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What are the security job prospects for someone without a certification?

While in college I worked as a technical support specialist and discovered I wanted to pursue an information security career. I tried enrolling at a technical school, but because I am in debt to the college I attended initially, they will not release my transcripts. Currently I am a junior helpdesk analyst for a government contractor. Should I try to get security certifications? Get more job experience? Start college over? I am now 26 years old.

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Normally, I am not a big fan of security certifications. I don't think they prove much of anything except the ability to take a test. So I don't advocate that path because, in my opinion, it won't help get someone into the field.

I would focus efforts on getting some real-world experience by doing an informal apprenticeship with some security folks. Certain security professionals would probably appreciate the help, and there is a lot of valuable information to be learned from them.

Keep in mind this would be after-hours work, so you need to be a model citizen and perform well in your day job at the help desk. If you slack off there, it's very unlikely the organization would consider you for a role in another department.

Generally, I favor the school of hard knocks. I think people learn a lot more about security by doing rather than studying. That does make me a bit of an anomaly, but if formal education programs aren't an option, and certifications won't get you to where you want to go, I would focus on working your way into the job informally, and then parlaying that into a formal job in security.

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This was first published in February 2008

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