How To Become a security software developer
A security software developer's main responsibility is to create and maintain security systems that safeguard data. Since fraudsters continuously adapt and change their hacking tactics, an organization's security system needs to both consistently and successfully block bad actors.
This role combines a working knowledge of cyber security and software development to build the most robust systems. If you're interested in both of these areas, becoming a security software developer could be an ideal match.
Education requirements for security software developers
Most software security developer jobs require a bachelor's degree at minimum. It's recommended that you hold a degree in computer science, information science, electrical engineering or any other subject that is directly related to data and computing.
If you already have a bachelor's degree in cyber security or in a different field, you don't necessarily need to go back to college to earn another four-year degree. Instead, you can enroll in a cyber security or software engineering bootcamp.
Bootcamps can take anywhere from 12-32 weeks to complete, and you'll learn the basics of:
As you advance in your career in security software development, it's important to continue learning about new threats and advancements in the field. Cyberattacks are always evolving, so continuing your cyber education will ensure that you are up-to-date in the latest techniques and processes. Higher-level engineer roles may also call for a master's degree, so that's key to consider as well if you want to earn a promotion or a higher salary.
Skills needed for this role
Security software developers need a combination of technical and soft skills to succeed on the job. Below are the ideal skill sets to work on as you embark on a career in this field.
Bruce H., a senior software security engineer, gives his perspective: "In addition to having experience with programming languages like Python, Java, Go, etc., and operating system knowledge, it's important to have working knowledge of things like cryptography, defensive programming and secure OS and network protocols. A familiarity with popular security frameworks (NIST, FedRAMP, ISO 27001) is also a must-have. You should have an understanding of HIPAA, GDPR and any other specific legal requirements that you may run into."
Bruce adds, "I find the most important skill is the ability to negotiate. It's critical that a security-focused engineer possess the ability to convince people that a security-first approach is in their best interest."
In addition to creating a security portfolio, it's important to try to gain as much real-world experience as you can in order to showcase your talents to future employers. You can do this through:
- Getting an internship.
- If you're a current student, check your school's career development center to see if there are any upcoming job fairs or online postings. Alumni will often try to hire current students for internships throughout the year.
- Co-op programs.
- Some schools offer co-op programs, which give you the opportunity to work a part-time or full-time job while still in school. Whether your school requires this or has made it optional, this is a fantastic way to get ahead of your peers and potentially get a job offer upon graduating with your degree.
Building a security portfolio
One of the best ways to demonstrate your skills and knowledge in security software development, even if you have little to no experience, is to build a portfolio. Your portfolio should showcase different papers or articles you've written about cyber security (if any) and examples of successful projects you've worked on.
You can include projects like:
- Data retrieval
- Your own encryption software
- Your own keylogging software
- RFID blocking
To display your projects, you can build a standard portfolio website using Squarespace or Weebly. Or, you can also use a more tech-oriented platform like Github or CodePen, which are designed to help you showcase your original code.
Networking and industry involvement
One of the best ways to land your first job is to network. "Security engineers and managers exist in almost every company, " says Bruce. "If you're looking to break into the industry, or even simply need more contacts, approaching a company's or organization's security team with a willingness to learn and a desire to help will garner a lot of positive response and attention."
There are several cyber security organizations to join, such as:
- Cloud Security Alliance
- Content Delivery and Security Association
- Cyber Oregon
- Cyber Smart NV
- CyberTexas Foundation
- Federal Information Systems Security Educators Association (FISSEA)
- Greater Houston Cyber Security Council
- Identity Management Institute (IMI)
- Information Security Forum
- Information Security Research Association (ISRA)
- Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
- International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR)
- International Association of Privacy Professionals
- International Association of Security Awareness Professionals
- International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2
- Minority Cyber Inclusion Council
- National Cybersecurity Society
- National Cybersecurity Student Association
- New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell (NJCCIC)
- Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)
- Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS)
- 801 Labs
The industry has a few notable annual conferences, too, such as:
- DEF CON
- Black Hat USA
- RSA Conference
Job search and application process
To find your first software security developer job, look for postings on big-name sites like Indeed or LinkedIn. You can also look on tech industry-specific sites like Dice, or sites that focus on startups, like Wellfound. Try to utilize any networks you have, such as a professional organization you might've joined or your school's alumni directory if possible.
The most important tip for creating a standout resume and cover letter is to address the keywords listed in the job posting. Each job posting will have certain keywords, so it's your job to ensure that you address each one in your materials. You should also format your resume and cover letter so that they're easy to read and have no grammatical or spelling errors. A link to your portfolio must be easily accessible as well—be sure to test that it's in working order before forwarding it to a recruiter.
Once you get called for an interview, you'll need to practice answering standard technical interview questions. Bruce says, "You're going to be asked a lot of questions that traditional developers won't, but that doesn't mean you can slack off on the coding side. Practice spotting insecure code (improperly escaped strings and dynamic SQL queries, data input that isn't validated, insecure communication between services, hard-coded secrets, etc.), and know how to fix it. Brush up on the security frameworks you expect to encounter and come prepared with questions about a company's security posture, how they detect and remediate vulnerabilities, the tools they use, how their compliance process works and how they've handled prior security incidents."
Security software developer salary expectations
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for software developers in the United States is $127,260. Your salary, however, may be higher or lower than this amount due to:
- Your location
- How many years of experience you posess
- Size of the company
- Your educational background
Here are median annual salaries, including the lowest and highest 10% pay by state and national data:
Median Salary: $127,260
Projected job growth: 25.7%
10th Percentile: $71,280
25th Percentile: $96,790
75th Percentile: $161,480
90th Percentile: $198,100
Projected job growth: 25.7%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$135,230||$87,760||$185,240|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
And the BLS says the cities/metro areas with the highest number of software developers, which indicates the highest levels of potential employment, include:
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||108,650|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||83,860|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||67,010|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||53,220|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||50,370|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||41,920|
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What is the job outlook for security software developers?
The job outlook for security software developers is very good, with the profession growing at the incredibly fast rate of 25.7% through 2032.
What is the typical career progression for security software developers?
The typical career progression for security software developers is not too different from that of a regular software developer. Bruce says, "You can start out your career as an entry-level SWE or security analyst, and progress along a traditional junior/engineer/senior/staff/principal developer path while maintaining a security-focused approach.
Alternatively, you can later become a security engineer/architect, independent consultant or penetration tester. Developers who proceed along the management track can become security team leads/security managers, compliance managers, directors/VPs of security or even a CISO."
What is the difference between a security software developer and a cyber security professional?
A security software developer is a type of cyber security professional. Examples of other types of cybersecurity professionals include network security engineers, forensic analysts, IT security specialists and machine learning engineers.
Cyber security is an ever-changing field. Experienced software security developers are needed across industries to keep data safe from growing threats.
You can join an exciting, fast-paced field and protect data from bad actors by earning a four-year degree in computer science, engineering, or a related field—or by successfully completing a cyber security-focused bootcamp. Use the Find Schools widget on this page to find trusted universities, colleges and bootcamps near you that will let you start your journey to becoming a software security developer.
Published: July 25, 2023
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