My advice on starting a career in IT

I’ve had several people reach out to me over the last few months asking for advice on how to land their first job in IT. Several of these individuals do not have any formal IT education, training or experience. I decided to consolidate some of the advice that I’ve given on securing an IT job over the last few months into a blog post.

I was very fortunate to have had a 3rd grade teacher (Mr. Fouts) that exposed me to personal computers before they were personal. Mr. Fouts and another teacher set up a Wildcat! BBS server at our Elementary School. From the moment I first remotely connected the BBS system, I was hooked. I was also very lucky to have had an older Brother and two Grandfathers that encouraged my passion for technology. I don’t know when I decided on a career in IT but I also don’t recall ever considering anything else.

I graduated college in June 0f 2008. This was just a few months after the collapse of Bear Stearns. Even with a degree in Information and Telecommunication Systems, I really struggled to find a job. At one point, I had applied to over 100 positions and only been granted a handful of interviews. Finally, I accepted an internship at a local hospital where my primary focus was loading pre-configured images onto desktops/laptops.

The experience of struggling to find an entry-level position in IT helped shape my career in a positive way. I learned that obtaining an education isn’t enough and that I needed to obtain some relevant experience and marketable skills. I quickly found out you often have to make sacrifices to obtain the aforementioned skills and experience. This could mean taking a position with less pay in an effort to learn more about a piece of technology. I also learned the importance of discovering your passion within IT. In my case, I realized that I enjoyed IT Infrastructure and Information Security while serving as an Intern.

When my friends and family members ask me about obtaining positions in IT, I always ask them to be a little more specific. I eventually ask them what area of IT they want to focus on. If they actually have an answer, I try to validate what drove them to that conclusion. If they can’t answer that question, I instruct them to find an answer before going through the steps to seek an entry-level position. If not, they run the risk of committing to a field that they hate. I really recommend performing this task before committing to obtaining a degree (or at least in parallel while obtaining a degree).

How can you find out what area of IT you’re interested in without committing? I’d recommend attempting to find a job shadowing/internship opportunity. If you don’t know anyone who can help secure the internship or shadowing opportunity, start reaching out to individuals on LinkedIn. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help. Plus, I can’t stress enough how important it is to build out your personal network at the early stages of your career. As my Father always told me…”It’s not just what you know but who you know.”

If you’re still convinced a specific part of IT is for you after completing Internships and/or Job Shadowing, then it’s time to focus on gaining additional experience/knowledge. This is the point in your career transition where you may want to consider obtaining a vendor certificate and/or formal education. You may be fortunate enough that your internship and/or job shadowing leads to a full-time position. If not, don’t get discouraged. Keep reaching out to your connections and applying to as many entry-level roles as you can find. As I mentioned earlier, I applied to almost 100 entry-level positions early in my career before finally being hired.

When it comes time to selecting your first entry-level position, I highly recommend starting at a small or medium sized business. This will allow you to gain a wider range of skills. For example, my first real role in IT was working on the Help Desk at a smaller organization. The small size of the team/company allowed me to begin working on the organization’s servers and networks within a few months. I can definitively state that I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without this first position.

Unfortunately, obtaining industry experience in a new field or area of expertise often requires taking a step back financially. This can be a tough pill to swallow but the experienced gained in an entry-level position is invaluable. I tend to tell people to imagine as if they’re being paid to go to school and learn about the specific area of technology.

In short, take the time to find the right fit. Don’t invest too much time or money into exploring a career path without validating that it’s the right role for you. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of building your personal network.


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