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Derek Manky is chief of security insights and global threat alliances at California-based cybersecurity company Fortinet

I get a lot of questions from people curious to know about what it’s like to work in cybersecurity. As someone who always has their recruitment hat on, whether at a backyard barbecue or industry event, I enjoy answering them.

What I’ve learned is that people think cybersecurity is fascinating in a general sense, but far too many people see the actual job as in some way being “not for them.” Often I find myself spending less time educating about the job and more dismantling preconceived notions about what cybersecurity is – and isn’t.

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Some fear spending their days stuck in a basement staring at a monitor, which has never been my experience. Others worry that they aren’t – or will ever be – technical enough to consider it a viable career option.

Take it from someone who got into security after considering a career as a movie director and music producer: Cybersecurity has plenty of room for people with diverse skill sets. In an industry that’s chronically understaffed despite a growing demand for talent, and where it’s estimated that Canada alone will need to fill 8,000 additional cybersecurity positions by 2021, it’s critical that we fix these perceptions, and soon.

So if you’re among the many Canadians asking themselves if a career in cybersecurity is right for you, allow me to clear up some misconceptions. Here is what I often share with people I talk with:

It’s only for hardcore technologists

I will say this – if you have absolutely zero interest in information technology – then this job is probably not for you. But if you’re in any way curious about IT, even as a hobby, that’s a great place to start. Once you clear that mental hurdle, then know that what we call the “hard skills” can always be taught. IT is a world of lifelong education, and in fact I’m still learning myself.

But it’s also important not to get too focused on the technology. A scan of open security roles shows that soft skills like leadership, collaboration, mentorship and interpersonal skills, traits that are much harder to teach, are just as important as being comfortable with technology. I like to teach and I’ve had the opportunity to be a teacher throughout my career and I can say that the ability to mentor and interact with a team is critical to success in this field.

The bottom line is this: if you’re open to diving further into technology and you like working with people, then cybersecurity is right for you.

I lack experience

The zero experience factor is true for all kinds of careers, but few sectors have the insatiable demand for talent like we do, so don’t let that stand in your way.

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Also, we in the cybersecurity industry view experience somewhat differently than you might imagine, and we look for this experience in unexpected places. For example, we all know those people who immediately gravitated toward careers in the policing, military or other security-focused fields. By nature they are well suited to cybersecurity too because of their natural risk avoidance instincts. In fact, Fortinet actively recruits people with military experience because they’re often a great fit.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that not every job in cybersecurity means you have to actively defend against threats. The industry is also in need of Web developers, data experts and others with valuable skills.

I can’t go back to school full time

There’s no one way to embark on a career in the field. Yes, universities can offer excellent programs, but so do a variety of colleges and other institutions geared towards people of varying backgrounds.

There are also no shortage of free and open education resources available to people looking to make the first step. At Fortinet we offer many courses ourselves, and many people in our sales, product management or support teams have worked through these to gain a foundation in the field, working to their schedules.

I have no connections

Few industries offer as many ways to break into and get connected as this one. If you’re starting from scratch a quick search of social media will reveal countless common interest groups and local community meet-ups to tap into. For those with more experience, these online networking opportunities can be invaluable in helping to make contacts that can eventually lead to employment.

At a time when many traditional avenues of employment are going through dramatic change or are experiencing economic fluctuations, the prospects for cybersecurity show promise. Don’t let assumptions keep you on the sidelines. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to give it a serious second look.

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This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

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