If you are interested in getting into a career with focus and promise, two of the careers you might consider are cyber security and software engineering. However, it’s possible that you have no idea what they involve and what the differences are between them. So, we’re going to look at the two of them and see what makes them different.
What’s the Difference Between Cyber Security and Software Engineering? Software engineering is about developing systems and software from application, games to operating systems for organizations. Whilst Cyber Security is about protecting assets from online attacks (cyber attacks) that can lead to information being stolen, tampered with or deleted.
Software engineering requires an understanding of programming for most of the jobs on offer and as part of the degree in software engineering students are exposed to popular programming languages like Java.
Cyber security on the other hand doesn’t require programming knowledge for all the different jobs available, some jobs like analysis and engineering require some programming knowledge but other roles in incident management to security architecture don’t require any programming knowledge.
Let’s look at the software engineering careers first, by looking at the different jobs involved, later we’ll take a deep dive into cyber security careers and jobs.
Software engineering is quite broad when compared to cyber security as there are multiple opportunities with the engineering aspects spread across multiple areas of an organization.
I’m going to take a look at the following roles:
- Software Engineers
- Software Architects
- Data Scientists
- Game Developers
- Web Developers
1. Software Engineers
When I look at what software engineers do, I tend to focus on what I actually see at the organizations I work at. In today’s current climate I’m finding the main focus of software engineers is around the three following roles:
- Software Developers
- Automated Tester
- DevOps Engineer
There are other roles that are more senior that have the words ‘manager’, ‘head of’, ‘architect’ or ‘chief’ in the title, but the roles I’ve mentioned above are the common ones.
Software Developers work with applications where they write code based on the application architecture defined by a software architect. They tend to not work on the whole application instead focusing on elements of the application.
Generally software developers work on projects where the agile methodology is used, where the project is broken down into smaller tasks that are completed over a short period of time, this is known as a sprint.
So, a software developer could be writing code for the login and registration pages for a web application and they would concentrate on this for the sprint, that is the time allocated to do this as part of the agile planning.
In the real world, they will more than likely have multiple tasks, that will each have a corresponding ticket, generally known as Jira ticket. This Jira ticket will include any dependencies, what’s been done so far, and anything considered to be an issue or a blocker to completing the Jira ticket in time during the sprint.
Software testers are involved with writing code to create tests that can be run again and again, that is the tests they create are automated. These test scripts can be included in a pipeline where the application code is tested, with a successful test pushing the application onto the next test.
The software testers write test scripts for the different stages of testing, including the unit testing, integration testing to the system testing. Some organizations may have more test stages than these, meaning more scripts need to be written.
The first automated test could be the unit test which is a test to see if the individual components that a piece of the application code work is correctly, giving a good insight in ensuring the components work as expected.
The next automated test could be the integration testing, and this involves checking how the different parts of the application code work together. So, the login part of the code needs to work correctly with the part of the code where the database is checked to see if the user credentials exist and are correct.
System testing is the next stage, and this is where the application as a whole is tested to see if it meets the functional requirements that is the what it is designed to do. Sometimes the non functional requirements are also tested at this stage where this constitutes the behavioral check of the application like it’s performance capabilities.
Non Functional Testing
Some of the organizations I’ve worked at, have separate stages for the non-functional testing, with a performance test stage, load test stage to volume test stage or more than likely they combine this to a separate non functional test stage, normally abbreviated to NF Testing.
All of these test stages need test scripts to be written by the software testers to ensure the tests are carried out to meet the expected results as defined by either a test case, Jira ticket, functional or non-functional requirements.
DevOps is an exciting area in the world of software engineering where the engineer is responsible for building environments for software developers to use to develop their code to building pipelines for continuous integration and continuous deployment, commonly referred to as CI/CD.
This includes integrating the test scripts developed by the software testers into the pipeline as well as managing the pipeline. They can also script using infrastructure as code commonly referred to as IaC to build scripted installations and configurations of tools and services like virtual machines, databases to security tools like those to do mini penetration testing of applications.
2. Software Architects
Another role in software engineering is that of the software architect who takes the functional requirements and defines how the proposed application will meet these including the flows for user interaction to data flows, as the data moves around the application. They will break the application into it’s constituent parts and from this, Jira tickets can be created for the work packages which the software developers will use to write code.
Software Architects themselves don’t tend to write the application code, even though they themselves may come from a software development background. Instead they are responsible for defining the overall architecture based on the strategies, requirements, reusable patterns leading to the applications design.
3. Data Scientists
Data scientists use their data analytical and their mathematical and statistical skills to assess data with particular focus on spotting trends and solving complicated data issues. Their data analysis allows organizations to use their data more constructively finding new ways of working with their customers and understanding potential customers better.
