Banking on IT

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Dear Techie,

I will soon be getting an associate degree in computer science, and I have 11 years of financial service experience under my belt. What advice would you give someone who wants to get involved in technology with a brokerage financial service background? What certifications can I go for that will give me the tools that I need to move forward?

—Jeff C.

Ken Wagner:

You’re making a wise move by completing your degree, as this will help separate you from those who do not have one. The next step is to decide which area of IT you actually want to go into — there is nothing worse than wanting to get into IT, accepting anything and then being turned off by the idea of pursuing a career in IT.

I recommend starting with the entry-level professional certifications, such as A+, Network+ (both from CompTIA) and the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST). You’d be surprised with how much extra you’ll learn with those professional certifications.

Do not put off applying for jobs while you’re studying (or even before you start studying) for the professional certifications — there are plenty of people who have entered the IT field without IT qualifications.

OK, so you want to work with technology and want to know the best place to start? Well, the best place to start off is Level 1, which would include help desk, customer support representative, PC support specialist and technical support representative. These positions will ease you gently into the world of IT and help you build a strong base on which to develop your career.

You already have 11 years of financial service experience. This might not be IT-related, but what you have is 11 years’ experience developing your soft skills: teamwork, responsibility, self-management, integrity and honesty. Many employers struggle to find candidates who have these skills, so when applying for IT jobs, show examples of where you have used those skills to benefit yourself or work.

If you really want to work in IT, just keep on trying. I know people who got their first job offer with their first interview, but I also know people who have tried for five or six years to get into IT. When they finally get their first job, it’s the sweetest thing.

Wayne Anderson:

Ken is right here — you really need to work on finishing that associate degree first. Getting into the industry with no experience in the field is a difficult proposition, but that degree in computer science will serve as a booster to help you get your foot in the door. Along the lines of looking for a job, focus on the entry-level positions that Ken has highlighted, but also don’t be afraid to get your start on temporary, contract or contract-to-hire work. Although these positions don’t offer you the long-term stability you should seek later in your career, they do offer the entry point to build resume-listed experience in the industry in a less competitive environment.

I would also examine your career plans. Do you have a specific technology interest — Microsoft, Linux, maybe a specific type of support (operations, servers, networking, etc.)? Spend a little time identifying certifications specific to those interests, then go after them.

For example, if you have an interest in PC hardware, start with the CompTIA A+. If you would like to work with desktop support, adding a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) or Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) credential in Windows XP or Windows Vista, respectively, would not hurt either.

You can use experience gained in a desktop or support position to later work on moving into more advanced focuses such as networking or server administration.

Wayne Anderson is a highly certified system engineer course developer for Avanade, a global Microsoft consultancy. Ken Wagner is an IT network manager and part-time IT lecturer in the United Kingdom. He has lived in the United States, Asia and Europe. To pose a question to Ken and Wayne, send an e-mail to

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