How to Become a Security Software Developer


Published September 13, 2023

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In today's digital age, where technological integration is more prevalent than ever, cyberthreats loom large. This means the need for skilled professionals to protect sensitive data and fortify digital systems is also high.

This guide illuminates the paths you can take to begin a career in security software development. We explore essential cybersecurity skills, industry insights, and practical tips to kickstart your journey as a security software developer.

What Is a Security Software Developer?

Security software developers — also known as cybersecurity software engineers — design, develop, and implement software solutions to protect digital systems from cyberthreats. Their main goal is ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive data and applications.

They also analyze vulnerabilities; conduct risk assessments; and collaborate with cybersecurity analysts, network administrators, and software engineers to integrate security features into applications. Unlike other computer science or cybersecurity professionals, these workers focus specifically on developing and implementing security measures within software systems.

They work in settings like software development companies and government agencies. They interact with software developers, quality assurance engineers, project managers, and clients to develop secure software solutions.

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Required Education for Security Software Developers

Many employers prefer security software developers to hold at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, information security, or a related field. However, there is no standard minimum education requirement for this role; thus, some developers have no formal education. Workers can begin their journey to this career with internships or entry-level jobs in the IT field.

In addition to pursuing a formal degree, these professionals can build their security software development skills through coding or cybersecurity bootcamps and professional certifications. Though security software developers do not need a particular degree, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows average wages increase alongside educational attainment.

Because technology evolves rapidly, so do cybersecurity threats. This means security software developers must stay up-to-date on the latest security technologies and best practices by attending conferences, reading security blogs and articles, and taking online courses.

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Required Experience for Security Software Developers

Because security software development jobs are often not entry-level roles, experience is pivotal for these professionals. Many jobs in the field require 3-5 years of experience in software development or IT. Positions like software engineer or security analyst can provide valuable preparation for security software jobs.

Internship Opportunities

Internships can provide hands-on experience and networking opportunities for aspiring security software development workers. Examples include:

  • Explore Microsoft Program: Explore Microsoft is a 12-week summer internship for first- and second-year college students. This rotational program shows students multiple software engineering roles; offers practical experience with various tools and programming languages; and encourages further study in computer science, computer engineering, and similar fields.
  • Cisco's Security & Trust University Program: This internship program at Cisco caters to current students and recent graduates beginning their cybersecurity careers. The program emphasizes investing in individuals, processes, technologies, and policies, all aimed at creating secure enterprises.
  • Palo Alto Networks Internships: This company runs a paid 12-week internship program that helps learners prepare for future cybersecurity roles. The program offers networking opportunities with executives, growth-oriented events, and hands-on experience with cybersecurity projects.

Required Certifications for Security Software Developers

Earning certifications in security software development can demonstrate a commitment to professional development and keeping up with industry advancements. Though not usually mandatory, these credentials can enhance job prospects by offering validation of cybersecurity workers' skills.

Examples of professional certifications relevant for security software developers include ISC2 credentials like certified information systems security professional and certified secure software lifecycle professional.

Each credential maintains its own requirements, which usually includes passing an exam. Organizations often offer study resources to help cybersecurity professionals prepare for these tests. Some certifications require applicants to hold a minimum number of years of relevant professional experience.

Typically, these credentials also require security software developers to complete continuing education to maintain their certification status. Some organizations may require professionals to retake the certification exam periodically, especially in cases where workers have lapsed in fulfilling their continuing education requirements. These stipulations ensure security software developers' knowledge and skills remain current with new industry trends.

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How Do I Become a Security Software Developer?

Security software developers usually begin their careers by gaining a foundational understanding of computer science. They can achieve this through formal education, bootcamps, or self-teaching. Formal education options include associate programs, which typically take two years of full-time study, or bachelor's degrees, which usually take four years of full-time study.

After completing their education, finding entry-level positions in software development or IT can help aspiring security software developers gain hands-on experience. By building tech skills, these professionals can qualify for more advanced roles in security software development. Specialized certifications in cybersecurity can also enhance career prospects.

After establishing themselves in the industry, prospective security software developers can aim for a job more directly related to security, such as security analyst, earning further experience. Eventually, these professionals can move into security software development jobs, where they synthesize their previous experience and knowledge.

In addition to earning promotions into more advanced roles, some security software developers can qualify for these jobs through graduate-level degrees.

