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Cyber Security or Computer Science?


Hangoin
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I know its kind of an out of place question, but my employer is providing an opportunity for my to go back to school. I keep flipping back and forth between bachelors in  computer science and cyber security.

I want to take computer science because there's a the masochist in me that wants to turn a Sega Genesis into an 16 bit pc. You'd think it would help to get into the home brew scene as well. There's also the fact that once I complete computer science I'll have the power of action. If I want something made, it will be made.

With that being said, Cyber Security has a much larger job growth, and I like knowing how to break into things. 

I'd like to hear community's opinion on this. Which one should I choose? Could I still get a cyber security job if I took a computer science degree?

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CompSci grad here. I want to break down your post and comment on a couple of things:

23 minutes ago, Hangoin said:

I want to take computer science because there's a the masochist in me that wants to turn a Sega Genesis into an 16 bit pc. You'd think it would help to get into the home brew scene as well. There's also the fact that once I complete computer science I'll have the power of action. If I want something made, it will be made.

The course work to receive a Computer Science degree leans heavily into the theoretical foundations that computer programming and hardware are based on. You can and will take courses that will teach you programming languages, but you will be required to take courses such as calculus, statistics, data structures, algorithm design, etc. Most of the coursework in a CompSci degree will give you broad understanding that you can apply with whatever software engineering setting you find yourself in, but you'll still need to go beyond the coursework to learn how to program NES homebrews or learn the new programming language your boss wants you to use. I mention this because I've met people who think going into CompSci means they'll be learning how to use Windows really well or just making video games and get shook by the amount of hard math thrown at them first year.

23 minutes ago, Hangoin said:

With that being said, Cyber Security has a much larger job growth, and I like knowing how to break into things. 

I'd like to hear community's opinion on this. Which one should I choose? Could I still get a cyber security job if I took a computer science degree?

I'm not in the cyber security field so I can't comment on what the coursework entails, but I have a good friend from college and a former coworker of mine who got his CompSci degree with me and then got a post-grad degree in cyber security. Having both degrees worked out well for him. He bounced around the country for a bit taking on different jobs and we fell out of touch, but last I'm aware of he is currently working as a civilian cyber security consultant for the US Navy.

EDIT: Whichever degree you decide to pursue, you should weigh the benefit of the degree to your current career goals. Would a CompSci or Security degree open up new advancement opportunities at your employer, or let you jump to a higher paying job at another company? That should be your main consideration. If your employer is paying for the schooling, you should focus on coursework that will give you the best return on investment.

Edited by Teh_Lurv
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While CompSci is far more than just programming, I will say that I was absolutely crap at math until I got into programming. After all, programming is applied mathematics to a decent degree.
 

People liked to tell me growing up that you needed to be good at math, especially algebra, in order to understand programming. It certainly helps. But I feel the inverse is true as it was the key to making sense of the abstract academic mathematics I was taught in class. It made me see X, Y etc. as something useful rather than just random junk.

 

I tell my programming students, don’t worry if you struggle in math. If you can follow along and understand this, your math will improve greatly. Sure enough for the students who are doing well in my class, their math has also improved greatly.

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As someone who holds a Cyber Security bachelor's and masters, I will tell you that a Cyber Security degree will not teach you "how to break into things". That is a very small part of it, and when it does cover that sort of topic it is very basic. Depending on the school you attend as well, you could find yourself learning about Security Policy rather than the technical aspect of it. Which, depending on what you where you want your career to go is an important decision to make. Do you want to be more of a manager that has the knowledge in the field and the concepts, but doesn't have the technical expertise to implement your policies? Then go get a Cyber degree that is more focused on Policy and procedures. If you want to be more hands-on and have the technical know how to secure your network, and understand the security protocols you have in place and how to implement and troubleshoot them, then go for a technical Cyber degree. For this aspect, I would look into getting some SANS  (www.sans.org) classes done. They are very technical, and while they don't offer undergraduate degrees, they do offer undergraduate certificates (but you will need prior college credits, so this may not be an option for you at the moment), which will give you a taste of the technical aspect of the field. This can include anything from securing networks, hunting for cyber threats, and yes, breaking into stuff. If you do decide to go this route, know that there is much more to it than what you wrote above. If you have questions, I can try to answer anything you may have.

