On the Road to an IT Career

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I have been in sales for most of my life. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer studies in 2004, however, due to lack of experience, I have not been able to get into IT. What do you suggest so I can finally get into this field?

—Esteban D.

Wayne Anderson:

Breaking into the information technology field has been more difficult since the economic slowdown of 2001, so if you lack experience, you’ll need to focus on one of two paths.

First, build up your employment profile by concentrating on certifications that focus on where you are now and where you would like to work in IT. Go after the low-hanging fruit first and set yourself up on a path toward more-advanced certifications down the road.

Second, use a series of short-term, contract or temporary engagements to build experience. Contracting is not ideal for someone who is in need of stronger benefits or the security and stability of the long-term position. If you can complete six to 12 months of contract work, however, you can apply the experience toward enhancing your career.

When you lack IT experience, sometimes you need to allow your career to step back briefly to be able to target advanced IT opportunities down the line. Coming from sales, perhaps working with desktop computers as part of a help desk team or a system administrator team might not seem very glamorous and might even pay less than you make now.

In taking that position, however, you’ll be able to start building applicable experience. Through a progression of positions, you can begin to address server-side technologies that will help you land advanced IT engineering positions down the line. The choice to take a step back in terms of either pay or title always should be weighed carefully in the context of what you hope to achieve later in your career.

Wayne Anderson is a highly certified system engineer course developer for Avanade, a global Microsoft consultancy. To send a question to Wayne, e-mail DearTechie@certmag.com.

Ken Wagner:

When trying to build your experience, don’t overlook volunteering. There are hundreds of sites looking for volunteers for IT projects, for example, TeamTechies at http://www.teamtechies.org/volunteer.htm. Other sources can include your local religious centers, as well as schools and colleges. You can volunteer during the evenings and weekends so you don’t have to give up your job.

Another step is to redesign your resume. It takes about 30 seconds of reading a resume and cover letter for a prospective employer to decide whether to invite you for that crucial interview. Make your resume fit the job you’re going for — do not just have one resume that you send out in bulk to 10 different companies.

This is where your sales background should come in handy — your resume and cover letter should be selling you to the prospective employer. Do not over-exaggerate your skills or talents, however, because over-exaggerations can be spotted a mile away.

Another step is to network. You can join an IT professional association such as CompTIA’s IT Professional Membership (http://itpro.comptia.org/) or the Electronics Technicians Association, International (http://www.eta-i.org/). Through these groups, you can meet certain employers or other IT professionals who can give you a helping hand.

Last piece of advice: Don’t give up. It might seem as if some people get their first job in IT only after a couple of days, but it is more common for someone to take a couple of months to a few years to get into IT. If it’s something you really want to do, however, no one can hold you back.

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 send a question to Ken, e-mail DearTechie@certmag.com.

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