I’ve been asked this question a lot lately so I thought I’d make a post with my recommendations and advice. This advice mostly relates to my experiences working in the fields of; System Administration, Help Desk, Networking, Programming, and Management. Those are really only a tiny fraction of the IT profession, but a decent starting point for most people interested in IT.
First. Do you really want to work in IT?
A career in IT can be extremely rewarding, but can also be very taxing. Turning your interest or hobby into a paying profession can sometimes dull the passion that you once had. It’s very different from playing video games or building your first computer. However, the great thing about working in IT is that there are literally hundreds of different career paths to choose from so you are bound to find something that aligns with your interests.
Be a problem solver.
Working in IT is all about solving problems. Some problems are easy, most aren’t. However, if you are the sort of person who works well under pressure and thrives on solving problems then this is probably the career for you.
Learn everything you can and practice, practice, practice.
IT is constantly evolving, you’ll need to stay current if you want to do well. Read blogs, watch YouTubers, listen to Podcasts, be part of a community. Here are a few of my favourite resources. You really need to live and breath IT otherwise you will be left behind. We are often supporting both bleeding edge technology, as well as old systems and applications that should have been retired decades ago, so the more resources you have at your disposal the better equipped you will be to solve issues.
- Linus Tech Tips – Great channel for breaking news and fun technology content.
- Gamers Nexus – Very tech-focused content and extremely thorough content creators.
- Optimum Tech – Excellent up-and-coming YouTuber who produces reviews, build videos and more. Bonus points because Ali is Australian.
- Slashdot.org – A news aggregation site for technology-related stories.
- MacRumors – The latest news on Apple technology and products.
- Spiceworks Community – Great community of IT professionals that covers a wide range of topics.
- StackOverflow – An amazing resource for programming and scripting. If it’s not here you won’t find it anywhere.
Do I need to have a qualification?
Yes, and No. To get started in IT you probably won’t need a certificate or qualification, however, you will very likely find your career prospects somewhat limited without those little pieces of paper. A Level 1 HelpDesk position won’t generally require any formal training and most workplaces will just want to know that you know your way around a computer, are a good problem solver and have the right attitude. However, if you are up against someone who does have a qualification then you might not get the job.
Having a qualification also shows future employees that you actually do know what you are talking about, and have some verifiable experience in the field.
So, yes I generally recommend that you get at least a starting qualification in IT. Then if you want to progress to senior or management positions you can take your qualifications further later.
Some great starting courses that you can study:
CompTIA offers a large range of IT certifications that are a great starting point for your career. The A+ cert covers a wide range of operating systems from Windows, OS X, Linux, as well as mobile devices. Having this certification shows that you hold a great base understanding of IT infrastructure and troubleshooting. CompTIA themselves offer a course but my recommendation would be to find different study material and then take the exam. Professor Messer has a great range of completely free training resources for the A+ certification, as well as a number of other CompTIA certs.
This is a course that will show you the basics of implementing and supporting Microsoft 365. It will cover cloud concepts, security, compliance, privacy, and show that you have a good understanding of the most widely used office publishing software. The exam can be taken online and is a very reasonable $99 USD. From there you can also expand to other Microsoft certifications.
Another Microsoft course that will cover more advanced cloud-based technologies and services, and how the Microsoft cloud ecosystem works together. This course is intended for either people with some experience with cloud-based solutions, or for people brand new to the field.
Have the right attitude. Seriously.
- You won’t ever know everything in IT.
- You also won’t ever even come close to knowing everything.
- You will make a lot of mistakes, and you will break things.
All of that is 100% ok… if you have the right attitude. Too often I’ve worked with people who have thought that not knowing the answer to something was a sign of weakness. These people will often blindly fumble through an issue without asking for help, and usually cause more trouble than the original issue. That sort of thinking will get you nowhere fast. As I’ve mentioned, you can’t be expected to know everything, so just say you don’t know – but then go and find the answer!
Here are my golden rules for working in IT.
- It is totally ok (and encouraged) to say “I don’t know the answer to that.”
- Do not blindly try to fix an issue you don’t understand.
- Ask for help or ask for something to be explained to you (even if it’s already been explained to you before).
- Share your knowledge.
If you don’t understand something then ask for help, yes, even if someone has already explained it to you previously. It is much easier, and faster, to explain a concept again to someone than it is to have to restore a backup or fix an issue that has been made worse through a lack of understanding. A good IT mentor will be happy to explain something to you. If you still don’t get it – then be productive and find other sources of information. YouTube has videos on pretty much everything related to IT.
I want to make special mention of rule 4. Share your knowledge. For some reason, there are too many people working in IT who seem to think that: withholding information = job security. It doesn’t. It just makes you difficult to work with and could cause serious issues if they were to leave the job unexpectedly. We all grow as a community when we share information and this should be encouraged at all times.
Learn how to Google.
I Google things every day. Mundane things like how to set the date and time via command prompt. I don’t need to commit those things to memory, I just need to know how to find the information again when I need it. As I’ve mentioned you will come up against ancient systems that should have been retired, but haven’t, so you won’t know how to use them – but the odds are someone else will have encountered the same issue previously. There tons of blogs that can teach you how to Google (or rather use boolean searching). This is a good article from LifeHack, and Google has a guide on how to refine your searches here.
I love working in IT and wouldn’t trade it for any other profession. For me, the best thing about IT is that it is always changing. I get bored very quickly doing the same thing again and again – so this field enables me to continue learning and challenging myself. I hope this has given you some advice, or at least a starting point to jump into a career in IT.
Image credit: tec_estromberg