Have you started college recently and decided on majoring in computer science, information technology, or other IT related field of study? Maybe you have considered a career change and information technology has caught your attention. You might even be a recent graduate from an accelerated technical program, two-year College, or four-year University finding it more difficult than you thought to obtain an entry-level position. No matter your current circumstances, the field of computer science is vast with numerous specialized areas in which an individual could focus. I personally understand the difficulties of entering this profession and most certainly the challenge of having little to no actual on the job experience.
Over the past 15 years I have been afforded far more opportunities than I deserve to build upon what many would term a successful career thus far in information technology. However, the road can be long, mostly uphill, contains several off-beaten paths along the way, and most certainly has no absolute picture of the final destination. Sound discouraging? If so, I urge you not to give up just yet and continue reading as all great things in life are not gained without great sacrifice and/or effort. I can say this with confidence as I have and still do travel this road. If potential challenges, roadblocks, or most any circumstance could so easily steer you off course then you must ask yourself of why.
No matter the question asked of me by individuals considering a career in IT or seeking employment in the field, my response is always in the form of a question, “why is it that you want to work in IT?” I ask this question because the answer is important and allows me to provide the appropriate response. It has been said that, “if you are fortunate enough to find something you love to do, then you will never work a day in your life.” Before continuing, let us perform a quick exercise by considering the questions and information that follows making sure to notate your responses:
Why is it that I am interested in a career in information technology? I truly believe that all of us are uniquely gifted with talents that come naturally. You know this to be true as we witness this almost every day in life, whether noticing it in others or yourself; it is why we use phrases such as: they make that look so easy or it must just come natural. This is covered in great detail in Tom Rath’s book, StrengthsFinder 2.0. A key statement from the book explains it best, “When you exploit your natural abilities, you can’t help but succeed.”
If money were no object, what would I spend my time doing? Of course this question is a big hypothetical, but it requires a response that may reveal more about yourself than you realize. If one or more of your responses involve anything else that you might equally enjoy, if not more, then it is worth investigating further. You will always excel most at what you truly enjoy doing no matter what it may be.
Now, let us begin this journey with the first article of a four part mini-series that may eventually be expanded upon in the form of an easy to use guide or e-book. In this series, I will lay out four fundamental topics with key action items you can take now to position yourself as a very marketable IT professional. Each of these four articles will provide guidance and address the questions I receive most often:
- Where and/or how do I begin if I want to work in information technology?
- How do I gain experience if every job opportunity requires it as a prerequisite?
- Does it really matter who you know instead of what you know?
- How do I get to where you are now?
Part One: Where to Begin
We live in the information age and therefore anything you desire to know more about in the field of computer science lay right at your fingertips. So as with anything else, you begin by researching the profession gathering as much information you can about career possibilities, educational avenues, certifications available, historical and current trends, current demand and future projections, and continue until you feel you have a baseline knowledge of what the profession has to offer. If you take the research exercise serious, then you will begin to develop more questions and more than likely find certain topics that catch your attention more so than others.
The next step requires that you invest a bit more time and energy but after all you are looking for a career and those tend to be fairly lengthy in life. Most everyone knows of someone who works with computers or other technology. This is often the best place to gather more insight as these individuals are living it every day whether a neighbor, friend, relative, co-worker, or someone you attend church with; ask them if you could have 30 minutes to an hour of their time. Offer to buy them lunch or even stop by their office one day keeping in mind that this conversation is very important. You are looking for answers to your questions and possibly lead to more questions you have not considered yet. This will further your knowledge and hopefully begin to narrow your interest even more in a specific area of focus.
Finally, depending on where you are in the process of beginning an IT career, look for a seminar, short class, or introductory course at your local community college. This is a very inexpensive way to gain a good understanding of what avenues are available, potential obstacles, and an opportunity to again ask more questions about the profession. The opportunities are numerous and the demand for cybersecurity, network engineering, software developers, and business analysts continue to grow. An entire generation of IT professionals are exiting the workforce every day, now is your time. Understanding yourself, what interest you most, and what might be the best way to begin your path is the key.
In the next article, part two of this series, I will address the second most often asked question and submit to you that obtaining some entry-level skills and experience in which you can begin to build upon might not be as difficult as you think.