For many years we have been taught to be educated in a specific sector and try to become ever so specialized in it. The goal was to acquire more experience and knowledge in an area for which, after some time and more effort, we can be called experts.
As more and more companies and organizations rely on technology to conduct business, the need for security professionals who can protect sensitive information and keep systems secure is greater than ever.
One of the biggest decisions that aspiring information security professionals must make is whether to specialize or generalize in their field. Specializing in a specific area of information security can lead to increased expertise, job opportunities, and career advancement, but generalizing offers more flexibility, versatility, and the ability to adapt to new technologies.
This blog post aims to explore the pros and cons of both information security specialization and generalization, so you can make an informed decision about what is suitable for your career.
Information Security Specialization
Specializing in information security means focusing on a specific area or subfield of the discipline. For example, some professionals may specialize in network security, while others may specialize in cybercrime investigations or penetration testing.
High earning potential and demand
One of the main advantages of specializing in information security is the potential for higher earning potential. Professionals with expertise in specific areas can command higher salaries due to the critical nature of their work and the shortage of highly qualified professionals in these areas.
As a specialist, you may advance your career faster than a generalist. Demand for specialized professionals is very high, especially in companies that already have information security teams and structure and want to fit a specific role in it.
Organizations that don’t have this structure but require professionals who have a generalized skill set in information security, and want them to have duties that may span across multiple areas of infosec (e.g. risk, compliance, operations, governance, etc.) can be a red flag for candidates. You would rather be hired as a specialist rather than a generalist in such a company.
Head hunters love you
Specialization gives you a high potential for career advancement in information security, but it usually will not be with the same company.
Organizations don’t seem to reward employees for gaining more knowledge and experience for the same duties for which they initially brought them on board. There could be several reasons for this. In some cases, organizations may lack clear policies and procedures for recognizing and rewarding employees for gaining more knowledge and experience. Other organizations may not have a clear way to measure the impact of that knowledge and experience on the organization.
This often leads professionals to jump to another company where their skills are freshly assessed. The competition for top talent in information security is high, companies look for ways to attract talent, skills and experience and specialists can use this to negotiate for better salaries and benefits.
Generalizing in Information Security
Generalizing in information security means having a broad understanding of the field as a whole, rather than focusing on one specific area.
This can include knowledge of various types of security software, different types of attacks, and different areas of security such as network/systems/application security, security architecture, risk assessment and management, incident response, security governance, and compliance etc.
Generalizing in information security can have many benefits.
Having a broad understanding of the field allows professionals to adapt to new technologies, new business environments, and changing threat landscapes more easily. This can make them more valuable to employers, as they can take on a variety of tasks and responsibilities.
Generalists may be able to qualify for a wider range of job opportunities, as they have a broader understanding of the field. A professional with the knowledge and experience as a security engineer may potentially fill a SOC analyst, incident responder even a penetration tester position. If the same person understands and has exposure to security frameworks and standards like ISO27001 and PCI DSS, might as well qualify for other roles like security auditor or information security officer positions.
A broader perspective
Generalists have a more holistic view of the field, which can be beneficial for understanding the big picture and identifying potential risks and vulnerabilities that specialists might miss.
Being a generalist in information security, you have the potential to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities that specialists might miss. Because you have a broad understanding of the field, you are able to see potential issues that might be overlooked by someone who only has a narrow focus.
Be the bridge between worlds
Generalists can also serve as a bridge between different departments or teams, facilitating communication and cooperation between different specialists. They can also bridge the gap between different functions or disciplines within an organization, allowing them to understand and appreciate the perspectives of different stakeholders.
The decision to generalize or specialize
The decision of whether to specialize or generalize in the field of information security is a personal one that depends on an individual’s career goals and preferences. Specializing in a specific area of information security can lead to increased expertise, job opportunities, and higher earning potential, but generalizing offers more flexibility, versatility, and the ability to adapt to new technologies. Both paths have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.
Continuous education is the key
Ultimately, it’s essential to remember that the field of information security is constantly evolving and that professionals must be willing to continue learning and developing their skills to stay relevant. Whether you decide to specialize or generalize, the key is to continuously acquire knowledge and experience to become a valuable asset to any organization.
Dimitris is an Information Technology and Cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years of experience in designing, building and maintaining efficient and secure IT infrastructures.
Among others, he is a certified: CISSP, CISA, CISM, ITIL, COBIT and PRINCE2, but his wide set of knowledge and technical management capabilities go beyond these certifications. He likes acquiring new skills on penetration testing, cloud technologies, virtualization, network security, IoT and many more.