Tips to Build a Solid Foundation in IT

Just as babies learn to crawl before they learn to walk, individuals gravitating toward a career path in IT must do the same: Build a solid foundation and, step by step, keep adding and expanding their knowledge and skills until they become specialized and, over time, become experts in their chosen field.

As an aspiring IT professional, you can start building your IT skills by knowing the basics of computer hardware and software. Getting familiar with all the components in a computer will allow you to learn how they work and interface with each other. It’s helpful to know what RAM (random-access memory), ROM (read-only memory), motherboards and their many variations are. Knowing what software is and how it interfaces with hardware and humans is also a fundamental part of having a solid IT foundation.

The CompTIA A+ is a vendor-neutral certification that will allow you to acquire the basic knowledge of computer hardware and software needed to jump-start your IT career. Since A+ provides basic knowledge about computer hardware and software and you already understand the basic concepts of how computers work, you are now ready to keep building on that solid ground by understanding networking.

Individuals who are new to IT networking tend to be overwhelmed by the many available career paths, but the best approach to becoming a networking expert is to understand all the basic concepts of networking, such as the OSI model (Open Systems Interconnection model), and being able to compare and contrast it with the TCP/IP model (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol model); learning what an IP address is and how to configure it; learning what protocols are and how they work; and learning about available networking devices and how they work.

The CompTIA Network+ certification is also a vendor-neutral certification that allows new IT professionals to apply their knowledge of basic networking concepts.

It’s common for IT professionals to begin their careers as help desk support or technical support, fixing computers and connecting them to the network; for these reasons, the A+ and the Network+ credentials could be beneficial.

Once in the field, it tends to become clearer to individuals what to pursue as a next step or how to take over more complex tasks. At this time, new IT professionals will begin to formulate musings about what path to follow, such as: “Do I enjoy working with operating systems?” or “I really want to know how all these systems interconnect with each other.” Once you have decided if you are an operating system person or a networking person, there are still plenty of options to choose from.

There are different operating systems to choose from, such as Windows, Linux, Unix, etc. If you want to make a move to be system administrator and work in a data center, then you are looking at operating systems for servers, such as Windows 2008 server, Red Hat Linux Enterprise, Sun Microsystems, etc.

The networking field opens the door to other sets of specializations to choose from — for example, routing and switching, wireless, information security, etc.

For the routing and switching specialization, one option would be the Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA). The CCNA would typically follow the CompTIA Network+ because it will build on the networking basics learned in the Network+ certification and add more networking concepts aimed at learning how to work with Cisco Systems routers and switches. CCNA is the steppingstone to get other Cisco Systems specializations.

Wireless technology is one area IT professionals could specialize in once they understand basic networking concepts. Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) is a wireless certification that assesses one’s skills at performing wireless installation, wireless site survey and administering enterprise Wi-Fi networks.

In order to work in the information security field, one must have a solid understanding of hardware, software, networking and everything in between. Information security isn’t achieved only by deploying hardware or software; in order to maintain a secure network, one must have well-rounded IT experience and an understanding of operating systems, firewalls, access control lists (ACLs), intrusion detection systems (IDSs), endpoint security, etc.

It’s imperative to acquire a solid foundation in IT that you can build upon — without it, the challenging and ever-changing world of IT can be much more difficult to navigate.

Nelson Velez is the director of network operations at Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) in Boston, where he is responsible for network operations. He’s also an adjunct faculty member at BHCC for the College of Computer Information Technology, as well as the owner of Nelson Velez & Associates IT consulting. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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