Edited by Prime2099
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27 minutes ago, Hangoin said:

Hey I appreciate the feed back. I honestly thought this was going to be an empty thread. Were you naturally good at math? What's the biggest thing you wish you would had done different in school?

I wasn't and still am not naturally good at math. I was an average student in college calculus and other math courses. Like @MachineCode said above, you don't need to be a math prodigy to learn programming or to get an understanding of computer science.

The one thing I wish I did differently in school was to take more non-CS electives. I pretty much finished my major requirements by the end of my first half of Junior year, so I could've spent the remainder of college taking non-CS electives, but I mostly kept taking CS courses until the last semester of Senior year. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I took more courses of personal interest outside of my major to broaden my mind. 

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What are your current job responsibilities? It's cool that your employer can offer this. Definitely an opportunity you need to consider. Do you have a bachelor's in something else already, or would this be your first?

I also can't speak much about cyber security, but I did a computer science degree because I understood it to be more broad. I wasn't 100% sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I was interested in computers. I'm working as a software engineer now. I feel like a CS degree opens more doors than a cyber security one, but I have no data to back that up.

I did just fine with the math, but everyone's different. For what it's worth I got a D- in high school trig (1 percent away from failing) and never took precalc, but made it through Calc 1-4, discrete math, number theory and statistics with at least a B in each. KhanAcademy helped a lot with early Calc stuff (and algebra-trig review) and that really boosted my confidence. I honestly kind of owe my academic life to that site.

Where I went to school, a lot of people dual-majored in CS and Digital Forensics. I'm not sure how similar DF is to Cyber Security, but if a lot of the coursework overlaps that may be something you could look into. Or a minor if that's offered. 

I've done some minor NES homebrew stuff but my degree has only helped with that peripherally. Upon jumping into homebrew (post-degree) I had a vague idea of how a CPU fetches instructions and executes them and the relationship between machine code and assembly. But I only had one class mention assembly language at all, and it was only a few lectures and a lab. 90% of the material is focused on either theory (like how programming languages are built and parsed, why an algorithm works, or how an OS handles system calls) or on higher level language concepts (Java and C++ OOP, software engineering, databases). So there's not as much room for more esoteric stuff like discrete logic or in-depth assembly stuff.

11 minutes ago, Hangoin said:

What's the biggest thing you wish you would had done different in school?

I wish I had a better focus on building a portfolio (Github). Not just for putting on my resume, but as a way to keep track of what I learned as I learned it. A blog could have also helped. I'm doing a masters degree class right now and one of the labs uses a crazy logic language called Prolog. I did a lab with Prolog in my undergrad, but as soon as the semester ended I forgot everything and abandoned the code. Another thing I wish I did more was apply what I learned to my interests. I was too busy making sure I knew the material for the test that I didn't have much time to take those concepts and try using them to make a game or a website or something, just for fun. In reality I probably would have gotten more out of it if I had spent more time applying instead of memorizing. I also should have done more networking, like career fairs or seeking internships. But you're already employed so that's less relevant. 

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i'd suggest starting with comp sci. i would expect it to be useful in more situations. cyber security sounds narrow. maybe look into that as a minor.

comp sci is a foundational thing. you'll end up writing programs as part of your learning process, but software development is its own skillset. if you pursue a software job, comp sci will give you context for what you do like "which sorting algorithm is appropriate in this situation".

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Professionally, they are both functionally the same.  I graduated with a computer and network security bachelor's degree.  If you are interested in coding or programming, go comp sci.  If you don't really care and want to have more fun, go security.  Once you're hunting for jobs it'll come more down to your experience and certs anyway.

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CS is broad. Tons of technical jobs have CS on their list of recruited majors. Very useful degree, even just in name IMO. I know nothing about Cyber Security so can’t compare. I dual majored in CS and IT. IT is for nontechnical business management types as far as I understood the coursework (and classmates), which my dumb ass didn’t realize before studying it for 4 years.

You need to do tons of self study (i.e. Googling) and side projects to learn and apply the material. Go make your computer. If you’re good at math and taking tests, you can fly through college without learning much you can directly apply to your target job immediately. The single semester projects and homework actually required by my coursework were insignificant compared to a “real” project. That was my experience anyway.