Data scientists programmatically build data model for analysis using languages like python, allowing them to use statistical and mathematical python libraries in conjunction with their code to get real deep meaning from the data under analysis.
4. Game Developers
Many graduates from software engineering move into game development, from simple phone games to complicated multiplayer games which have large budgets almost as big as movie budgets.
5. Web Developers
Web developers are involved in front end code using frameworks like React, Angular to Vue as well as back end code development using languages like Java, Node.JS to PHP. Web Developers develop web applications for ecommerce, customer management to complicated inventory and supply chain management.
Cyber Security is quite narrow in it’s objectives when it comes to jobs in the IT sector, as it concentrates on proactively looking at protecting against online threats and also reactively dealing with online threats that have managed to be successful and have penetrated the organizations defenses.
Typical jobs in cyber security include:
- Security Architects
- Security Consultants
- Security Engineers
- Security Analysts
- Risk Analysts
- Security Testers
- SOC Engineers
- SOC Analysts
- Incident Management
1. Security Analyst
The analyst roles involve working with an understanding cyber threats, different types of cyber attacks and potential measures to protect against the threats and attacks. Their analysis is key in determining what type of threats need to be viewed as critical and those the organization can consider as lower risk.
Their job involves analyzing the latest threat intelligence provided by key threat intelligence organizations and includes analyzing if the newly discovered threat affect the existing systems in their organization.
2. Security Engineers
The engineering roles focus on building, configuring and testing security tools, such as adding a web application firewall, WAF for short to an organizations perimeter defense. This requires an understanding what the web application firewall is being put into protect against and how to configure it to make sure the correct protections are in place.
So, protecting against database attacks that use SQL injection is one thing a web application firewall protects against. Configuring the web application firewall after installing it, to protect against SQL injection would be one of the tasks the security engineer would do.
3. Security Architects
The security architect roles concentrate on taking the organizations overall security strategy along with the security requirements, to form security patterns that engineers can use to develop the designs needed for the security tooling. This is what I do, I look at the strategy, the requirements and come up with security patterns for different scenarios.
4. Security Testers
Security testers will be involved in running security tests and they are sometimes better known as penetration testers or even ethical hackers. Their goal is to find weaknesses in cyber security measures so these can be fixed before the hackers find them.
5. Risk Analysts
Risk based roles, look at how to analyze how effective a task is from a security perspective, so an organization might decide on moving some of their customer credit card data into a development environment. But before doing so, the risk analyst will need to calculate the risk of doing this, which will undoubtedly be high, as those people who can access the development environments like developers, testers, project managers and so on, could get their hands on the customer credit card data.
The risk analyst would advise the organization that this would be too high of a risk to take and then it’s up to the organization whether they want to do this or not. More than likely, they will heed to risk analysts analysis and decide against doing something that’s been assessed and flagged up as risky.
6. SOC Roles
Some engineers and analysts work in the security operations centers, the SOC and they are responsible for maintaining the SOC services. The SOC analysts would be involved in ensuring the latest threats are known about and the SOC engineers would focus on the SOC security tooling to make sure this is running effectively. This can include logging, monitoring and alerting systems such as Security Incident and Event Management system, SIEM for short.
SOC duties might also involve being part of red and blue teams, where the red teams look at finding vulnerabilities in the organization to exploit as part of an ethical hacking approach, whilst the blue team looks at defensive measures that can be put in place. So, acting in a defensive capacity compared to the offensive capacity of the red team.
7. Incident Management roles
Incident management could include elements of the SOC duties and will also include managers to manage incidents, as well as call loggers to log incidents into specialized incident management software.
Cyber security vs software engineering degree differences
Let’s look at some of the differences between Cyber security and Software Engineering degrees and careers.
- A degree in software engineering will offer a focus that is broader than a cyber security degree.
- A software engineer can take up roles in a variety of industries in addition to the cyber security field.
- A cyber security degree will provide you with knowledge that is much more comprehensive in tackling things such as data breaches when compared with software engineering.
- Programs for software engineering don’t require you to take courses in cyber security. However, there are some skills that can be transferred in the software engineering field that you can apply to cyber security.
- Generally, getting software engineering and cyber security degrees both can lead you on the path to the exciting information technology field. However, if you’re interested in eliminating vulnerabilities, data protection from cyberattacks and digital defense, a degree in cyber security is going to be the one that will get you started down the right path.
Although there are quite a few differences between the two fields, there are also things that they have the same.
- By specializing in both of these fields, you can get employment in roles that are similar.
