I personally started working retail sales when I was a teenager. It was the beginning of my passion for both helping people and working around computers. I took a roundabout way, a military stint as an electrician, than another job as an electrician. Finally, I had a “mid-life crisis” and decided to go to college and learn information technology. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go and the IT career counselor sold me on a ‘6 figure lifestyle in 5 years’. With a Bachelor’s in Network Security, he said I’d have a job in security upon graduation and live comfortably. I switched to an associates program in computer science (generic information technology degree) and decided to join the workforce early, because I needed the money. My school set me up with an interview at a staffing contract company, and I got a job on a help desk. I had gotten my CompTIA A+ and Sec+ through my school, so I thought I was top boss. All my credentials did for me was get me a slightly higher starting pay.
Like with any other career, you start small
Information Technology is a career field like every other. You should not expect to walk into a high paying job with just a college degree and certifications. We all have to start at he bottom of the ladder and work our way up. I know people who climb the ladder three steps at a time. I also know people who are stuck at the bottom step and don’t move for years. Climbing the ladder takes ambition, drive, passion, time to study and a bit of luck. There are many ways to look at your career, but in the beginning you need to build knowledge. That knowledge comes from school, studying (pass or fail) for certifications, tinkering with a home lab or from work experience.
What your target should be
When starting out I always suggest people seek a help desk position. Help desk work is grueling, offers low pay, and can be very stressful in most places. It is perfect entry-level work because you are typically exposed to a lot of important things. Help desk analysts have to deal with customers, they have to troubleshoot enterprise systems, and they have to write tickets. These are three basic skills that translate into almost every single job in the information technology field. Whether you are a systems administrator, system engineer, security consultant or a developer these three basic skills are important. Due to the nature of help desk work, there is generally a high turnaround and companies are always looking for people. The company that I started with offered the same 5 week training to all new employees, and they took in people without any experience. Finding an opportunity like that is the ideal scenario if you are looking to break into information technology.
Who you are is what you know, not what you do
People ask all the time if they qualify for a job different than what they are currently doing. I say anyone can do any job if they know how to do it. Seems like a simple statement to say, but it is very important to believe. When applying for system administrator positions, I stressed my competence with troubleshooting systems and figuring out new technology. I had never been a systems administrator before, but I showed confidence that I could do the job with my level of knowledge. There is a phrase ‘fake it til you make it’ that I’ve heard often and it rings true with confidence. You have to be comfortable with your knowledge about information technology when sitting in interviews or they wont believe what you have to say. Don’t pretend to know things you don’t but believe in your ability to figure out technology.
Set proper expectations
My college career counselor told me that I’d have a high paying job when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. My professors told me that if I got my A+ and Sec+ before graduating that I’d be guaranteed a high paying job out of school. These expectations are false and yet most students are made to believe this. I won’t dive deep into the reasons why they may do this, but they are in a business. Irregardless you have to understand this is hyperbole. The IT career field is a higher paying field than some others. Your expectation should be that you will be making a decent living compared to other careers. You will have to work hard, keep learning, keep growing your skills and get new certifications relevant to your new experiences and skills. Working in information technology you can get higher pay than other careers, but you still have to work for it and be patient.
You can do this. That’s the point of this all. You can start working on a help desk probably today with minimal skills and education. Some call centers want some IT experience, but some don’t. It really depends on your local area, and moving might be something you should consider. If you are getting a certification to start your IT career, great. If you are getting a degree to start your career, that’s fine too. Everything you learn will help further your career and help you start out with a chance at a higher salary. Set your expectations properly, you won’t be making huge money starting out.
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