Sunday, February 16, 2020

Advice for Starting In IT, Part 2

One of the key problems with trying to get into IT by following other people's paths is...well, frankly, there is no path.  Sure, plenty of people may start at a particular point, such as the help desk, but how they got there is the question that needs to be answered.

For some, they start their path by going to college first.  There is nothing wrong with going to college, whether it's a community college, state university, or online, because an education is essential.  So, there we have the first essential.  The education.

For some, they either go to a career school or self-study for certifications.  Those certifications, once attained, provide a similar, though in many ways less rigorous, indicator to potential employers that you have a certain level of understanding of a particular topic.  If you studied for the certification with a goal of not only passing the exam but, more importantly, understanding the underlying information, then you have the necessary level of education to do the job.  So, again, the first essential is education.

Others, through trial and error, learn the things necessary to be a competent, well, insert any number of titles...system administrator, network technician, cloud guru (psst...that practical experience is called an education).  So, again, the first, and thus far only, essential is the education.

Ultimately, becoming educated in some way is key to becoming the IT professional you want to be.  Sure, it is not an easy path and oftentimes it takes a long time to get there but that is okay.  The journey is worth it, especially if you are passionate about technology.

The question that must be answered for you is simple...which of the three paths listed above is right for YOU, right NOW?  Of course, only you can answer that question.  Honestly, I've experienced each of the three and they each have pros and cons.  Let's have a look at each of them in turn:

1.  Formal education:  it is what a lot of employers require before you make it through the HR filters (please don't blame HR for this, someone in leadership made the decision that they are merely carrying out).  Some prefer a degree, any degree, whereas others will be very specific, such as looking for a business degree, a computer science degree, a management information systems degree, etc.  So, having the degree is a major pro.  The con?  Easily the time and the expense associated.  For some, getting a degree is out of the question, either because of poor past academic performance, a lack of funds, or the feeling that the time invested won't be worth it.  The sad truth is, if a degree is required, and you want to be competitive in your job market, then you will need to figure out how to get that degree (* more on this topic in a later post).

2.  Career school/self-study approach leading to certification:  the biggest pro is that it won't take nearly as long, nor cost nearly as much, to go this route.  In some career schools, you can take a class and, by the end of a week or so of class, be prepared to sit the exam.  This fast paced approach is good if you need concentrated time where all you do is focus on the topics at hand.  It is quick (one to two weeks, on average), so you don't spend months or years getting the education, only to have forgotten what you first learned all those longs months/years ago.  If you go the classroom route, please be aware that you still need to include time to study.  That is easily an additional 40 to 80 hrs of time on top of classroom time.  You've been warned!

You must be careful, though, as many of the high-velocity "boot camps" peddle dumps which contain the real questions and answers.  That is cheating.  If caught, you can lose your certifications.  You've been warned, part deax!

Self-study isn't typically going to be as fast but it does allow you to study at your own pace, when and where you have time.  That can be a huge win for you.  You must have the necessary motivation to go down this path, especially considering how easy it is to let life get in the way.  I've been afflicted by that issue many times and it sometimes takes looking at the potential payoff and counting the cost.

Cons?  Plenty.  Some of the schools are nothing more than a money grab and don't provide great value.  Some, in fact, are complete fakes.  As for studying on your own, it can be hard to gauge when to take the exam for maximum success.  That can, and often does, lead to procrastination.  You can invest in several books, video courses, and practice exam banks, only for the version of the exam to change and the materials become obsolete.  With some of the books alone costing $50 to $100 US, well, you can see how it can get expensive really quickly.

3.  Experience.  This is the toughest road to follow.  Why?  Because opportunities to learn don't always present themselves in an orderly way.  Some people, like myself, were fortunate enough to be thrown into the tech fire while doing my regular job.  Due to the ever increasing likelihood that certain services, like IT, will be outsourced, being placed in a position to get the precious hands-on that employers love to see.  These are the cons.

The pros to this approach...practical, often hands-on experience.  You can't beat that.

So there you have the essential first part of any IT career...the education.  In the next post, I will talk about the wonders of job postings and how they can either help you or hurt you in your search for a job in the ever changing, always exciting, land of IT!

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