As Singapore’s economy evolved in the Digital Revolution, Benjamin Tan, Chief Executive Officer and Emil Tan, Chief Operating Officer, realised that the country’s digital and cybersecurity capabilities needed to evolve, as well. However, with passwords and personal information vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks and a dearth of cybersecurity professionals in the industry, change was slow going.
In an effort to address this talent crunch, they decided to set up Red Alpha Cybersecurity, a talent development company focused on training aspiring cybersecurity professionals who don’t necessarily have backgrounds in IT and technology, system administration and programming – areas most cybersecurity professionals tend to come from.
What they found stunned them – contrary to popular belief, a related background wasn’t required to work in the industry. In fact, they found a number of benefits instead. A number of Red Alpha Cybersecurity’s graduates approached cybersecurity issues in creative ways, looked beyond technical solutions to solve technical issues and brought with them alternative skills not native to the cybersecurity community.
For instance, they discovered that a former power engineer with prior knowledge of power systems was better able to defend Industrial Control Systems (ICS). Moreover, a former law associate managed to contribute to legal and policy developments in cybersecurity, which is in its nascent stages. Another who had done sales in the past did well as a cybersecurity sales engineer.
With this in mind, read on to find out how you can break into the cybersecurity industry without a related background!
Could you share with us how Red Alpha Cybersecurity imparts knowledge to students who don't have IT-related backgrounds?
Our trainers are current cybersecurity practitioners, who understand the skill sets required in the industry, and focus on transmitting said skills through hands-on practical training.
The training is also designed to build strong cybersecurity fundamentals, even for students without IT-related backgrounds. Lastly, we keep our trainer-trainee ratio small, so that our trainers are effective in transmitting their skills.
What are some barriers of entry into the cybersecurity sector? How can they best be overcome?
The most common barrier to entry is the mismatch between the skill sets of jobseekers and what potential employers are looking out for. Jobseekers looking to enter cybersecurity are often overwhelmed by the various certifications and reskilling programmes offered in the industry, and often sign up for cybersecurity reskilling or certifications that don’t increase their employability.
Potential employers are also constantly looking out only for experienced personnel with relevant hands-on skills, even for entry level positions, because they consistently face manpower shortages.
These barriers can be overcome by taking the time to gather the right information from experienced practitioners, and setting aside sufficient time and money to acquire the necessary skills.
What are some of the necessary skills and attributes fresh graduates and young professionals just entering the cybersecurity sector should possess to succeed?
We would probably whittle it down to three attributes.
- Excellence: One should constantly strive for excellence in the things they do, really understand the underlying matter at hand, and strive for the level of being able to tap into the depth and breadth of their knowledge to fulfil their tasks effectively and efficiently
- Grit: The field of cybersecurity is a lifelong learning journey. One has to push themselves to constantly learn, relearn and even unlearn knowledge, to push themselves beyond their limits, reach for new heights and never rest on their laurels, so as to be one step ahead of cybercrime
- Teamwork: It’s not possible to learn everything there is to learn in cybersecurity by yourself. To be an effective professional, you’ll need to work well in teams, and leverage on another’s strengths and knowledge to fulfil your tasks at hand
Why do you think fresh graduates and young working professionals should join the cybersecurity industry?
The work is meaningful, because you’re securing organisations against real cybercriminals who are looking to disrupt the peace by stealing data, installing ransomware, or bringing down critical infrastructure. The work’s also challenging, and very fulfilling.
Practically, the cybersecurity industry is a growing industry that provides attractive career pathways and remuneration, and there’s prestige in being recognised as a technical specialist in the cybersecurity field.
What tips and advice would you give graduates and young professionals looking to enter the cybersecurity sector, whether they have a related background or not?
Firstly, be brave and take the first step with an open mind to realise your aspirations, as there has never been a better time to enter the cybersecurity industry. Also, leverage on the numerous free resources online to level up on your cybersecurity knowledge, and to gauge if you really have the interest to pursue this field further.
Secondly, speak with those in the industry to gain a better understanding of what the job requires and learn from their own experiences. Once you’re done, analyse your own strengths and consider how they can help you in your cybersecurity journey.
Lastly, remember that your strengths don’t have to be technical in nature. Soft skills, critical thinking and communication skills are just as important.