- Both of the career paths require a lot of computing and technical knowledge in the areas like networks, cloud computing and mobile.
- They have experience in the big data and shell scripting technologies.
- Understanding of software architecture in real time.
Both of these careers are perfect for people who love computers and who are always looking for the latest and greatest software and gadgets. Now that we know a bit about how they are different and the same, we’re going to take a closer look at them to help you with making the decision that is right for you.
Which is Better Cyber Security or Software Engineering?
This question is really hard to answer, because it really will depend on what you prefer. But first, we’ll look at cyber security, the career choices and what is involved.
A cyber security professional designs and implements the security measures for managing and protection databases in private firms and government. As data breaches and cyberattacks have become a lot more common, IT infrastructures and networks that are better secured are required so that sensitive information is safe.
When you have a cyber security degree, you may work with government officials in eCommerce, IT companies, firms’ IT departments, financial institutions and various other organizations requiring data to be protected.
It takes around two years to get your cyber security associate degree and you can get your bachelor’s in four years. With an addition 2 years, you can get a master’s degree.
Cyber Security Career Choices
- Analyst for information security
- IT auditor
- Security analyst (IT)
- Network architect
- Manager for information security
A software engineer designs, develops, integrates and maintains the cyber security software. They can work the software developers so that they know the software’s got security in it.
He or she can design some new computing approaches, develop new electronic products and build software. They can work with government officials in the design of computer systems and companies who develop applications, software publishers, development, and research.
It takes four years to get your bachelor’s degree in software engineering.
Career options for software engineer
- Database admin
- Data scientist
- Network systems admin
- Software developer
- Systems analyst
- Videogame developer
- Web designer
So, which one is better? There really is no answer to that. Though a software engineer might have more options when it comes to the type of work they do, the lure of cyber security can be exciting. It’s all up to the person.
Next, we’ll look at the amount that people in the fields make.
Do Software Engineers Make More Than Cybersecurity?
Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty. Chances are you want to know how much money you are going to make if you are in either one of these fields, right? Which one pays more? Well, let’s look at the two careers and see which one comes out on top.
The average base salary of a software engineer in the US is $107,319, with a cash bonus of $4,000 per year.
Cities with the highest pay in software engineering: (Highest paying cities in United States for Software Engineers)
- San Francisco – $151,326/year
- New York -$131,728/year
- Seattle -$125,904/year
- Boston – $119,465/year
- San Diego – $116.037/year
Skills that could help increase your software engineer salary.
- PHP – as much as $38,448 more
- Java – as much as $28,779 more
- C – as much as $30,811 more
- C++ – as much as $28,949 more
- Python – as much as $24,569 more
For cyber security, the average base pay is $97,310 per year.
The states with the highest pay in cyber security are:
- New York -$123,918/year
- Massachusetts -$122,746/year
- Washington – $121,890/year
- New Hampshire – $119,461/year
- Hawaii – $117,889/year
- Maryland – $113,756/year
If you’re looking for the highest paid jobs in cyber security, here are the ones that you want to shoot for.
- Manager of Information Security – $125,000 – $215,000
- Cybersecurity Engineer – $120,000 – $200,000
- Engineer of Application Security – $120,000 – $180,000
- Cybersecurity Analyst – $90,000 – $160,000
Although it may seem surprising, it seems like a software engineer does make more money than a cyber security specialist. However, it’s important to note that the salaries depend on many things, including the type of job it is and where the person is working.
Check out my FREE guide – How to Get into Cyber Security for Beginners (5 Must Know Tips)
How to Choose the Path for You
Now that we have given you a lot to think about, maybe you have a clear path as to whether you want to choose a software engineer degree or a degree in cyber security. But if not, that’s okay too. Below are some final tips that you can use to help you find the right path for you.
- Don’t Look at Just Salaries – Even though the salary is likely going to be one of the biggest considerations, it shouldn’t be your only one. Yes, making good money is going to be nice. However, you don’t want to choose a job simply because of the money you are going to make. A job doing something you hate is always going to be a hassle. But a job doing something you love is going to something you enjoy.
- Think About Your Likes – Are you always trying to solve problems or tell people about making sure that they have good, strong passwords? Or are you looking at your favorite video game and thinking about how you can make it better? Do you have a whole book of ideas for apps? Or do you shake your head when you hear about a security breach? Thinking about these things can help you decide.
- Talk to People You Know – Do you have a friend or family member who is in software engineering or cyber security? If so, talk to them and see what they think. See if they have any tips that they can give you.
Good luck on your career path and choosing the right one for you, whether it’s software engineering, cyber security or something else.