP6-CMA, VCAP-DCD and Linux + (and possibly VCIX-NV).

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