Security and Information Technology

Often I get a question like this:

Dear Mark, I am very interested in Information Security. I want to make sure that I take the right class to be able to specialize in this after graduation. Do you have a suggested list of courses for me?

Regardless of what you want your first information technology  job to be, I recommend that all IT students take a wide variety of courses in their first two-three years. This will ensure that you get a broad understanding of all the aspects of IT and be most employable upon graduation.

You may think of IT as being composed of five rather separate pillars of knowledge that form a technical core for all IT workers. On top of that there are three pervasive themes. Pervasive themes cross through all the pillars and tie them together.

These are the pillars of knowledge in IT:

• operating systems and hardware
• networking
• programming
• web development
• databases

These are pervasive themes in IT:

• interfaces
• security
• business, service and professionalism

I recommend that students divide their time and coursework among all of these, taking two-three courses in each of them, at least.

Security is a topic that crosses through all pillars of knowledge.

Once you understand the fundamentals of all eight of the IT aspects described above, later focus on two or more of these aspects would be appropriate. If you would like to focus on security, you still have to learn the basics of all other aspects. Advanced work in security, networking, interfaces, business, service and professionalism will make you well-rounded to be a security consultant one day.

Security expertise grows out of some other expertise first. All IT aspects have their own security problems, even hardware and operating systems. Expect that your first job will not be in information security and assurance and plan accordingly. Once your expertise and experience grows, you will find opportunities to move into your desired role.

As a final thought, you may find that you enjoy something else much more than security two or five years from now, or an opportunity comes up that you cannot even imagine today. Like a surfer, you must be prepared to catch the wave that comes your way.