A question frequently asked is, “How can I break into the IT industry?” Variations include, “can I break into the IT industry without a degree”, or “how can I get into the IT field without experience?”
Contrary to popular belief, it is not education that breaks you into the IT industry. Or rather, it is not just education, nor is education the most important factor, but it can be the tipping factor in a case where two people possess the same skills.
Let’s take an unfiltered view of the true nature of higher education institutions in the IT industry. In today’s world, our education is having a hard time keeping up with the rate of change within the field.
Most colleges are teaching students on outdated equipment and software. Some are still stuck on hardware or operating systems not even supported by the makers of the hardware and software because the teaching materials for teachers and students are not created as fast as the changes and updates.
More often than not, we see college applicants learning the bare minimum basics of IT and preparing students on how to set up equipment with “best practices” laid out by the software creators. Rarely do the curriculums include troubleshooting common problems and issues. Rarer still are the teachings of how variables such as limited budgets, mixed equipment, differences in opinions, etc. can affect your day to day work.
Where education does help are the certification courses you go through to gain your degree. Always take the certification tests associated with your course load. Most college graduates I meet do not follow through on the opportunity of taking the certifications right after their classes.
CompTIA, Cisco, Microsoft, and other industry-related certifications are highly coveted. Local colleges will typically pair up with a technical firm close by and train you to work for them. They require a certain skill set to fill particular jobs. If your goal is to work in a public company or a government facility, they will require a certain level of degree with certifications. However, be prepared once you get the job to go through extensive training to align you with the job you are assigned.
In the private sector, it is not uncommon for someone with experience, certifications and no degree to get a job over the “higher qualified” person with a degree and no certifications or experience. Ideally, you should have a degree, certifications, and experience. People who have all three command top dollar as someone who possesses all three is very rare.
Soft Skills in the Real World
As a hiring manager, there are several key things I look for in a prospective employee. Features that set people apart are ability, aptitude, attitude, what you can do, an understanding of why you do it, and above all, demonstrated passion.
An ideal candidate will typically look like the following; Be highly motivated, trustworthy, well-spoken, creative, and have a passion for technology. They would have a good understanding of the basics and be able to demonstrate creativity and curiosity when troubleshooting problems. Fast learning and good memory are always helpful along with the ability to follow processes, best practices, and great note-taking.
Notice something not mentioned above: a degree. You see, the thing which sets people apart is not their degree—degrees are becoming increasingly more common, and simply having basic knowledge does not automatically qualify you. Daily we encounter new problems never seen before, but with solid fundamentals, a good troubleshooting process, and a little creativity, you can fix pretty much anything.
Demonstrated Passion and What You Can Do
What is demonstrated passion? What does a passion for technology look like? Lots of people we meet say technology is their passion, or they love computers, etc. So, how do you, lover of computers and technology, differentiate a hobby from a passion?
Are you always fixing other people’s stuff? Do you tinker in your own free time? Have you volunteered for organizations to maintain their IT just for fun? Do you enjoy the extra time you take to do these things and actively seek them out? Employment is not the only way to gain experience. If you have passion, you find a way. You’ll volunteer to help people. You’ll do it in your free time. You’ll take classes on the side. If you do these things, you might have the bug and a career in technology is for you! If these things sound like too much work, you may have a hobby.
Often I will hear people saying they don’t have experience in the IT industry. If you’re looking to get into a technical position, you better have some experience—if you’re passionate about something, you find a way to do it, even if it’s not your job. If you want to break into the technology field, you have to show how you demonstrate your passion. However, no matter how much education, experience, or training you’ve had in the past, what you are doing now matters.
It is likely you have much more experience than you realize. I always recommend people contact a professional resume writer who asks you questions and pushes to give you the best resume to showcase what you can do and are doing, not just what you have learned. Also, a good resume writer will add keywords for your field you may not be aware of. For example, if you want to work for the government agency or a government contractor, it is likely a computer program will look at your resume first and search for keywords or terms which match their desired job qualifications.
Understanding the ‘Why’ in IT
Why do you want to work in IT? Are you mesmerized by the code? Are you in love with the intricate design of the motherboard you see? Do you wax lyrical on the technicalities and complexities you’ve recently come to understand? There is a truth most technical people do not understand. IT serves one purpose… to connect people to something or someone.
Whatever intrigues you about technology, never forget the human element and impact of your work and how it affects the end user. Why does fixing the printer matter? Who benefits from the routing setup on your new Cisco device? Go the distance when answering technical questions on how your work affects the end user. Keep in mind ALL IT jobs are service-based jobs designed to have purpose to others. Hiring managers will get a feeling of “They really get it!” when you answer their questions fully and include the end user result.
The Full Monty
Companies are looking for intelligent people with competence, aptitude, a positive attitude, the ability to speak without sounding like a robot, passion, compassion, and a genuine desire to help. Show what you can do, demonstrate your passion for your new career, show how your passion connects people and matters to others. If you can demonstrate the principles here, you will make a believer of your next hiring manager and enjoy a great new career in the IT industry!