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How to get started in the IT world

November 9, 2013


Look, in this economy, there aren’t many careers that I’d classify as “stable.” I’ve heard tales of many of my friends losing their jobs recently, and really, my heart goes out to them — it’s not easy! But what I’ve seen a lot of lately is the mentality of “I’d love to get into ‘computers,’ but I have no idea where to start. The barriers of entry seem too high.” I’ve heard it far too often, so I decided to create a mini-guide for those of you who want to break into the industry, and have zero experience.

Why should you listen to me, of all people? Well, I’m writing this as someone who also had zero experience when I got my first tech job — and I am not a programmer — I’m just technical by proxy because I choose to spend a lot of time around computers (which pretty much everyone does, these days). As a Political Science and Philosophy major, I really had no clear path in my life other than what I had been told for the past 20 or so odd years — “the path with money in it.” But a few years after graduating at the insistence of my friend, I decided to break out into the IT world, and took a class to study for the CompTIA A+ Certification.

I am extremely grateful that I met the IT instructor for this course, as he explained something very important that all prospective IT employees should hear. “Imagine yourself at work, on a computer all day. Eight hours a day, five days a week, for the rest of your life you’re on a computer. Then you go home. If you can see yourself on a computer even after being at work on one all day, you should probably go into IT, and you’ll like what you do.” Those are words to live by, because I lived them! Even if you have no idea of what you want to do with your life, think about how much time you spend on a computer.

Get a basic IT skillset, even if you don’t have a professional IT background:

Even if you’ve worked as a cashier, you have some level of professionalism from that task — customer service. Many IT positions are customer facing affairs, and those can be used as stepping stones to your desired goal. If you don’t have experience, you can get it in multiple ways — whether that’s through classes, certifications, or internships. What I did personally is take an A+ class, which is one of the most basic and entry level certifications in the field — but it’s also one of the most sought out by tech recruiters. Buy an A+ book, take a look at it, and see if it’s for you.

If you find yourself enjoying the material, even on a basic level, acquire more free or paid study guides from online sources, finish the book, and consider taking a class. It’s okay if you’re still working your current job while you’re doing all this. Just use time management to fit it in — I did this by way of weekend classes, and dedicated “study time” sessions while working at a law office. Within a few months of starting from zero, I got my A+ certification and a great entry level positions in the IT field (and “entry level” in this field is one of the best out there). A few months later and I got Security+, then Network+, and earned myself the attention of other recruiters for new positions.

Locate recruiters, or “head-hunters” if you can’t get a job directly:

This is often the hardest step. Finding a tech recruiter in certain areas can be difficult if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area. But they do exist! Try putting your resume on, highlighting your entry level skills (anything you can find that’s pertinent — customer service counts) and [hopefully] certifications. You may not get a permanent offer from a company like Northrop Grumman, but you will most likely get a few hits from a recruiter, offering you a six month temporary, or “temp to perm” position as a “sub-contractor.”

Meaning, you work for the recruiter and the recruiter gets paid, but you also work for the parent organization. The common misconception is that recruiters are “cheating” you out of more pay by essentially doing nothing — but this is not always true, as I found that a number of colleagues in certain areas actually earned a higher salary working for recruiters than they would have if they were brought on directly. If all else fails, good old fashioned online job hunting, cold-calling, or door-to-door searching in office buildings can be an alternative.

Don’t be afraid to start at the ground level:

I’m not the type of person that would tell someone not to reach for the stars — but you need to be realistic. That may seem like an ego hit, but truly, you are switching careers, and you need some realistic expectations. I have a friend who imparted a great bit of wisdom when it comes to changing career fields — he said, “you only get three or four chances to climb to the top of a field, then completely dump it and start over. Make use of that time, but don’t be adverse to starting over again, and take that plunge if it makes you happy.”

When you do have that job and are starting out, always better yourself, or at least thinabout bettering yourself. Look for new certifications to take, including ones from Microsoft, CompTIA, and Cisco Systems. Contrary to other fields, certifications can (but not always) be more important than actual experience — with the proviso attached that some certifications actually require documented experience before you can take the test. I had to go through a lot of hard work to get to this point, but it was worth it.

Research a path, and choose a goal:

Information Security is the hot field right now in IT. But entry level positions in said field are few and far between, so you may have to start at something like data entry, basic programming, or Help Desk. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Look into possible paths that you may want to take — customer facing or non-customer facing — network administration or security — even basic programming is an option if you don’t want to learn math. Fields like Microsoft Sharepoint Administration can earn you a pretty penny with very little knowledge and experience that you couldn’t get out of reading a few Sharepoint management books. Government jobs can also earn you a secret (or top secret) clearance, which will literally open hundreds of doors for you.

But if you’re a government contractor, remember these words that my Project Manager instilled in me — “what’s Latin for contractor? EXPENDABLE.”  There are risks involved, but as long as you have certifications and a clearance to fall back on, you can find something else. Pick yourself back up. The biggest piece of advice is to research everything you can. Google “IT wikipedia,” and start reading up about various information technology fields until you find one you may like. Look into certifications and what it is that job actually does. With the right drive and the mentality that you’re always willing to work on a computer, the IT field could be the perfect fit for you. Good luck!

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