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How To Become A Penetration Tester (5 Steps)

Penetration testing is an important line of defense against cyber attacks. It requires a deep understanding of security protocols and technologies, making it a rewarding and engaging career path in cybersecurity. But what does it take to become a pen tester?

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the discipline by explaining how it works, the tasks involved, and, of course, how to become a penetration tester yourself.

What Is a Penetration Tester?

A penetration tester, commonly known as a “pen tester” or an “ethical hacker,” is a person or organization hired by a company to simulate an attack on their system to identify security vulnerabilities and find ways to avoid them.

What Does a Penetration Tester Do?

Penetration testers and ethical hackers specialize in finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in computer systems, networks, and applications.

Common job responsibilities include:

  • Performing vulnerability assessments and penetration tests
  • Researching, developing, and deploying new offensive security tools and techniques
  • Updating organizations’ security postures by identifying, analyzing, and mitigating risks
  • Advising organizations on security best practices
  • Documenting and reporting on pen test results

How To Become a Penetration Tester (In 5 Steps)

While no two penetration testers will have the exact same career path, they’ll almost always need to tick off the following five steps before getting into a career. Satisfying these is essential to ensuring you have the right knowledge and qualifications to be considered a viable job candidate.

1. Learn the Basics of Hacking and Penetration Testing

The first step in becoming a penetration tester is, of course, starting with the basics. Building some foundational knowledge around the discipline and what it entails is important. This can be done in several ways, but some great options we recommend include:

Reading cyber security and pen testing books: While it may seem counterintuitive, going offline to learn penetration testing basics is one of the best ways to initiate yourself into the subject. There are some great books out there on various aspects of security and penetration testing that you can use to get started.

Watch cyber security and pen testing tutorials: The internet is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge when it comes to penetration testing and cyber security. You can find a vast range of tutorial videos, blog posts, and online resources that’ll help you get a better understanding of the subject.

Take a free pen test course: Free online penetration testing courses are a great option to consider if you’re interested in learning more about penetration testing but don’t want to commit to anything serious for the time being.

2. Enroll in a Cyber Security Bootcamp

If step 1 of this process hasn’t deterred you and you’re still interested in becoming a cyber security penetration tester, then it’s time to get serious and invest in yourself.

Enrolling in a cybersecurity bootcamp is a great way to immerse yourself in the world of penetration testing, offering formal training and certifications you won’t find elsewhere.

These boot camps usually run anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on your program type. It’s important to do your research and pick one that fits your goals, interests, and budget.

At Coding Dojo, we offer courses specifically catered to those interested in learning penetration testing. Our comprehensive cyber security boot camp focuses on the technical and tactical skills you need to be successful in your career.

3. Earn Penetration Testing Certifications

Once you’ve completed the necessary coursework and have a good grasp of basic penetration testing concepts, it’s time to get a cybersecurity certification. Earning certification shows employers that you have the right knowledge to perform the job, and usually involves passing an exam or completing a set of tasks.

Prominent certifications to consider:

  • CompTIA Pentest+
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • Certified Penetration Tester (CPT)
  • GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN)
  • Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP)

4. Practice With Simulated Pen Testing Platforms

Just because you’ve earned a certification in penetration testing doesn’t mean the work is over. Like everything else in life, you’ve got to practice discipline to master it. Again, this can be done in tons of different ways. The internet has plenty of great resources to check out and simulated pen-testing platforms let you practice your skills in a safe environment.

Three great options we recommend are:

  • Hack the Box – Hack the Box is an online cybersecurity training platform that enables individuals, companies, and universities to enhance their digital security skills. It makes use of gamified content to test users’ knowledge and offers a range of challenges from easy to hard.
  • Hack This Site – Hack This Site is a non-profit organization providing free educational security tools and resources to the public. The platform offers a “realistic” penetration testing experience, which provides a great way to practice and hone your skills.
  • VulnHub – VulnHub offers aspiring penetration testers a slew of resources to practice and improve their skills with. Its vulnerable boxes, which can be practiced on, are great for gaining hands-on experience in ethical hacking.

