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Volunteer in the Security Community to Benefit Your Career

Posted by Kathleen Smith

Professional development and career growth are vital to individuals working in any industry. But how can you successfully acquire new skills and continue to grow as a professional in the security realm? If you look at conferences, meetups, and various programs in the cyber security community, you find that many, if not most, are completely volunteer run. While we all have busy lives with demanding schedules, these individuals make time to volunteer because of the numerous personal and professional benefits volunteering offers.

In an effort to find out more about these volunteer trends and how volunteering contributes to the development of professional skills, we polled the community in 2018. This global survey revealed that spending just a few hours a month as a volunteer offers substantial benefits such as learning new skills, building an industry network, and even finding a new job.

To continually support the security community and offer timely, data driven career insights, we conducted this survey once again. CyberSecJobs.com, assisted by a network of security conferences globally including Security BSides, HackInParis, Mental Health Hackers, and the Diana Initiative, surveyed industry professionals who spend time volunteering at cyber security conferences and other activities in the cyber security community.    

We’re glad to report volunteerism continues to offer many benefits. Here are the key findings from the surveys:

Data from our initial survey found over 55% of respondents have been volunteering more than 4 years and more than 50% give at least 8 hours of their time per month. Examining our most recent poll, we continue to see individuals actively volunteering in the security community, from just a few hours per month to anywhere upwards of 20 hours. Taxing schedules can make it difficult to meet day-to-day obligations, let alone spend time as a volunteer. Thus, this level of commitment is a clear statement that volunteers find value in their efforts.

PERSONAL MOTIVATIONS

Many of these cyber security professionals put in the time to volunteer, in part because they want to make a difference. On average, 90% of respondents feel their volunteer work has a positive impact on the industry, and 95.5% feel it’s important to help others. Giving back to the community is a strong motivation that keeps volunteers invested.

Volunteer activities outside of work and family commitments demand more from professionals, as these are non-paid activities that are endured to provide programs and events that add value to the community. In turn, volunteering can bring added strain, as 50% of 2018 survey respondents find volunteering stressful. Yet, a whopping 98% say they find volunteering fulfilling.

Any project can come with a bit of stress, but can you say that the stress you encounter professionally is always fulfilling? The camaraderie, the enthusiasm, and the feeling of an accomplishment help make volunteering rewarding. Many times, we do not find this fulfillment in our work, and it’s a nice break to find this satisfaction elsewhere. Additionally, our most recent poll found that only 39% of 2019 survey respondents find volunteering stressful. While this stat has decreased, it continues to highlight a considerable portion of individuals who encounter stress while volunteering. Nonetheless, they continue to volunteer to reap the many benefits volunteerism has to offer.

PROFESSIONAL BENEFITS

While volunteering can provide a sense of purpose, it also has the ability to fuel your career trajectory when approached through a professional development lens. For instance, roughly 80% of respondents agree volunteering allows them to gain practical or work-related experience. Career progression is typically seen as education, certification, and job moves, but we need to build both technical and non-technical skills to continually advance and market our ever-expanding abilities. Volunteering provides a venue to learn these essential skills and helps develop qualities spanning leadership, persistence, time management, problem solving, and more.

While most professionals are looking to build their technical skills, there is an abundance of non-technical skills employers are looking for. The most reported skills that respondents say they take away from volunteering continue to be teamwork, organizing, planning, and communication. Without specific tasks, it’s difficult to build these non-technical skills. Having a variety of opportunities to interact and learn new duties through volunteerism provides numerous skill-building moments.

Likewise, approximately 95% believe that volunteering improves networking and social skills. Many of the personal stories include professionals who considered themselves introverts but were able to finally come out on their own with gained confidence. Without even knowing it, volunteers gain essential skills that job seekers hope to develop. And while you may not be looking for a job at the moment, the time will come when an expanded industry network will benefit your career growth.

GETTING INVOLVED

In the security community you don’t have to give an extraordinary amount of time to enjoy the benefits of volunteering. While many professionals volunteer with multiple organizations and serve as active committee members, 40% of polled volunteers only work the day of an event, helping with speakers and logistics. These volunteers provide a much-needed burst of energy and enthusiasm to volunteers who have been working all year long to make an event or program happen.

If you can’t volunteer other than the ‘day of’, there are many skills that you can develop including speaker liaison, registration, security, and network operations. Even with ‘day of’ volunteering you can still develop skills and progress in your volunteer development. Research the opportunities and jump in where you’re most comfortable.

Initially, many professionals tend to stay within one category of volunteer work such as security, registration, or website design, but there are many other areas to build confidence and skills that will assist in career development. These opportunities include securing sponsorships, managing volunteers, public speaking, and conflict management. Don’t pigeonhole yourself – explore all the possibilities.

If you’re just getting started, think about what will give you the most satisfaction, what mission you want to support, and who you will be working with. The majority of the volunteer opportunities taken are at conferences, but look for opportunities that match your interests and support the skills you would like to develop. From local Meetups to national conferences, there are a wide variety of organizations that can benefit from your participation and offer the experience you desire.

LEVERAGING VOLUNTEER EFFORTS

Volunteering in the community has become a must have benefit for employees in the information security and cyber security communities. And savvy employers know that volunteering offers skill-building opportunities to employees, which benefit their company’s success. About 80% of employed survey respondents have an employer who knows they spend time volunteering. Our most recent survey saw an increase in employer support, as nearly 87% of these employers support their employee’s volunteer efforts, up from just 80% the prior year.

Check with your current or future employers to see if your organization will support your volunteer time. The most prevalent employer support, at 65% continues to be in the form of paid time off. If you need to justify volunteering to your employer, keep in mind there is a strong business case to be made for your professional activities outside of the office.

If you’re in job search mode, remember your volunteer experiences and the skills you grow and gain are valuable in your career search. Be sure to outline your volunteer work and responsibilities on your resume and social media profiles, and include in your interviews key opportunities where you learned a new valuable skill that makes you perfect for that next job.

As you can see from these results, volunteering in the community has an impact on your career and the professional fulfillment is threefold:

  1. You can take pride in contributing to the industry that has shaped your professional life. Your efforts help many others grow in new ways and you will build relationships that last a lifetime.
  2. You benefit from contributing to projects that fuel your career trajectory by developing qualities that include leadership, persistence, time management, delegation, project management, and problem solving.
  3. The network that you build through volunteering can support you in your career search and development.

To help jump start your volunteer work, here are a few organizations that could use your time and offer a rewarding experience:

BSides is a community-driven framework for building events for and by information security community members.

The Diana Initiative is a computer security conference aimed at supporting women in cyber security.

Mental Health Hackers creates mental health and wellness villages at conferences to improve the mental health of the community.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 11:18 pm

2 thoughts on “Volunteer in the Security Community to Benefit Your Career”

  1. Thanks for reporting on this. We’ve been encouraging our students to volunteer as a means of gaining experience and this gives credibility to that recommendation, delineates ROI and casts vision for how.

  2. I’m interested in pursuing entry level security projects and volunteer activities in cybersecurity. I have a networking and training background with a MS in Cybersecurity, various Comptia certifications and Cisco CCNA. Appreciate any information on projects in the NJ/NY areas.

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