Illumio Culture

Want to Break In to the Cybersecurity Industry? 2 Experts Share Their Experience

What does a reformed hacker who’s been cracking systems since he was a child have in common with the Godfather of Zero Trust?  

On the surface, these two reputations could not be more different. And yet, both Paul Dant, a reformed child hacker, and John Kindervag, the creator of Zero Trust, have found themselves at Illumio pioneering the future of Zero Trust Segmentation.

How do two wildly different journeys through the world of cybersecurity wind up at the same place? That’s what Dant and Kindervag set out to discover in their recent webinar, The Long and Winding Road of a Young Hacker to Zero Trust.  

Their conversation highlighted three of the best ways to succeed in a cybersecurity career. Here are three of the biggest takeaways from their discussion.

Starting out in cybersecurity requires hands-on experience

Like many industries, cybersecurity has a significant talent shortage, with some reports indicating there are almost 4 million roles open worldwide that aren’t getting filled. With so many opportunities available, Kindervag and Dant said that they frequently get questions about how to get into the cybersecurity business.

“There's so many people who want to get into cybersecurity, and they don't know how to do it,” Kindervag said.  

However, a challenge they see potential cyber professionals running into is focusing on conventional education routes rather than hands-on experience. Kindervag mentioned recently meeting someone with a PhD in cybersecurity who’s struggling to get a job because they have no real-world experience.  

“Paul and I didn’t get a degree in cybersecurity, but we got a lot of hands-on experience in security early on.”

“You need some hands-on experience above all else to get into the industry,” Kindervag noted.

While traditional education is still important — and many entry-level security roles do require some certifications — Kindervag and Dant’s journeys were driven first and foremost by curiosity and just flat-out doing rather than specific courses or a degree.

Curiosity drives security career success

Paul Dant, reformed child hacker
8-year-old Paul Dant at his very first PC, a Tandy 1000 EX

Though Kindervag’s and Dant’s journeys to cybersecurity didn’t start out with a traditional cybersecurity degree, they were fueled by proactively seeking out information on their own.

For Dant, this began in childhood: “Before I even really knew the word hacking, I got really interested PC games. I started at about eight years old in the last 80s teaching myself how to code in BASIC.”

Eventually, Dant created a shareware game that he charged classmates $5 to purchase and play — which got cracked.  

Paul Dant's first self-created computer game, Gulliver's Travels
Dant's first self-created computer game, Gulliver's Travels

“That was a new way of thinking for me and was something I’d never considered before,” Dant said. “How do you crack software and make it do something never intended by its original author?” This curiosity launched Dant’s childhood hacking career and led him to his role at Illumio today.

Kindervag's cybersecurity origin story began with a similar curiosity. “I was a broadcast engineer who wanted to transition into security, so I had to learn all this stuff on the side while I was doing another full-time job and had two kids at home,” he said. Without his drive and interest in learning more, Kindervag wouldn’t have been able to move to security — or be the eventual founder of Zero Trust.  

“People who are really good at cybersecurity are curious; they go out and proactively learn on their own,” Kindervag summarized.

Dant agreed: “If you want to do it, you will succeed. You just have to try harder — that’s a very popular motto in this industry and within hacker culture.”

Networking is essential in the cyber world

While it’s easy to recommend getting hands-on experience and being curious, many prospective cybersecurity professionals still struggle to get their foot in the door. Kindervag’s and Dant’s answer? Networking.

“You want to build out your network,” Kindervag said. He encouraged those looking for a new cyber career to start by joining LinkedIn, and each time they meet someone new, connect with them on the platform: “That’s creating a database of everyone you've ever met.”

In addition to online tools like LinkedIn, Kindervag recommended leveraging any chances to interact with cybersecurity professionals. “Jump at the chance to go to a conference or attend a lunch and learn,” he said. “If you get an invite to do anything where you'll meet other people, you need to do it.”

This focus on networking can lead to job referrals, something Dant said is often a better way to break into the industry compared to applying for roles yourself.

“All of the jobs I’ve ever gotten came from my network. The more you're able to meet people and build out your network, the more likely you’re going to have someone that's rooting for you behind the scenes when you go to start trying to get these jobs," Dant said.

Watch John Kindervag’s and Paul Dant’s full discussion in the webinar.

Interested in started your cybersecurity career at Illumio? Check out our career openings today.

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