Specializing in a Cryptography Career

I talk a lot about working in networking, cybersecurity, and IT. But I don’t really get into the more niche areas. But at the same time I’ve always advocated for specializing. It’s what made my career what it is today. So, this week I’ve been focused on Cryptography and Data Security, and I thought, if you aspire to pursue a career in cryptography, what would one need to focus on. Turns out there are several areas of study that can provide a strong foundation, and they include mathematics, computer science, and information security. Here are some thigns to consider in each of these areas.


Cryptography heavily relies on abstract algebraic concepts such as groups, rings, and fields. For this you would need to learn Abstract Algebra. Also, understanding the properties of integers, prime numbers, and modular arithmetic (Number Theory) is important in cryptography. And cryptanalysis often involves statistical analysis and probability theory. Personally, this is why I’m not specialized in cryptography. I know it. I understand things like Diffie-Hellman and IPsec and so on. But too much math hurts my little brain, so I leave this to the smart people!

Computer Science:

Efficient algorithms and data structures are essential for implementing cryptographic systems. You would pick this knowledge up in most computer science programs. You would likely also pick up a programming language. Python is common. Others are as well, but I like Python. You would need some programming skills if you are planning to develop cryptographic software. ANd I think last, but not least in this area is having an understanding low-level hardware and software principles. This is beneficial for optimizing cryptographic implementations (something else I cannot do).

Information Security:

Now we’re talking! Cryptography is a core area of information security, covering symmetric and asymmetric cryptography, hash functions, digital signatures, and cryptanalysis techniques. This is the stuff I’ve gotten just good enough at to be dangerous. My favorite books on the topic are IPSec, Second Edition and Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms and Source Code in C.

Along a similar vein, you need to have knowledge of areas like access control, authentication, and intrusion detection are relevant for designing secure systems that incorporate cryptography.

So what does a typical career path for someone in Cryptography look like?

A typical career path in cryptography

A typical career path in cryptography might look like this:

  1. Get your education. This might include a bachelor’s degree in computer science, mathematics, or a related field, with a focus on cryptography-related courses. Some universities offer specialized programs or concentrations in cryptography and information security, but math is also an option.
  2. Get an Internships
  3. Graduate Studies: You might consider pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in cryptography, computer science, or applied mathematics, depending on your interests and career goals. Personally, this was not for me, however for a focus in this space graduate studies provide opportunities for advanced research and specialization.
  4. Get an Entry-Level Position. And this part kinda stinks. You may have the degree and some practical experience if you’ve interned, but not everyone comes out of college and starts a new tech company or joins one of the big cloud companies. You can seek entry-level positions as a cryptographer, security analyst, or software engineer in various industries, such as technology companies, financial institutions, government agencies, or research organizations and this will give you real-world experience and start building your career capital.
  5. Keep seeking professional development opportunities and certifications. You need to do this to update your knowledge. Attend conferences, workshops, and training programs whenver you can. Obtaining industry-recognized certifications, such as the Certified Encryption Specialist (EC-Council) or the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), can enhance your credibility and career prospects.
  6. Keep looking for advancement opportunities. This will come with time. And as you gain experience and begin to stand out in your specialty, you can progress to roles such as lead cryptographer, cryptography researcher, security architect, or cybersecurity consultant. Some cryptographers also transition into academia, teaching and conducting research at universities or research institutions if that’s your thing.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to recognize that cryptography is a highly specialized field, and career paths may vary a lot depending on the industry, organization, and your interests and goals. In fact, you may head down this path and decide it’s not for you. Still the knowledge you gain will invariably help you in adjacent areas. That being said, I think that continuous learning, staying updated with the latest developments in cryptography, and maintaining a strong understanding of evolving security threats and countermeasures will be your key to a successful career in this field. I hope you found this useful. Happy Careering!

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