I have been working in Information Technology (IT) since I graduated from the University of South Florida in 1997 with a B.S. in Management Information Systems. During the pre Y2K, anyone with college degree, some technical experience, or a wiliness to learn was offered a job working in IT. Some people began changing careers by getting their MSCE certification and entering the IT workforce. During that time, people who wanted to change their current career (mechanic, plumber, and other jobs) asked me how to get a job in IT. I did not have an answer at that time. One of their biggest arguments for a career change was money, able to work in growing career field, and work in a clean/air conditioned environment. To become certified as a MSCE during that time, a person can sign up for classes at a school to prepare them for the MCSE exams. Schools started opening up to meet the demand and people were willing to pay thousands of dollars for courses to prepare them for the MSCE exams. What many prospective students failed to understand or schools failed to mentioned to them is that earning a certification is only part of the process of getting a IT job or starting a career in IT. The other part is having experience. What Microsoft discovered as students was passing the MSCE exams and earning their certifications was their lack of experience. Some companies found out the hard way by hiring people who earned their MSCE certification but lacked any IT experience. Some companies complained to Microsoft, which prompted them to change the exams after Y2K. After the dot-com bubble , there was a lot of out of work IT professionals looking for a job and other people who completed their Microsoft Certified System Engineer or MCSE (Microsoft has renamed MCSE to Microsoft Certified Solutions Experts. This created a glut of IT professionals in the workforce looking for a job. I took a Microsoft Windows XP exam in 2003 and it was not a walk in the park. With the help of a school, a colleague, and my IT experience, I passed the exam. I can honestly say that the Windows XP exam was one of the toughest exams I have taken.
Fast forward to 2013. I am still working in the IT field (Office of Information and Technology for a VA hospital in North Carolina) and survived the different computer trends (client – server, offshoring IT jobs to other countries, company mergers, etc. ….). I am noticing another trend in IT, which is Internet Security. After President Obama signed the 2013 Cybersecurity Executive Order, I started to notice a trend of people changing careers to Internet Security/Network Security and schools offering certifications and degrees in Internet Security. How did I notice a trend of people changing careers to Internet/Network Security? Simple, people called my department, came to the front desk of my department, or volunteer in my department. I would talk to the people and noticed that what they have in common is a lack of IT experience and they are going through a Internet/Network Security program at a local school or college. Does this sound like a familiar trend that happened during pre-Y2K?
Below are some suggestions for gaining experience in IT.
Volunteer at your local church – There are hundreds if not thousands of small churches who need help setting up internet access, a small computer lab, or a web presence.
Talk to your local barber – A person who is in constant contact with people who may have computer issues, Internet issues, or churches who need IT help. My good friend David Beatty who owns Beatty’s Barber Shop & Beauty Salon has helped me over the years find computer jobs. You can also see him in this TV clip of Church Rescue.
Volunteer at your local nonprofit organizations – Many nonprofit organizations may have a inter program or volunteer program within their IT department.
VA Voluntary Service – For veterans, there is the VA Voluntary Service. A met a good friend who used the VA Voluntary Service and is volunteering with my department. He is gaining IT experience and getting a degree in IT.
Work on your own computers and network – It is one thing to learn in a computer lab and another thing to apply what you learned in real life situations. Each home has its own network but how manages that network. This is as good of place as any to work on computers, setup a network, and manage a network. I learned a lot about computer working on my own equipment. I still learn using my own equipment. I also listen to different podcasts to continue learning the trends in IT. Below is a list of podcasts that I listen to.
Overall, I tell people to “Think outside of the box”. The days of walking to a company, applying for an IT job, and being hired are over. Many companies have web sites to submit an application. I tell the people who walk to the front desk of my department to go to our web site.