I have been working in the information technology field for almost 20 years. It has certainly been an interesting and rewarding career for me, but it is not for everyone. How do you know if it is the right career for you, and if it is, how do you set about creating a path to the IT job of your future? I can only share my past experience, so this post will be very anecdotal, but I hope someone finds it useful along the way. I will share three steps you can take to get yourself on the right track. Truthfully, there are so many ways to get into any job field and many people find themselves in their careers absolutely by accident. I admit, that this list could be recompiled by any group of people in a number of ways and some of my suggestions might not even be included. Regardless, here are the three steps I think everyone should take if they are considering a job in IT.
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
First, you need to determine if IT is something you enjoy. I have heard friends from other industries tell me that they want to make the kind of money I do, or that they want some thing that my job in IT affords that theirs does not. I call this job envy. We are all envious, right? It is in our human nature to want what others have. If we see that someone else is happy, we attribute their happiness to the things in their life that we want. If I see a wealthy person that is happy, I assume it is because of their wealth, because their wealth appeals to me. If I see someone who is successful, I might envy their job because it has given them the ability to be recognized. Frankly, you will succeed best when you put your energy, time, and resources into a role that fits you best. If you are a skilled laborer, and you work well with your hands, you can build an amazing career for yourself. Don’t look at that investment banker you know or that nerdy IT guy because they are not you and what fits for them may not fit for you. You have to determine what role will motivate you to give your best. What is your passion? I discovered when I was around 11 or 12 years of age, that I loved computers. They were expensive back then, in the early 1990s, but my family managed to rescue a few recycled computers over the years. I would spend hours tuning and customizing. I learned which of my friends also loved computers and we would share parts and knowledge. It was a very fun time in my life and that nostalgia still feeds me today, literally. Find what you love and do it.
The second step is to commit. If you decide that you want a role in IT, you will have to be determined. The IT field is full of skilled technical people, some who will have more experience and aptitude for information technology. You will be in a highly competitive environment. You must also prepare for the personality types you will be engaging with. This is true for the people you might work for as well as the people you will work with. I am sure all occupations come with their stereotypical odd coworkers, but there is something different in the IT field. Egos abound, and so do fiefdoms. You need to have thick skin and stay in the game. When I first started in networking, I had a manager who stopped me at the door and asked me if I wore my feelings on my sleeve or if I was going to have hurt feelings if the team ragged me when I made mistakes or hazed me a little. I said no, because I honestly wasn’t that kind of person. If I made a mistake, it was broadcast and it people did give me a hard time. That is part of the experience. After a while, you really push yourself hard because you don’t want to make another mistake that brings the ridicule again. So, put your big girl panties on and keep your chin up. If you truly are incapable of learning and you seem not to be getting better with time, then maybe you should reconsider your chosen career field.
The third and final step is to be a team player. It is a dirty little secret, among those in the IT industry, that teams drive success. IT is all about systems and connections. It is about things that are complicated and things that are complex. While there will always be solo victories and those “Rambo” engineers out there who choose never to be a team player, you will find that you are more successful when you work as a team. Early on in your career, you need to figure out how you can become a part of the team. You have to prove that you have skills and a good attitude. You have to show that you are dependable, and then be consistent. I have made some significant moves in my career and I owe a lot of what I have now to people who helped me along the way. There were some old Linux gurus who told me to RTFM (Google it), but there were also those precious few who were willing to be team players and gift me with a wealth of knowledge I could have only gained from their experience. Look for these people. Be one of these people. That is a key factor to success. I am a martial artist and I am always amazed at how quick martial artists are to show others what makes their style unique and to give pointers to lesser belts. Mentoring is critical, but so is listening and being a good student. Find those who are willing to share knowledge and soak it up. You will never regret that.
Well, those are the three key things I think you need to be considering if you are interested in an IT job. Is it for you? Are you willing to commit? What if it requires you to take a pay cut to get in a role that aligns more with your goals? That is one thing I had to do. If you are married, will your spouse support you if it takes time to get around to what you envision as your career? Finally, are you willing to be mentored and to accept criticism and some hazing? Are you too egotistical to be successful? You are probably OK here as I have seen some pretty egotistical jerks make out very well, much to my frustration. Changing careers is a much bigger hassle than choosing a career early on, so I hope you are at a point where this information will help you be successful. If you have questions, or want someone to bounce ideas off of, please feel free to reach out to me. I am always willing to help others become successful in their careers, IT or otherwise.