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Penetration Tester: Job Description, Salary & Career Path

May 30, 2020

Career Definition of a Penetration Tester

Penetration testers may also be known as ethical hackers or as information security analysts. They are responsible for ensuring that computer information systems are protected from hackers. In their role they are responsible for running tests on the networks, applications and software. They attempt to hack in so that they can access data that should not be accessible without proper authorization. They do this in order to help identify potential weaknesses in the existing systems. When they identify potential weaknesses they collaborate with other professionals in order to determine the best way to resolve them. This can involve rewriting program code or adding additional security measures.

Penetration testers also review any incidents that occur with the security of the system. When they conduct tests or assessments they compile their results and write reports concerning their findings.

Educational Requirements Bachelor's degree
Job Skills Computer programming skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills, teamwork skills, time management skills, customer service skills, leadership skills
Median Salary (2020)* $84,160
Job Outlook (2018-2028)** 32% (information security analysts)

Sources: *PayScale; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

It may be possible to enter the field as a penetration tester solely with the right skill set, but many employers prefer penetration testers who have years of relevant work experience. In order to acquire work in network security it's typical for employers to seek applicants with at least a bachelor's degree. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that to enter the career field of information security analysis, applicants with a bachelor's degree in computer science or a comparable field, such as information security, are preferred by employers. Computer programming skills are also important in this line of work and some employers may require knowledge of specific programming languages and operating systems. Some employers also require penetration testers to have ethical hacking certification and other IT security certifications.

Required Skills

Penetration testers need to have exceptional computer skills in order to be able to attempt to hack into systems. They also need to have strong analytical skills so that they can review data and break down the processes involved in correcting potential security issues. As their work involves producing written reports and collaborating with other IT professionals, they need to have good communication skills. Good customer service skills are beneficial because penetration testers may provide results or information to clients. In order to conduct tests efficiently and ensure that system changes or improvements are implemented as quickly as possible, penetration testers need strong time management skills. They also need problem-solving skills in order to determine the best way to correct issues or to protect the network and data from potential risks.

Career Outlook and Salary

The BLS classifies penetration testers with information security analysts. They expect a very high rate of job growth for professionals in this field. From 2018 to 2028, the BLS forecasts a 32% rate of growth, which is four times the national average job growth rate for all occupations. While the BLS reports that information security analysts earned a median annual income of $99,730 in 2019, PayScale indicated that penetration testers took home a median annual salary of $84,160 in 2020.

Related Careers

Those who are considering a future as a penetration tester may also be interested in other types of computer programming or network development careers. Information about some comparable careers is available through the materials linked to below.

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