Choosing a career path in Cybersecurity: Government or Industry?

May 9, 2018

There are government jobs and industry jobs, and there’s contracting too. With so many career options, where should you go after you earn that cybersecurity degree?

Sarah Alspaw, director of career development and student success for Capitol Technology University

We asked careers expert Sarah Alspaw, director of career development and student success for Capitol Technology University, about the differences in industry work versus government work for cyber experts and the pros and cons to each.

In terms of the federal industry, Capitol is in a prime location in the greater Washington, DC area to connect students to federal opportunities. “Location-wise, we are very close to Fort Meade. A lot of our students head towards the CIA and NSA,” says Alspaw, “but the FBI has some cybersecurity jobs available as well. Others of our students have gone contractor.” 

“Contracting,” Alspaw explains, “is when a company or companies will contract with the federal government for work on a specific project. ICF international is a contracting company that probably hires the most of our students of any contractor, or at least within the last few years.”

“In the private industry there’s really two avenues,” Alspaw continues, “there are companies that really specialize in cybersecurity, so you go and work for a company like McAfee, or you could go work in the IT department of an organization where they have a cybersecurity component.”

“For example, that’s my understanding of what Under Armour is doing. Under Armour has a lot of cyber internships, and you wouldn’t necessarily assume that Under Armour is in the cyber business – and they’re not, right? They have an IT department where students are coming in and working in those areas. Discovery Communications is the same way, they have an IT department that needs some cybersecurity coverage, and it’s not necessarily a cybersecurity company,” Alspaw says.

“We’re also seeing private industry opportunities in cyber expand into healthcare, like for organizations that need HIPAA protections for example. Credit card companies are recruiting cyber experts as well. VISA was looking for an incident response person a couple weeks back.”

What are some of the pros and cons to working in private industry versus federal industry, and where does contracting fall in the scope of opportunities?


Government Work:

PRO – Longevity/Job Security

“If you want a career that you can stay in for a while, if you want job security, government is your shot.”

PRO – Pensions

“The government still does pensions, so if you do make a career out of it, you come out with a pension.”

PRO/CON – Repetitive tasks

“If you are the type of person that likes to do the same thing and really stick to one area and have that be your specialization, government is good for that, especially NSA. The CIA makes you switch positions every two years, but if you are the type of person that likes to do the same task every day this is for you.”

CON – Lower Salary

“They just don’t pay as well.”

Contracting Work:

PRO – Higher Salary

“Contractors will probably make 25 to 50 percent more, if not more than that, than government employees. If somebody works in government for 3 or 4 years, they can double their salary by coming out and contracting in private industry.”

CON – Limited/No Job Security

“There are some organizations that place you into a new contract when your contract is up, but there are a lot of organizations where when your contract ends, your job is over. So there is that risk.”

Private Industry:

PRO – Higher Salary

“With industry, you’ll get paid a lot more. If you go to VISA or Apple or Google they are higher pay.”

CON – Outside Influences

“Your fate at the company is contingent upon how well the company does. So if they have a really bad quarter and they have to do layoffs you are at risk for that.”

Overall it’s up to you to choose what is right for your career. Alspaw notes, “I like to encourage students to try government first, especially if they can get a security clearance. I have found students to be more successful getting cleared in internships and co-ops than they have in full-time positions, because the government is investing in this new generation of people coming up. So if you can get that clearance early, it will make things a lot easier for you in the future.”

For cybersecurity bachelor’s or master’s students, if you need coaching on the next steps to take to meet your career goals, the Career Services department can help. To make an appointment for individual advice, please email

Categories: Cybersecurity