Hello, I am 17 years old and have been planning college for 1 year so far, and in conclusion, after changing my mind many times, I am wanting to become a penetration tester. I can not seem to figure out if I need to attend college and get a computer science degree. If I do not need to get a computer science degree, are there any schools to get certification. I have read articles saying to not go to college because it is not necessary for penetration testers. What if I later want to apply at a job. How would they know I have have 5+ years of experience. In conclusion, is there really a need to attend college for a computer science degree, or go to college for cyber security course?
Thank you, Nate
If you are able to college then my advice would always be yes. An education is bigger than a career and a well-rounded person will always have an advantage in the workplace. If your question was more specifically about if a college degree was necessary to become a pen tester, the answer is no. You could enroll in technical certification tracks that will get you to a marketable level of skillset. But if you have goals beyond that I would recommend a college or university. Of course, you don't necessarily have to do things in a specific order and sometimes the best way to try on a field of study is to become a practitioner.
Definitely. But you may wish to consider alternatives to CS. CS curriculums can get very theoretical, and you may graduate without any practical skills. I'd suggest you look for security or Computer Engineering degrees. Also, please strive for a well-rounded education. Technical skills get you paid, but being able to demonstrate mastery of higher learning gets you promoted. This means English, history, arts, and business. These courses may be out of vogue now, but it's only a matter of time until the pendulum swings and our employers realize that they need more people with a broader skill base.
I think the best answer is probably, but maybe not straight out of high school. My path took me to college (I did not have enough self-discipline to succeed), to the US Navy (where I earned an Associates Degree using Tuition Assistance), to the career I have today (where I earned my Bachelors Degree using the GI Bill and a Graduate Certificate using company education reimbursement benefits).
So, in short, you should get a degree, but the path you take to get there is your own. Think in terms of how best to efficiently achieve your success.
At 17 you have the luxury of designing your life. I would first ask you this: Is IT/computers/pen testing your passion? If you just want to do it to make good money you will be disappointed. Find your passion and pursue it. At 17 I was the brightest IT person in my school, I had the IT teachers asking me how to do things. I experienced a bad IT teacher in college and got out of my true passion, which was IT. I ended up as an airplane painter for 10 years. One day I came home from work and my wife asked me "What would you love to do for work?" IT I replied. "Why don't you do that then?" Since I had worked my way up as a painter I was making good money about $48K a year in the 90's. Entry level computer jobs at the time were paying $28K/year. I told her it would be a big pay cut (%50) and she said "Go for it. We will manage." I switched back to IT, after being out of it for 10+ years, and do not feel like I have worked a day since. I enjoy what I do and I get paid good money to do it. I now make more than I ever could have made painting and I enjoy going to work every day. I will retire in 20+ years with some good benefits and the knowledge that I enjoyed most of my working life.
So step 1 is to find your passion. If it is not IT/computers then don't go down this road. If IT/computers is it then you need to build yourself a lab at home. This can be done by going to yard sales, flea markets and thrift stores. Buy old equipment and practice with it. Tear them down and build them back. Install operating systems. All of this experience will be useful in pentesting. Listen to podcasts on information security. Use some of your money to buy time in real labs if you can. Download virtual machine players and practice setting up virtual machines. Build your network and hack it. College does have value as others have mentioned. A CS degree will probably go deep into theory. Choose your electives to be more of the hands on stuff. If you want to pentest, learning computer languages like python will help. Learning networking will help. Some of the for-profit schools may be a good road to go down because you are looking for skills and not just a degree.
If I had it to do over again at 17 I would not have let 1 bad experience steer me away from my passion. I also would have bought stock in Microsoft and Apple, LOL.
To piggyback off of what craftyfellow said. The military may also be another great option. You go in for IT, they will teach you what you need to know while giving you hands on skills at doing it. You will earn money for college too. Plus you have a job and after 4 years you have skills, experience and money for college. Sounds like it could be a good option as well.
My strong recommendation is to attend school if it's an available option for you. "Tech only" professionals often have limited opportunities and, sometimes, a short lifespan. School's not right for everyone at the same time, so you might consider alternatives. Someone else already mentioned possibly serving in the military. After my first year in college (right out of high school), it was clear that I wasn't "ready". I joined the service, learned some terrific job (and life) skills, and went back to school (with plenty of money for tuition, thanks to the GI Bill). By the time I graduated, I had some real-life work experience, a college degree, and veteran status.
In the end, your path is up to you. You'll find your way in your own time, but I think you're already ahead of the game, doing research and polling folks in the field.
In a nutshell, yes. However, if you have changed your mind several times, I would go for a general computer science or programming track until you settle on where your longer term interests lay. Once you have settled on where your passion is, get certified in that field.
In the last several years, more and more organizations are requiring a college degree and/or certifications to get past the initial HR interviews. It is easy for HR to circular file resumes without degrees in favor of ones with degrees, especially when they get 20+ resumes for a single opening.