While organizations are focused on the health concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, cyber criminals are taking advantage of a workforce subjected to social distancing and unfamiliar work practices.
Employers require candidates who stand out in a crowded job market and can adapt to new policies and procedures to combat evolving threats. Cyber professionals who are easily able to adapt to a variety of environments and stress levels have greater opportunity. Often, this adaptability is learned by staying up to date on the latest education and industry certifications dedicated to changing trends and security procedures.
Stephanie Benoit-Kurtz, director of cybersecurity for Station Casinos in Las Vegas, said keeping up is kind of like transforming into a unicorn. In the workplace, “unicorns” are employees with a distinct and unique set of skills that set them apart in their field.
She said now is the time for employees to upskill or specialize to really stand out, particularly in the IT and cybersecurity space.
“A sparkle-covered unicorn has lots of breadth and depth in a lot of different areas, and then a couple of critical specializations,” said Benoit-Kurtz, who also serves as lead faculty for University of Phoenix’s College of Information Systems and Technology Las Vegas Campus. “In strong economies and in difficult times, seeking a specialization in the IT and cybersecurity fields can enhance your skills and lead to new opportunities.”
New industry trends emerge so rapidly that it’s essential to keep up through training and specializations, she said. If you are job searching, organizations are going to employ individuals that not only have a basic knowledge of IT, but they are going to look for those individuals who have those specializations. If you are currently employed, it shows leadership in your company that you have talent across areas and exposure to different skill sets that can bring value to the organization.
Specializations are also important to acquire as IT professionals progress through their career and within organizations, she said. But even as they become subject matter specialists in one area, advances in technology move so rapidly that IT professionals benefit from continuing their education and training as lifelong learners.
While many academic institutions are steeped in theory, University of Phoenix offers students a different experience, Benoit-Kurtz said. Theory has value as historical context, but it discusses things that potentially happened years ago. UOPX has practitioners as instructors and offers courses and specialized areas of study that are tailored to the current needs in the industry. It is what sets a UOPX technology degree apart, she said.
"In strong economies and in difficult times, seeking a specialization in the IT and cybersecurity fields can enhance your skills and lead to new opportunities.”
— Stephanie Benoit-Kurtz, UOPX lead faculty member, director of cybersecurity for Station Casinos in Las Vegas
“The content and the application of that content is relevant and usable,” she said. “We highlight what is happening in cybersecurity today and how that impacts the threat landscape of what we are living.”
The technology degree elective options at UOPX are a series of four to seven courses that are designed to provide a foundational understanding of the specialization area, as well as the latest and most relevant information that can be put to use immediately in the field.
The UOPX Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (IT) offers four elective options: Data Management, Data Analytics, Cybersecurity Foundations and Cybersecurity Policy and Governance. Additionally, the Associate of Arts in Information Technology has two options: Data Management and Cybersecurity Foundations and Network Defense.
Earlier this year, the University launched a new Bachelor’s of Science in Cybersecurity, as well as a range of IT certificates, including Advanced Networking, Cloud Computing and Scripted and Compiled Programming Languages. Many of the new certificates can help adult learners upskill, and, often times, a certificate is all a professional needs to stay current in their field.
Courses are available for individuals at any stage in their professional journey, from entry-level workers to the CSO-suite. It can’t be overstated that ongoing education is essential for the profession, Benoit-Kurtz said.
Benoit-Kurtz has seen this in her own career. She has spent more than 30 years as an IT professional. During that time she has seen economic booms and busts, as well as many new industry trends emerge. Throughout it all, Benoit-Kurtz has continued her education, gaining specialized training, certifications and advanced degrees in order to keep abreast of the changes.
“If we wait two or three years for information, we are looking at ancient history,” she said. “In my role, even, things that are a couple of weeks old are no longer accurate.”