Challenges of this field include the rapidly changing nature of tech and the high level of expertise required to succeed in this career. Regularly updating skills and staying abreast of industry trends is crucial for security software developers.

Steps to Becoming a Security Software Developer

Path 1: Traditional University Pathway

  1. Bachelor's Degree (4 years): Earning a degree in computer science, information technology, or a similar field develops foundational knowledge in programming, data structures, algorithms, and systems.
  1. Internship (Varies): Internships with tech companies provide real-world experience in software development or cybersecurity. Students often pursue internships while completing their degree.
  2. Entry-Level Job in IT or Software Development (1-3 years): Roles such as software engineer or IT specialist offer practical experience in software development and provide an understanding of IT systems.
  3. Certifications (Varies): Certifications from organizations like ISC2 are valuable because they help professionals demonstrate their specialized security knowledge. Aspiring security software developers can pursue these credentials while working full time.
  4. Security-Focused Role (2-3 years): Transitioning into a security-focused role, like a security analyst, can provide more direct experience in this field.
  5. Continuing Education (Ongoing): The fast-paced nature of the cybersecurity industry necessitates continual learning, often through conferences, seminars, additional certifications, and advanced degrees.

Path 2: Bootcamp/Self-Taught Pathway

  1. Self-Learning or Coding Bootcamp (Varies): Learning programming languages and understanding cybersecurity basics through self-study or intensive bootcamps provide enrollees with fundamental skills. Bootcamps often run 3-6 months, while self-education happens at each learner's own pace.
  2. Portfolio/Project Building (Varies): Creating a portfolio of personal projects or contributing to open-source projects can demonstrate practical skills to potential employers.
  3. Entry-Level Job in IT or Software Development (1-3 years): See Path 1, Step 3.
  4. Certifications (Varies): See Path 1, Step 4.
  5. Security-Focused Role (2-3 years): See Path 1, Step 5.
  6. Continuing Education (Ongoing): See Path 1, Step 6.

Should I Become a Security Software Developer?

Typical duties for security software developers include protecting data and systems from malicious attacks. Consequently, careers in this field often appeal to detail-oriented people who thrive in dynamic environments, enjoy problem-solving, and value continuous learning.

The demand for security software developers continues to grow due to increasing cyberthreats. With experience, these professionals can move into roles like security architect, security manager, or cybersecurity consultant, often with further responsibilities and higher pay.

Though this field typically offers higher-than-average salaries, the rapidly evolving threat landscape can be stressful, requiring constant learning and adaptation.

The Job Hunt

Finding a job as a security software developer involves networking within the industry. You can participate in job fairs and tech events, like the RSA Conference or DEF CON, where companies scout for talent. Professional organizations like ISC2 and ISACA offer job boards, networking opportunities, and resources for professional development.

Because this field evolves constantly, staying current with the latest technologies and security trends is crucial. Showcasing your practical skills through a strong programming portfolio can help you stand out on the job market.

Below, we explore several online resources to help you find security software development roles:

LinkedIn: LinkedIn users can apply to open jobs directly on the site or use the platform to develop a professional network with other industry members.

Indeed: Indeed compiles job postings, allowing users to search for security software developer positions across various industries and locations.

Glassdoor: Alongside job listings, Glassdoor provides company reviews and salary insights, aiding informed decision-making.

Dice: Dice is a tech-specific job board with a dedicated section for security jobs, including security software developer roles.

ClearedJobs.Net: Specializing in cybersecurity roles, ClearedJobs.Net offers listings for various experience levels in the security software development field.

Professional Spotlight: Vikram Bodicherla: Staff Software Engineer, WhatsApp

1. What prompted your journey to become a security software developer?

The Internet is tremendously useful today with all its products and services, but it's also a breeding ground for a lot of negative things — phishing, ransomware, identity theft, and so much more. And this disproportionately affects vulnerable populations — the tech illiterate and older people, either financially or otherwise.

Seeing family and many friends around me get affected and an interest in the technical problems in the space created a natural interest in me to explore security and privacy as a space.

2. If you work in a particular industry, what prompted this choice and/or how did it evolve?

I did not start with a security or privacy background. Over a decade, I worked on large consumer applications like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Uber, and Yahoo Finance, and this helped me realize and appreciate how much people trust these apps and rely on these kinds of apps. These products also held an excellent security and privacy posture and it was a great learning experience for me.