Edited by DefaultGen
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I have a bachelor's degree in computer science and have been working in the field for 15 years. I'm glad I didn't specialize in something just because it was popular 15 years ago, who knows if it would still be popular today. At least with the general degree, I have the option to specialize in whatever I want to learn.

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10 hours ago, captmorgandrinker said:

What's your current field/position?  

 

9 hours ago, Alder said:

What are your current job responsibilities? It's cool that your employer can offer this. Definitely an opportunity you need to consider. Do you have a bachelor's in something else already, or would this be your first?

I'm currently an online grocery shopper  for Walmart. I've attempted to get a bachelors before when I was 19(currently 25), but I ended up washing out. This time though a lot of things are different, and I know its gonna work out. By the end of the day I'll have a Github account made. I won't use it for a while, but that will be at least one thing out of the way.

 

I just want to say I really appreciate the feedback from everyone. I think I'm going with a Computer Science degree. It makes sense since its more broad.

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Make sure the field isn't saturated already near you before you undertake this, or be flexible to moving.

Between the two, Computer Science would be a better choice since you could still do cyber security with that, just make sure you throw some cyber security courses in your curriculum.

23+ years in the computer field here.   Seen a TON of shit over the years.

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I'd go cybersecurity. My friend did that and he was always able to get pretty good jobs. Either way, you'll have to get a ton of additional certifications and ongoing education and training to stay current. It's definitely not a one-and-done type of a education.

here's some of the stuff he had on his resume from 14 years ago:

Concepts: Access Lists, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery, Data Integrity, Endpoint Security, High Availability, LAN/WAN Network Topologies, Load Balancing, OSI Model, Penetration Testing, Remote Access Solutions, Routing, Spyware Mitigation, Switching, Subnetting, Two-Factor Authentication, TCP/IP, URL Filtering, VPN.   

Programming Languages: Shell, HTML.

Software/Appliances: AccessData FTK, Apache, Bluecoat Proxy SG+AV, Check Point Connectra, Check Point Firewall-1 4.x/NGAI/NGX, Check Point Integrity Server (formerly Zonelabs Integrity Server), Cisco PIX Firewall, Cisco Routers/Switches, F5 BigIP Load Balancers (Link Controller, 3DNS), F5 Firepass, Juniper Netscreen Firewall, Juniper Secure Access Gateway, Linux, Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Power Point, Access), Nokia IP Series (IPSO), Nortel Contivity, RSA Authentication Manager, Tripwire Enterprise, Windows NT/2000/2003/XP.

Certifications: Bluecoat Advanced Certified Engineer (4.x), Check Point Certified Security Administrator CCSA (4.1, NG), Check Point Certified Security Engineer CCSE (4.1, NG), Cisco Certified Network Associate CCNA, Crossbeam Certified X-Series (6.0.2), RSA Certified Engineer (6.x).

Edited by G-type
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Computer science gives you a much broader range of options, and probably positions you better to get a follow-on credential in cyber security.

Cyber security as a stand-alone, without a solid computer science foundation, sounds to me like it would lead to more IT/technician type roles.

 

EDIT: also, for what it's worth, with cybersecurity ramping up as a discipline on the military/government end of things, I suspect that the "best" jobs in that field will all involve a TS/SCI that the former military guys will have out of the box.

Edited by arch_8ngel
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Member · Posted

Well, I managed to get a degree in Information Systems and unless you need credentials for a specific task (which may be required for security) I recommend forgetting CS and going for an IS degree.

For me, half of my courses were spent in general programming and I took one course that basically explained how computers work, all the way down to the logic-gate level.  I loved it! The other half of my related courses were spent on business.  If you work in business, learning how to do proper accounting or business management is extremely important in communicating with management and users.  In fact, 14 years after graduating, I think one of the most important set of classes that I took while in college wasn't in regards to computers or programming--they were Accounting 201 and 202.  Accounting is such a fundamental aspect of every business and if you understand the principles behind accounting, you can offer a lot to your business customers.

