In the first part of this discussion I spoke to those not currently in the IT career field. Now let's focus on those of you who are in IT but are being lured by the mysteriousness of InfoSec and Information Assurance. How do you prepare for the transition? What are job prospects like? What are the challenges?
Let's start with preparing for the transition. You need to jump out of your comfort zone. I can't say it more simply. Get uncomfortable and stay that way. Start doing some job shadowing in other IT disciplines. For instance, if you are a developer, spend some time with the infrastructure teams or volunteer to manage a project. If you are a network engineer, start learning some development methodologies or pick up a language. Developing a well rounded skill set in multiple disciplines will be critical. You have to be able to see the forest through the trees.
Certainly you can choose to specialize in a security focused discipline as well. You could only do forensic analysis, code review, penetration testing, risk analysis, PKI or any number of other things. If you really love it and are happy with the compensation and future opportunities then go for it. I usually recommend people pick up some additional skills though. As technology advances, markets change, etc. you may find yourself being forced into doing something different. You want to be ready for that before it actually happens. Being somewhat diversified can also provide you some credibility. When you're an expert in one area but can speak intelligently to all disciplines in the room…Wow.
Next is to consider a professional or technical security certification. CompTIA's Security+ is a good place to start. It's an entry level technical certification which may help you decide if security is even right for you. Then you can move into some of the advanced tracks such as SANS GIAC certifications or the CISSP from (ISC)2. While certifications alone don't prove anything, when combined with experience and education they can help convey your skills and abilities to hiring managers.
As with any major shift in a career you might have to consider taking a lower level position than what you're accustomed to in your current career. Breaking into a new role can be difficult. Given the shortage of security professionals we're now facing I doubt many of you will need to do this if you've followed the steps above. A search on Dice.com for the words CISSP OR security OR GIAC yielded just over 10,000 positions. Granted there is some duplication there but you get the picture. Try a search for DBA or CCIE and you get about 20% of that. This is a great field to be in and it's only going to get better.
A common mistake people make is to join security so they can force people to do something they couldn't otherwise make them do, like patching or implementing change management. Sorry to tell you this but security can't make anybody do anything. And if you try…you doom any chance you had of earning respect in the organization. Our role is to identify risk and help determine ways to reduce that risk to acceptable levels. Only the business unit leadership can choose to accept or reject risk. It's their data and process so it's also their head on the chopping block. Security should be a trusted advisor to the business, not heavy handed thugs. Does this get frustrating at times? Sure. However once you accept your role in the BUSINESS, things get easier.
My last bit of advice is to find a mentor. They can help you learn about different career options, pick good educational opportunities or even help you land a job in the field. I have mentored several people over my career and it's been a great experience for both sides. Mentors are rich sources of information, have lots of experience and networking contacts. The relationship will only be a fruitful as you make it though. Don't expect your mentor to do much of the work. That's your job.
If you're thinking of getting into information security I welcome you with both arms. We need more in the ranks. Do it for the right reasons though. You're not going to be popular, have lots of perks thrown at you or be the envy of all your friends. There are a lot of late nights, lonely lunches and some very uncomfortable discussions you'll need to have with people at all levels of the organization. If that appeals to you, and I'm not entirely sure why it would, then welcome to the party.
If you are considering Information Security as a profession and are looking for a mentor I'd be happy to interview you. I only maintain a couple of mentee relationships at a time. If we're not a good match I may be able to help you identify another mentor.