When the economy is in turmoil it seems, not even tech workers are safe from feeling the impact of layoffs at companies that have been forced to downsize.
But are some tech workers safer than others when times are hard?
Technical.ly asked around at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center last week, where hundreds of Pittsburgh tech pros and enthusiasts flocked for Pittsburgh Robotics Network’s daylong Discovery Day robotics showcase. According to a handful of reps from local universities and workforce development programs, cybersecurity is an area most workplaces feel they can’t cut corners — so if you’re looking for added job security, becoming a person who keeps organizational secrets safe might be your best bet.
In addition to the obvious health ramifications and supply chain demand issues that COVID-19 revealed, in 2020, cyber attacks increased by 63%, per one report from the Information Systems Security Association and Enterprise Strategy Group. These instances reminded companies of their vulnerabilities and the disasters that could come from being unprotected. As a result, Indiana University of Pennsylvania mathematics professor Rick Adkins said, the computer science students he knows going into cybersecurity are the ones most consistently employed — so much so that he called it one of the most stable job areas in the tech industry.
And there are a lot of them: CompTIA counted more than 660,000 postings for open cybersecurity jobs in the US between May 2022 to April 2023. In Pittsburgh, the average information security analyst makes $101,880, according to Technical.ly’s Tech Economy Dashboard, which features proprietary data sourced by Lightcast.
“There are places where people end up having to switch jobs because their employers changed what they’re doing, that they didn’t finish the development that they were working on,” Adkins told Technical.ly. “But that usually doesn’t happen for the cybersecurity students. The cybersecurity students have a job and every time they want to switch to a different location, they have a job immediately.”
Closer to home, University of Pittsburgh’s associate dean for external relations, Don Shields, has seen similar trends for graduates of the School of Computing and Information. Within the department itself, Shields said the focus tends to be on computer science, information science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and graduates are likely to occupy software engineer, data analyst and cybersecurity positions. For those who choose cybersecurity, whether the economy is booming or headed for a recession, Shields said most executives consider these workers to be indispensable.
“There may be some sort of a downturn in an industry, [but] it’s still very difficult for those organizations to cut corners and cut their emphasis on cybersecurity because that opens them up to potentially all sorts of other problems as well,” Shields said.
The university finds this to be so true that on Monday, it announced that it’s offering a new undergraduate cybersecurity certificate that students in all engineering programs will have access to. Obtaining the certificate entails taking courses on cybersecurity, engineering systems and artificial intelligence.
Pitt Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mai Abdelhakim, who designed the certificate program, said in the university’s announcement that by offering this program, the university will be at the forefront of protecting the country from cyber attacks. He believes that possessing these skills will make Pitt engineering graduates more desirable once they enter the job market.
“Integrating these cybersecurity skills across all of our engineering disciplines increases the value of our graduates to potential employers and will make them more desirable as cyber systems continue to expand and evolve,” Abdelhakim said.
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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