Break Into Information Technology
Outside of my professional life, where I am expected to solve problems with technology, many people in my personal network love to pick my brain: How do I connect X to Y? Can I do <insert random task> from my cell phone? How do I avoid getting caught pirating media from the Internet?
I enjoy being a resource for people as this has a reciprocal effect. This is one way I have been able to build rapport—by solving problems for one person, that person will likely recommend me to someone else. Small projects for one person lead to other opportunities which can evolve into more involved projects for business. Basically, this word of mouth recommendation process becomes like a resume in itself.
Often, my friends ask me questions such as, “Can you teach me?” The shorthand answer is no. I can pass on some of my knowledge, but to teach a comprehensive skill set would require years of training. In order to get into this field, there are a few steps that need to be taken. The first step is truly wanting to have a computer job.
Education 4 IT job?!
I always wanted to do something with computers. My original plans were to continue studying programming and land a job building physics engines for video games. The math that goes into making objects move is as much an art as it is science, blending the two into a unique and valuable skill set. Then I realized a couple of key things that changed everything.
Programming is very tedious and I was a good programmer, but I realized I hated it towards the end of my freshman year in college. It’s rewarding but very few outside the field can appreciate the subtle components that differentiate a good program from a great program. I also really hate structured learning. I ace classes but the fact that I learn better on my own (and my problem with authority) allowed me to walk away from my pursuit of a degree without looking back.
Networking is much more diverse and has more application than programming software. I’m happier when I can interact with people and solve their problems or design solutions that make software work. So I learned about operating systems and delved into network engineering.
The first company where I worked an IT role was the Geek Squad at Best Buy. Laugh all you want because I got my hands on everything you can imagine, as it becomes your job to learn how to use anything the store currently carries as well as other obscure or archaic devices. It was my experience that Best Buy treats people like crap but you need to start somewhere.
Aside from my resume and somewhat neglected LinkedIn profile and professional recommendations, on paper, I’m dumb. This could hold me back because many companies won’t even consider hiring a person who hasn’t completed a degree. Yet, I haven’t allowed it to hold me back because I won’t work for a business that doesn’t realize experience transposes to useful skills far more than a bunch of college credits for BS classes.
Doors haven’t automatically opened for me. But I never needed this advantage. Politely opening doors and gracefully walking through halls is not my style. Instead, I kicked down doors, charged through metaphorical corridors and essentially demanded a job.
Do as I say, not as I do!
I have adopted a more aggressive, nontraditional method of acquiring work. If you’re fearless, bold and very independent, this may work for you as well. If you really want a job building and supporting networks or some other computer job but you’re dependent on others, a more formal approach is necessary.
To get a job, there are certain skills you need to develop aside from scoring good grades and actually comprehending classroom material. I have a list of a couple of “do’s and don’ts” that will help you after you graduate – or decide to drop out and take the path less traveled.
- DO Hang out in the bars – Yeah, alcohol is terrible for your system. Get the hard partying out of your system before you’re serious about finding a job. Going to work constantly hung over isn’t fun.
- I’ve found many jobs simply by schmoozing with people in bars. Listen and observe people in your surroundings. Work your way into conversations with strangers. Talk with people and be social! You never know when someone may need to hire someone with your skill set. You may have a job after a simple conversation without having ever displayed your credentials.
- DON’T Do career training – These kinds of schools are really just businesses. They’ll tell you people with Microsoft certs can easily make 80 Gs a year which is only partially true. Sadly, I did a 6-month program with a “school” that doesn’t seem to exist anymore called PC Pro Schools. We covered a fraction of the material we should have covered. The instructor was completely unqualified.
- The only good thing about the school was the ability to take certification exams as many times as necessary (though I didn’t need to) and the fact I have several very informative books. If you’re going to go to school, don’t halfass it like I did.
- DO Supplemental credentials – Acquiring certifications is one way to impress employers and gain knowledge. A certification doesn’t require studying irrelevant information. Sure, taking psych and sociology are great for building other skills. However, they don’t teach you how to use a terminal emulator to access a Cisco WAP via SSH so you can modify a startup configuration.
- DON’T Lose interest – All fields require you to continue learning. Especially when dealing with computers, new technologies are constantly being implemented in businesses everywhere. Think because you got a degree, you’re set for the rest of your life? You’re not.
- Part of this career is loving what you do or at least liking it enough to get out of bed every day. It has to be a hobby as well or your use will fade fairly quickly. Find interesting, technology-based projects to do when you’re not on the clock, even if it’s not directly related to your job function. Just like an athlete who trains by practicing other sports, skills you develop on your own time will transpose to your career.
Most importantly, as with any career, be resourceful. Don’t stop learning, even if you stop going to school. Continue searching for better ways to complete tasks for everything you do. Last but not least, never give up—even if life doesn’t pan out the way you imagined, there is always another way to make your dreams a reality.