Dear CertMag: What should I study in college to prepare for my IT career?
Dear CertMag is a regular feature that addresses common questions about certification and related IT issues. Have a question? Send an e-mail to editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
Dear CertMag: Bet you don’t hear from many high school students. I’m about to graduate (in May) and I currently have my CCNA, Network+ and Security+ certs. I work in sales and repair at a small family-owned PC store, and college is going to be just down the road. Do you have a career counselor hat? Maybe put that one on for me, because I don’t know what to study. I like networks and I want to eventually be an independent network consultant. Be my own boss and set up/troubleshoot/maintain small business networks. What’s the best way to go with my college degree? Thanks!
— Bracey, Springville, Utah
Interestingly, another of our readers wrote in — from the other side of this question! In a way, that should be encouraging — there are business owners who see the value of today’s computer science programs, and that could create opportunity for you!
While there are certainly some fields that are more in demand than others, and others that are underserved and therefore well placed for current opportunity, I would actually encourage you to put that aside and think about a couple things.
First, realize that many of the biggest and most important jobs in today’s IT environment didn’t exist 10 years ago! Second, you have the opportunity to decide to do what you find interesting. What is it about information technology that draws you to network operations?
I know that it can be difficult to do, but think about where the industry is going. College — or any scholastic program — is going to take some time to complete. Which means you are not studying for today’s market but rather the market two or four years from now! Trends like information architecture, big data, and cloud computing are changing the way that networks are connected and that traffic is collated and distributed.
Do you like to solve problems with how data is structured and moved? Or is it the security and access control which interests you, ensuring that valid access is permitted and all other stopped?
Independent consulting is a field with strong opportunity, as many small businesses may not be well served by large firms that could have outsized project management burdens that make projects too expensive. Most independent consultants need a firm grounding in many disciplines of information technology to be able to fully serve their customers. During your study, building your skills in finance and marketing could be as important as any new technical skills that you acquire.
The risk of operating your own business means that your ability to communicate with your customers, attract new business, and manage money will be a very important part of your success. Depending on your area of interest, a study program in information systems management, which includes a broader set of studies than does a more technically focused computer science program, is likely to better serve your future plans.
Finally, I would encourage you to seek opportunities to build your experience. A part-time job in your field, or finding internship opportunities could be the difference in landing that first entry-level opportunity that allows you to continue preparing for a future of independent consulting.