So, you want to be a successful IT pro, but you are not sure where to begin? It’s okay. It’s pretty common to feel this way, especially when you’re just getting started. Fortunately, you can take many different avenues and approaches when getting started in the world of IT.
Knowledge is Power
If you’re considering jumping into IT, you definitely need a passion for learning. You have to be willing to pursue knowledge and you should probably set aside time in your daily routine to do it. For most IT pros, learning and professional development will likely have its place outside of your normal “9-to-5” responsibilities.
Some examples are: Studying for a certification, taking college courses online, or reading a book, among a number of other training options. All of these activities require you take time away from family and fun in the pursuit of professional development. This tithe of time is a deposit into your professional success bank account. It will take time for your investment to mature and pay off, but it most definitely will, if you persevere.
The Path to Power
One of the easiest ways to gain knowledge is to use your current role to its maximum experience potential. Your job is more than just a source of income. It has the potential be a knowledge generator. For most employers, the amount of work that needs to be done is larger than the number of people available to do it. This breeds various opportunities for you to use your non-personal time to gain knowledge.
This may sound crazy at first, but ask for more responsibilities. Look for opportunities to volunteer in ways that will teach you new skills, and allow you to cross-train in multiple fields of IT. This is an easy way to experience new branches of IT, which will help you figure out which area is the best fit for you. Many IT pros have used this to pivot into new careers, with better opportunities. It’s up to you to be able to recognize these opportunities and seize them. Don’t hesitate!
College is one of the more traditional paths to knowledge. It can teach you the basics of what you will need to know in IT. The value of a college education varies from program to program, and like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. In most traditional colleges, you will have a 50/50 split between generic classes and your degree-specific classes, giving you a well-rounded base.
Many colleges have expanded their IT degrees beyond a broad computer science major, which allows you to specialize in areas such as the cloud, system administration, security, software development, and networking, just to name a few. Try to find a college program that aligns itself with an IT certification. A networking degree should set you up for passing your basic CompTIA Network+, a Cisco certification, or something a little more intense. Be wary of online colleges. They are convenient, but they can be more expensive, as well as provide little-to-no hands-on training. Also, make sure to check out colleges that partner with IT organizations and offer intern programs. You can’t go wrong with getting education and experience simultaneously.
Another option for IT education is technical college, which often focuses on the technical aspect of your degree rather than the general fluff classes.
Weigh your options. A degree can assist you in pivoting into a new IT field, but it will not guarantee you a job. You could end up with a lot of debt, and no career to show for it. Do your homework and research your college options before jumping in. Your future self will thank you.
Let’s talk about non-traditional education and certifications. Ideally, IT certifications prove you have knowledge in a certain area. Most certifications exams are multiple choice and require some sort of regular renewal process to maintain the certification. Certifications are a requirement for many government IT roles and are often desired by private sector companies. Certifications can help you stand out from others competing for the same role and opportunities.
Like college, though, you get what you put into the certification process. Either you just passed a test, or you actually mastered the knowledge. Passing the exams will get you an interview, but knowledge will land you the job.
Where should you start? Below are a few suggestions for the appropriate IT fields to help give you the fundamentals to get started.
- System Administration – Look at obtaining a CompTIA or Microsoft certification like A+, Linux+, or Database. These certifications scale into more advanced certifications as you grow in your career, which gives you a nice foundation to build on.
- Network Administration – Start with the CompTIA Network+, then move on to Cisco’s CCENT and CCNA. One thing to understand is that no matter the manufacturer, networking protocols are standardized across devices. ARP, OSPF, MPLS, or BGP will work the same regardless of whether it is a Cisco, Juniper, or F5 device. Companies like F5 or Juniper speak the same networking language as Cisco. They just might use a slight accent, as in, command line instruction may be worded differently. Network+, from CompTIA, is also a viable option to help start you in networking.
- Development – Microsoft’s MTA Developer, and Oracle’s Java are excellent starts for this field. There are numerous programming languages you can learn, such as Python or PowerShell. They are beneficial across multiple IT disciplines. It would also be beneficial to try to specialize in a platform such as mobile, web, or cloud because these are hot areas for software development. You should also be familiar with development frameworks such as Agile, or Scrum. If your interests lie with web development, then you need to be cozy with the OWASP project.
- Network Security – An excellent starting point is CompTIA’s Security+ if you are looking to join defensive security. It’s a broad certification that will teach you multiple security disciplines. Security+ is also a baseline certification requirement for many government IT positions. Take your security training to the next level with the Cisco CCNA Security or even the Certified Ethical Hacker. It’s tough, but it’s well worth the effort.
There are also ways to learn that don’t necessitate paying sums of money. There are some web resources and organizations that believe knowledge should be free and open and have made that information available to you. You are only a Google search away from learning secure web design, or a coding language. You won’t get a very expensive, signed document proving you know something, but it is free resource knowledge that might help you stand out in your current role or in your next interview.
Ideally, you should mix and match certifications. Software development and system administration have a lot of overlapping functions. Every IT field has a security aspect, so security certifications work well as an add on for all branches of IT. Having certifications in more than one path is appealing to an IT company.
Look for certifications that have tiers, which allow you to build upon the entry-level certs into more advanced certifications. Again, remember that your degree and certification(s) will get you that interview, but it’s the knowledge that will land you the job.
There are many ways to gain knowledge and experience in IT. You will need both if you’re going to maintain a successful career. Success takes a willingness to give up our time, our most precious commodity in the pursuit of knowledge. Whether it’s working on your degree from taking night classes, taking an online coding class, or studying for a certification test, you have to be willing to put in the time.
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