Saturday, February 8, 2020

Advice for Starting in IT, Part 1

I don't know where to start, so please forgive me if this post is a bit, shall we say, disjointed.

For a little over five years I was an IT instructor.  I taught mostly CompTIA A+, Network+, and Security+ classes.  Probably a year or two in, I started teaching Microsoft Windows 7 and ITIL Foundation courses (both v3 and 4).  I even taught the CompTIA CASP+ course, which was interesting due to the fact that I was teaching both day (8 hours) and night (4 hours) the second week of the course.  A very draining experience, doubles.

During those five years, I was asked numerous times how to enter the IT field, or security, or how to make an existing career in IT even better.  From the first time questions like that were asked until today, my thoughts on the matter have evolved.  Not 180 degrees, mind you, but definitely not the same answer.  So, how have my thoughts changed?

Well, for one, I followed a circuitous route that took many, many years.  Before I purchased my first computer, which was used, I would occasionally purchase PC Shopper magazine.  I would read the advertisements and try to learn what each part did and why it might be important in any future computer build that I might undertake.  I never did undertake that adventure, but it did fuel the curiosity that was building within.  That curiosity led me to purchasing my first computer and, oddly enough, fixing it several months after purchase.

Back before motherboards had just about everything integrated on them, you used to have to buy a separate board, called an Input/Output board, to connect everything form hard drives, printers, and even those new fangled CD-ROM drives!  One day, several months after purchasing the computer, the power supply turned on, the monitor started to light up, and...nothing.  The BIOS couldn't find a bootable drive.  To say that I was perplexed, and to a degree panicked, would be an understatement.  You see I was a little panicked because I lived in Germany at the time and didn't know whether I could purchase a replacement I/O board locally.  It so happens that I could, and I did, for about $20.  I got back to where I lived, opened up the case, and swapped out boards.  After closing up the computer, I pushed the power button and hoped for the best.  Thankfully, that was the problem and by swapping the boards out I was able to use the computer again.  To say that I was hooked would be an understatement for sure.

That experience, coupled with owning a computer when most people still didn't have one, instantly made me "the computer guy" at every unit I was in.  That made me want to learn more about computers, to be more effective.  While my day job wasn't in IT, I was still building experience that would allow me to eventually move into that arena.  One could say, not the most conventional way to enter the field but definitely not unusual, either.

Fast forward quite a few years, I retired from the USAF and needed to do something.  After trying to find a job in the career field that the Air Force trained and gave me experience in, I took a chance and entered a school that would train me to be an IT professional.  I took courses, got certified, and, thanks to that school, was able to get my first two jobs in IT (telecom and retail computer repair).  Eventually, I got into teaching and being a very part-time assistant to our IT administrator/manager/everything IT person.

That was my path and, in many ways, the same path that others had taken as well.  Is it the best path?  Well, no, of course not.  It took me about 15 years to land my first real IT job for pete's sake!  There are definitely faster ways into IT.  You could go to college for networking, or take courses at a local technical school, or join the military and let them help you, or let someone give you a job because of your reputation or because you helped them at some point.  These are all valid pathways and none of them work for every single person.  None of them are neat, easy to implement, or guaranteed to work.  Heck, the job market in your area may work against you due to a lack of professional network, job availability, or that you haven't checked all of the boxes that HR/hiring managers want checked.

Because there are no clear paths, I have tried to understand the stories that others who have successfully moved into the various IT domains have told me.  I have tried to distill down the essentials that seem to be common across each story, mine included.  Those stories have opened my eyes to many things that I have tried to relay to my students so that they can shorten the time and be more successful, faster, than me.  What are the common threads?    What have I learned? Unfortunately for you, dear reader, you will have to wait until the next posting to find out.

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