This isn't "sexy and cool" but it's important and in it's own way it can be fun.  If you are still interested in digging into the theoretics and nuts and bolts of computational science, there are plenty of resources online and books you can read on your own.  I have no formal education in many of the advanced topics but I've found reading up on them was easy enough to be able to converse with people I know who have earned CS degrees, masters and even doctorates.  I'm not saying it's an easy field, but it if is something you are inclined to enjoy, it is an easy field to learn on your own from the easily available resources.  That being the case, skip the CS degree and go with IS.  If you really, really want to get into security, find ethical hacking groups, learn from them and get some certifications.

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1 hour ago, arch_8ngel said:

The other unasked question that is relevant, IMO -- where are you getting either of these degrees?

 

That's a bit what I was angling for as well.   The IT industry as a whole now is one where you want to have some sort of game plan (especially since you're already 25 with I'm guessing no relevant experience) as to what you'd want to do.   

Wouldn't want to see you spend all that time (even if the college itself is free, your time is valuable) to get stuck in some $30-40k entry level job for years until you can latch onto something.

If you know what area you want to focus on, make sure you come out of college with a certification or two in it.   That will make your resume stick out a bit to potential employers.

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1 hour ago, captmorgandrinker said:

If you know what area you want to focus on, make sure you come out of college with a certification or two in it.   That will make your resume stick out a bit to potential employers.

I disagree. I'm hiring a few developers for my team now and I just skip over certifications. People tell me they're A+ Microsoft certified........so? Does that mean you can install printer drivers better than the next guy? Who cares? My team is a complete Microsoft free zone, I don't allow Windows on any of our machines. We do all of our development and run all of our servers in Linux.

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7 minutes ago, Code Monkey said:

I disagree. I'm hiring a few developers for my team now and I just skip over certifications. People tell me they're A+ Microsoft certified........so? Does that mean you can install printer drivers better than the next guy? Who cares? My team is a complete Microsoft free zone, I don't allow Windows on any of our machines. We do all of our development and run all of our servers in Linux.

You have to appreciate that you are a minority in the IT world?   

And that's not exactly what I meant by certs.  I'm talking more of the security and networking variety (as in if you're trying to get into a network spot, having a CCNA will make you stick out more than somebody that just has a 2 year networking degree), not the "I exam crammed and got this basic ass shit" certs.

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3 hours ago, arch_8ngel said:

The other unasked question that is relevant, IMO -- where are you getting either of these degrees?

 

I could get either of them online at Southern New Hampshire University or Wilmington University.

2 hours ago, captmorgandrinker said:

That's a bit what I was angling for as well.   The IT industry as a whole now is one where you want to have some sort of game plan (especially since you're already 25 with I'm guessing no relevant experience) as to what you'd want to do.   

Wouldn't want to see you spend all that time (even if the college itself is free, your time is valuable) to get stuck in some $30-40k entry level job for years until you can latch onto something.

If you know what area you want to focus on, make sure you come out of college with a certification or two in it.   That will make your resume stick out a bit to potential employers.

A game plan is what I intend to have by August when I start. Right now I'm looking at job openings for my surrounding area and taking notes on what they are looking for. After thanksgiving I'm also going to enroll in an EdX Algebra course so I'll be ready for preCalc. Hopefully I can finish that before August and start EdX's preCalc course too. I also need to start focusing on how I"m going to improve my soft skills. When everything is said and done, I'll probably be in my mid thirties with the same exact skills that a faster thinking and probably more intelligent 20 something will have. The only thing I can think of that will set me apart in a positive way certifications like you said and  my soft skills. Do you have anymore that you could recommend? 

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It all depends on what you want to end up doing.   If you want to do dev work for someone like Code Monkey, you'll need some type of portfolio.   If you want to do Cyber stuff, find out what certifications they're looking for and try to get those along the way.   If you're doing networking, find out what types of things they value (CCNP, CCNA, etc).   

If you don't really care about what exactly you want to do, learn as much about Microsoft's SCCM as you can, as lots of companies use that for software delivery, machine inventory, machine staging, software license management, all kinds of stuff.

So you might be better served by going backwards from where you want to end up.   Do you have local friends currently in IT jobs?  

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I think that's the biggest problem. I'm going into this blind my end goal at the moment is to make 30 or 40k doing something I like that's not retail. Beyond that I don't have enough information or experience to know what else I'd like to do. The only friend I know that works IT works remotely and hates his job....he's also trying to run a start up bar arcade at the same time so I think he kinda hates everything at the moment.

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