5. Apply for a Penetration Testing Internship or Job

After you’ve honed your skills and are truly confident in your abilities as a penetration tester, it’s time to start searching for a pen tester internship or job. To land the best opportunities, you’ll need to make sure your resume is up-to-date and you have some kind of portfolio to demonstrate your skills.

Look for jobs that specify penetration testing as a requirement and don’t be afraid to apply even if you don’t meet all the criteria. Employers are usually willing to work with applicants who can demonstrate a solid understanding of the discipline and have the drive to continue learning and growing as data science professionals.

Top Penetration Tester Skills Needed To Land a Job

While penetration testing can be considered a skill in and of itself, several abilities factor into it. 

Here are some of the key skills you’ll need to be successful in this field:

  • Network and application security
  • Ethical hacking techniques
  • Data encryption techniques
  • Latest remote access technologies
  • Technical writing and documentation
  • Threat modeling and cyber security assessment
  • Windows, MacOS, and Linux operating systems
  • Network protocols like TCP/IP, DNS, ARP, and UDP
  • Programming languages like Java, Python, Bash, Perl, and Ruby
  • Penetration testing tools like Wireshark, Kali, Metasploit, and Burp Suite

Average Penetration Tester Salary

There isn’t a single answer to the question of how much penetration testers earn. Specific salaries can range broadly and are dependent on a number of factors. The biggest among these is the effort put into the steps we mentioned earlier. Ultimately, the more practice, certifications, and training you have, you’ll be better positioned to take home big bucks.

If you’re looking for a general range, current data estimates the average American pen tester’s salary to be approximately $88,000 per year. Again, this will vary based on your background, in addition to location, negotiating skills, and the state of the job market.

3 Reasons To Become a Pen Tester

Why become a pen tester, you may ask? Well, this career can be rewarding for countless reasons. Here are three to consider:

1. You’ll always be an important part of the security process. Pen testers are essential members of the security team, as they are the ones responsible for finding and fixing vulnerabilities before anyone else can. A career in this field means always being at the forefront of security issues.

2. You’ll get to learn and stay up-to-date on the latest technologies. Penetration testing requires a deep understanding of the latest security technologies. Not only are you guaranteed to stay ahead of the curve, but you’ll also get to learn and tinker with the latest security tools.

3. You’ll get to use your creativity. Pen testing involves more than just blindly executing tests –- it also requires you to think strategically and creatively. This is a great way to use your problem-solving skills and stay engaged in a career that’s always evolving.

Start Your Pen Tester Career at Coding Dojo

Ready to start a career as a pen tester? Coding Dojo can help you get there. Our professional cybersecurity bootcamps teach students the necessary skills and prepare them for their next steps.

With Coding Dojo, you’ll get the opportunity to work on real-world projects, which can be added to your portfolio. You’ll also learn best practices for ethical hacking and gain experience with the latest tools and protocols in the industry. All of this will give you a strong foundation for further growth in your career.

If you’ve been looking for the perfect time to enter the world of pen testing, look no further. Our boot camps are the perfect place to start your journey. Apply today and take the first steps toward a successful career as a penetration tester.

How To Become a Penetration Tester FAQ

Any outlying questions on how to become a penetration tester? We’ve answered some common ones below.

Is Penetration Testing a Good Career?

Short answer: yes! Pen testing is a great career for anyone interested in computers, technology, and security. There’s always a demand for skilled professionals who can prevent and detect security threats. Plus, the salary range is competitive and you get to stay up-to-date with the latest security technologies.

Are Penetration Testers in Demand?

Yes! With the rise of cyber threats and data breaches, there will always be a need for experienced pen testers. As organizations continue to look for ways to stay protected, the demand for pen testers continues to increase.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Penetration Tester?

The answer to this question will depend on your circumstances. If you’re looking at training time only, you can expect to complete an in-depth boot camp in around 16 weeks. However, the length of time it takes to become a penetration tester will also depend on the experience and certifications you have – or plan to earn.