From this point, my transition was relatively gradual and mostly self-driven; in fact, it never looked like a transition till much later. I actively sought opportunities, connecting with people working on privacy and security problems to learn what they did and looking for opportunities to volunteer to solve small problems. Finally, when the right opportunity presented itself, I jumped and officially made a switch.

3. What educational path did you take to become a security software developer?

I have a bachelor's and a master's degree in computer science, and this really helped lay out the foundational aspects of security and privacy engineering. You need to fully understand the basics of the system before you can learn to defend it.

There are a lot of educational options in the field today compared to the options I had 15 years ago. People who are academically inclined or want to pick up skills through education have a variety of options, from online courses to degrees in security engineering.

In my case, given that I already had a decade of experience as a software engineer when I switched to focusing on privacy, I chose to focus on learning on-the-job. This also worked well for me because there were experts around me who were willing to mentor and guide me.

4. Did you have to pass any certifications or tests to enter the field or progress in your career?

I focused more on on-the-job learning, but there were unplanned but distinctive steps in my progress, so no certifications for me!

I believe strongly in getting my hands dirty, so I started by focusing on building stuff that someone else designed. Getting hands-on is very educational, and you start seeing and appreciating the real-life nuances of formulating threat models and designing and implementing solutions compared to what you get in a classroom setting.

Over time, starting small at first, I designed and built systems like an encrypted message restore system and a multi-device security system. These initiatives really broadened my understanding and appreciation of the space. I would say I am still in a relatively early stage in my journey and am continuing to learn everyday.

5. What advice do you have for individuals considering becoming a security software developer?

If you are already working somewhere, get started by doing. Every company has a security and privacy face to it, and there's likely someone already working on it, with or without the title of "security engineer." Start working with them and contributing to their efforts on the side. This will help you in two ways: figuring out if this is a good area for you, and building on-the-ground expertise quickly and efficiently.

If you are not working currently or don't have such an opportunity, you can always opt in to formal education, but that's a big commitment. I recommend taking advantage of the vast array of online resources. Take some early courses to figure out what area you find interesting, and then drill down deep! Get strong technically and find and understand the latest and the greatest.

Finally, it's always a good idea to understand the non-technical aspects of privacy and security as well — the real-world use cases, important legislations across the world, and the important problems of the future. This will help you become a well-rounded security engineer.

6. What do you wish you'd known before becoming a security software developer?

The biggest thing I have come to appreciate over time is the importance of balancing security and privacy versus usability. The best way to secure a system is to completely close it down, but that's no longer usable. Designing and building security so it doesn't come in the way is very challenging — you tinker with user communication, education, removing functionality, and whatnot!

The other thing I've come to learn is the non-technical aspect and the high levels of collaboration needed with legal and regulatory experts. With the advent of all the laws taking shape across the world, there's a lot more to the field now than technically securing a system or a product. While it's very fun, it's also a skill set that I never thought I would need!

Vikram Bodicherla is a staff engineer at Meta focusing on privacy. He has worked on various Meta products including secure storage for Facebook Messenger and Instagram and core security and privacy components at WhatsApp.

Prior to Meta, over his career of more than 14 years, Vikram has led teams across many large products, including Uber and Yahoo Finance. Vikram has a MS in computer science from UC Irvine and a BE (Hons) computer science from BITS Pilani, India.


More Resources for Future Security Software Developers

What Is a Security Software Developer?

What Is a Security Software Developer?

Salary and Career Outlook for Security Software Developers

Salary and Career Outlook for Security Software Developers

Day in the Life of a Security Software Developer

Day in the Life of a Security Software Developer

Certifications for Security Software Developers

Certifications for Security Software Developers

FAQ About Becoming a Security Software Developer

What skills do you need to be a security software developer?

Security software developers need programming skills, expertise in cybersecurity practices, knowledge of different operating systems and databases, and an understanding of network protocols. Analytical thinking, problem-solving abilities, and attention to detail are also crucial.

How long does it take to become a security software developer?

The time to become a security software developer can vary, but typically takes 7-10 years. This includes time spent on educational attainment, gaining practical work experience, and earning relevant certifications.

Which programming languages are best for security software development?

Key programming languages for security software development include Python and C/C++. Java, JavaScript, and SQL are also valuable due to their widespread use in web and database applications.

Can you become a security software developer without a degree?

Yes, it is possible to become a security software developer without a degree. However, this usually requires extensive self-study, participation in coding bootcamps, or other forms of practical experience and professional certification.

Last reviewed June 14, 2023.

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