A friend reached out to me today because he wanted to get into IT. His current gig wasn't working out great and he'd heard the promises of YouTubers that 6 months is all it really takes to land a six figure job. (spoiler: wrong)
This post is for people like my friend who don't know where to even get started.
The following is my convictions on what I believe to be true about kicking off a career in IT:
Tech Careers are very Broad
Part of the reason it's difficult to get started in IT is because the term can mean so many things. There's systems administration, cloud, networking, software development, web design, front-end, back-end, security, etc, etc.
These specialties and niches tend to kind of cross over and blend into each other. For example, a "Cloud Engineer" might know about python, linux administration, networking, security, web dev and more to be an effective engineer. And yet, each of these topics also has specialists who are surgical and go deep in their own fields.
Tech is Abstract
There's so many damn acronyms! What is a gbps or an http? Hell if I know. Why do they make us learn so many terms? There's even a wikipedia article dedicated to IT acronyms
Coming from the "real world" into the nerd world is a jolting experience. Developers and IT pros make up confusing concepts that model the real world. You can't touch software, it just kinda sits there churning in the background and doing "stuff". It does a lot of stuff and it talks with a lot of other computers to get it's job done. It's a kind of weird little world we invent and stare at through 13" screens that has very real world effects. Deep.
You don't need to know Math
Few IT professionals and software developers are doing crazy calculations and writing formulas on their whiteboards. People hear computer science or IT and think that everyone is a rocket scientist in this field. Not true.
How do I get into IT?
Ok, so we've established that there's a lot to do in Tech. Great, I'm still a beginner. What do I do?
There are 4 broad Paths to "learning" tech:
This is kind of an inaccurate description because everything we do is self education. You cannot force feed knowledge into someone's head. They have to do it themselves.
That said, you can take the initiative to be curious and read and teach yourself topics you've never heard of.
I'm lumping together online schooling like Western Governor's University with Community Colleges, State Schools and even "nicer" schools.
I recommend you don't blow a fat stack of money on the "nicer" schools unless you have someone else footing the bill.
I think certs are a really solid and low-risk way to learn enough to get started or specialize in IT. CompTIA is probably the most common certification provider but you have others like AWS and Cisco.
If you are just, just getting started, the A+ might be a good route. It's about $240 (maybe less if you can find a coupon) and a really broad test on understanding the most basic principles of IT. Y'know, like motherboards, networking and printers and stuff:
To get certified, you likely only need a $50 book from amazon and the courage to dedicate time to studying each day.
If you wanna get fancy, you can pick up a video course somewhere like Udemy. OR you can pay the certification provider even more money for their own test prep materials. (Really sharp of them to provide the training and the cost for a fee, huh?)
I don't really know much about bootcamps so I won't give an in-depth analysis. Bootcamps are a condensed course of study, generally a couple months or maybe even up to a year's study. Some of them promise to get you a job and have guarantees and stuff like that. I have friends that swear up and down that bootcamps are worthless and graduates from bootcamps just aren't up to snuff. Then again, I have friends who have taken bootcamps who went on to do great things.
Do your research, bootcamps are probably fine if you don't attend an atrocious one.
Hacks to getting experience without having a job
You got the cert or the expensive piece of paper, but you realllly don't have all that much real-world experience. You might not even have a job. How can you hack the system and inject some experience on to that dusty resume?
Experiment in your own time
Side projects are a great way to build up some experience in tech without having actually worked in Tech. The way to get your "reps" in is going to be different depending on what you wanna do. If you want to be a DevOps or Systems Engineer, you might build a home lab with a server, install a hyper visor, docker, linux and host a basic website on it.
If you are interested in web development, your practice might be making apps to solve some need in your life. Maybe you can make a web app to track household projects or books you've read. Perhaps a friend wants a website for their small business. Do it for free. Get creative. Get your reps in.
Once you actually do these projects, you SHOULD TALK ABOUT THEM. Put them on your resume. Be honest about what you're learning and show the passion and work you've put in.
Freelancing is a 4d chess, big brain move.
What if, once you were competent enough to make basic websites, you charged money to make websites for businesses? If you're confident you can do it and your customer is happy with the portfolio you built, charge money for your time. You get paid, you stretch your abilities and they get a website. win win win.
How can I actually get a job in IT?
Alright, we talked about all the self education stuff and paths to get some knowledge in your head. How do you go and apply that to get a job?
Make a decent looking resume and start applying for jobs you can perform. You are not going to get a $200,000 remote Kubernetes Engineering gig. You are not going to get a corner office. Google "IT Jobs" and click on the google job board and browse through. Look for titles like "IT Specialist" or roles focused on the help desk. Maybe there is a junior web developer gig you can land.
Your goal, at almost any level, is to find something just 👌 barely out of your reach. Be realistic about your abilities and skills, but also believe in the effort you've put in. Do not disqualify yourself from a job if you're doubting yourself, let the hiring manager send you the rejection email.
Requirements are mostly bullshit
If I have 8 months of python experience and the posting says I need a year, what hiring manager is going to say no after seeing my git commits, grilling me about the language, and seeing proof that I know the basics and can teach myself the rest?
Job postings are a dream list of skills a hiring manager who probably doesn't know half the terms shotgunned on to a page in a half hour. If you can deliver on 70% of them, apply for the job.
Do something, anything
You can't steer the ship if you don't get it moving first. Action always beats indecision. My friend told me 3 years ago he was considering getting into IT and reached out again today to pick up the conversation. Where would he be if he had started then instead of today?
The Barrier to Entry is your advantage
Yes there is a lot to learn in tech. Yes it is really hard. Yes it is daunting. You can learn. Your competition will quit after it gets difficult and burn the evening binging the latest Netflix series. You got this.