I want to develop a few/improve my technical skills. What should I focus on?

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Work in privacy and cybersecurity can result in many different responsibilities–from leadership to compliance, to a focus on particular hardware or software. One cannot predict these responsibilities and so we recommend that you focus on basic skills that have utility in almost any environment. It’s important to know that colleges and universities don’t typically teach computer skills in an explicit way. Here we identify six priorities and below list a few campus resources to pursue them on your own:

  1. Learn how to use the command line. Under the hood of all computers is a powerful tool that most computer users never use–the command line (aka “Bash shell” or in Windows, “PowerShell”)! Anyone can learn how to write basic shell scripts and you’ll find that these can accomplish your goals quickly. Once you learn shell, you’ll wonder how you got along without it! 
  2. Learn Python. As a high-level language, Python has taken over many development environments, and so learning it will be transferable to different careers. 
  3. Learn graduate-school-level statistics. Statistics forms the core of cutting edge security and privacy analyses. As a cybersecurity expert, you will use statistics for many functions, from assessing risk, to deciding what threats to make a priority, to deciding whether datasets of personal information are identifiable.
  4. Learn about networking. Employers report that the greatest skills gap surrounds knowledge of basic networking principles: how TCP/IP works, how the different layers of the internet interact, and how to use networking tools such as Wireshark.
  5. Take a course on penetration testing. Learning penetration testing helps one think like an attacker. Experts in cybersecurity need not only keep complex systems running, these systems have to run in the presence of wily attackers who try to make them fail. Learning “pentesting” is a good way to develop the skills and instincts that adversaries have. Pen testing also teaches that offensive and defensive skills overlap and are sometimes identical. Thus, our intent, and issues such as whether one has gained adequate consent and documented work really matter.
  6. Demonstrate your skills. Increasingly, employers require applicants to perform some kind of simulation as part of the screening process.

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