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How to Become a Security Architect
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Digital technology has revolutionized business, but it has also unleashed a multitude of new threats: Cybercrime, sophisticated viruses, industrial espionage and even attacks by state actors are among the challenges that organizations face in the 21st century.
A security architect’s job is finding ways to stay one step ahead of the hackers. It’s an elite position that requires creativity, intuition and an exhaustive knowledge of security protocols.
Organizations are aware of the Pandora’s box that accompanies technological transformation and want to keep their data safe. In fact, a Robert Half survey reported 88% of CIOs polled were taking steps to improve IT security.
Lindsay Sherwood, a San Francisco-based division director with Robert Half Technology, says, “Security architects are in extremely high demand. We live in a world where technology is advancing every day, and companies are relying on top talent to know their IT infrastructure inside and out.”
However, there just aren’t enough skilled professionals to staff available roles. This talent shortage means there’s a wealth of opportunities out there for security architects.
Learn more about this position, including the skills and experience you need and the security architect salary you can expect to earn.
What does a security architect do?
Security architect roles vary greatly depending on company size, the current staff on the information systems (IS) security team, the state of existing security infrastructure and available resources.
The security architect’s ultimate goal is to keep an organization safe from all digital threats. This involves several responsibilities, including:
Design and implementation. Security architects are tasked with putting the best possible security measures in place by:
- Devising an overarching security strategy
- Designing an infrastructure that keeps data safe without slowing down performance
- Making investment decisions where new software or hardware is required
- Overseeing the implementation of all security measures
- Managing iterative improvement projects
- Building new security infrastructure from scratch (if needed)
Testing. Digital threats are continually evolving, so security architects oversee a regular security testing strategy. That includes conducting penetration testing, analyzing traffic and checking the performance of security systems.
Planning. Security architects are always thinking about next steps and future requirements. Sometimes, this planning is driven by external factors, such as new cybersecurity threats. Often, the security architect works with other teams to help deliver strategic goals, like moving to cloud platforms or building mobile applications.
Threat analysis. These professionals monitor and analyze all attempts to breach security, whether those attempts were successful or not. They use this information to improve the approach to security and prevent future attacks. Architects also have to keep abreast of cybersecurity news and monitor known threats in the wild.
Leadership. This is a management-level role, so security architects do have supervisory responsibilities. They may hire and fire people for their security team and will certainly play a role in high-level decision making in the IT department. Architects also require strong change management skills to ensure the smooth adoption of new security measures and promote a security-first organizational culture.
Compliance. IT security professionals are typically required to work within the confines of complex laws. There are regional regulations — like the European Union’s GDPR legislation — as well as industry-specific regulations, HIPAA, for example, in the medical field. Security architects must have a precise understanding of these laws and ensure that all security measures are fully compliant.
Security architect job requirements
Security architect is a multidisciplinary IT role that requires expert knowledge of hardware, networking, databases, security software (such as anti-virus systems), software architecture and some programming. Most employers will ask for a minimum of five years’ experience working in a professional IT security role.
Sherwood reports that a bachelor's degree in an IT-related field is absolutely essential for these professionals, and a master's degree is highly desirable. She also notes that certifications will stand out to hiring managers. A few of the many designations available for security architects are:
- CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)
- CISM (Certified Information Security Manager)
- CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker)
Soft skills are crucial in this role, says Sherwood, so make sure you highlight these on your resume. Hiring managers will look for candidates who excel in:
- Communication and collaboration
- Time management and organization
- Adaptability and flexibility
- Critical thinking and problem solving
How to improve your security architect resume
There’s no shortcut to the role of security architect. You need to work your way up the ladder and prove that you have a track record of outstanding performance in security roles.
If you’re just beginning your IT career, look into computer technician or network admin positions. Work your way up to a security role, like network security administrator or penetration tester, to gain some experience in the discipline. You should also look into relevant certifications, so your resume stands out.
If you have an IT background and want to pivot to security, the best path is to find ways to apply security principles to your current role. For example, if you’re a software developer, try to focus on software security and building resilient applications.
If you’re a mid-career IT professional who’s struggling to find opportunities at the architect level, you might consider moving into security consultancy. This would mean starting your own business and finding clients, but if you’re willing to take those risks, you’ll gain invaluable experience. Combine that expertise with relevant certifications, and you’ll find yourself in an excellent position to land a senior security role.
Security architect salary
The Robert Half Technology 2020 Salary Guide reports that the mid-range starting salary for security architects is $130,750. Keep in mind that this is a national average. Sherwood says that a security architect salary in tech-saturated cities like San Francisco can be 41% higher. Use our Salary Calculator to find out what you can earn in your city and state.
Consulting is another popular career path for skilled security professionals and working on a contract basis can impact your earnings. As many employers are currently having difficulties hiring full-time security staff, they’re looking at flexible staffing solutions for roles like security architect. If you work as a consultant, your fee will be negotiable depending on your experience, the kind of project you’ll be delivering and the organization’s IT budget.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for a full-time job or are interested in consulting, the security architect career path is a lucrative one.