Are you having
questions about the "IT" field? From the outside, it all seems
difficult, intimidating and sometimes mysterious. In this tip, I will draw
from my own personal experiences and try to dispel some of the myths. In doing so, I will hopefully shed some light (especially for beginners) as to what a
career in IT is about.
In many conversations
with friends who realize I am in the IT industry, they always seem interested
in knowing how easy it is to get into the field. While this is a flattering
conversation to have, i.e., knowing that skills in the IT industry are in high
demand, I think it’s nonetheless a very important topic to tackle as one could
potentially provide ideas for helping folks who are in doubt. A lot of folks
wrongly believe that you need to be the ‘cream of the crop’ or an absolute
‘geek’ in order to make it in the IT industry. But I think that is not
necessarily true. Below, I will provide clues so as to hopefully encourage
people who have a sincere passion for the field, and are not just looking for a
dream ticket to a ship that sails off to ‘never-land’.
Before proceeding any
further, I will first submit that 'IT' is a very broad word with definitions
that can mean a lot of things to different people. I will cautiously refrain
from the debate of trying to define what 'IT' is. But to get a baseline for the
conversation, I would leverage the classical definition of IT as encompassing
all forms of technology used to create, store, exchange, and consume
information in enterprises. This includes networking, databases and all the
supporting applications, both hardware and software. A lot of people
specialize in particular domains within IT (i.e. hardware or software, networking
or applications development, databases or reporting, etc.). I would look at
steering this tip to a more general perspective, regardless of what IT domain
you choose to specialize in.
1. Incentives and Challenges
The IT industry can be
very lucrative, but before anyone goes out singing kumbaya about that, they
have to realize that working in technology can be a very demanding job - both
intellectually and physically. There is need to constantly challenge ourselves
to learn new skills and improve our existing abilities in order to be able to
get work done and keep up with trends. If you work on the hardware side, things
may even be more demanding on you physically, i.e., having to install servers or
move hardware equipment around (which can sometimes be very heavy).
With this realization
(and I don't want to sound snarky here), it becomes obvious that "IT"
does not mean what the vast majority of people think it means. It can be a very
lucrative field, but in order to reap the benefits, you must first sow the
comes from experience. In school, most of us learn all about technology and
how to use our technical prowess to process information.
In the real world,
things are a little different. Technology does not exist in a vacuum as we
sometimes want to believe. Most companies use technology as a means of solving
their business problems. Some people coming right out of school and who are new
to the industry have a strong focus on their technological skills. Being good
at technology is good (as a matter of fact, it's often a requirement), but that
alone is NOT sufficient. Candidates, especially beginners with little or no
experience in the industry need to diversify their skill-set in order to
incorporate an understanding of business and business processes.
Line: You would be
paid highly for your coding skills. But knowing how to code alone won't separate
you from the crowd of coders - unless you know how to code programs that solve
relationships between IT (technology) and Business is the core to success. And
being able to utilize technology to process the very specific types of
information that a particular business deals with is what gets you to the top.
2. Focus on Solving Business Problems
For me, when I started
back in the day as a Quality analyst, and then a Developer and so on, I had to
draw on the direct 'programming and technical' experiences I learned back in
college to get the job done. While in college, I learned how to program in
Java, C, Machine languages, etc. Those are very robust languages, but as
I quickly realized, in the real world, not every company is a Java shop or C
shop, or C#, etc. Different companies, due to their culture and individual
preferences, use different languages and different flares of technology
So, in order to get
the job done for these companies (depending on where I find myself), I have had
to learn new technologies or languages that would otherwise not have been part
of my resume. I have been called upon to implement web-services, optimize
processes, or work in technological solutions that I have never seen or heard
of before. And when such situations come up, I usually don’t panic, taking
solace in the fact that I have a solid understanding of the fundamental
principles of computing.
are the same, regardless of what tool you use. The concept of Object Oriented
programming (OOP) once understood, would be fundamentally the same regardless
of what language you use i.e., Java or C# or C++ or COBOL.
The syntax for these
languages may be different, but in my humble experience, learning the syntax of
a language is often the easy part - a quick search on Bing/Google/Forums or a
visit to the book store down the road would often provide you with resources to
learn the syntax of a new language or concept.
The challenge after
learning a syntax is being able to apply that in order to solve particular
business/industry problems and this is what companies are usually looking for.
They want people who can use technology to solve their business problems. If
you can do that, you are in luck. I have had to teach myself new skills on the
fly, i.e., ETL processes, SQL, Data warehousing concepts, architecture, SOA,
WCF, XML, JSON, .NET, etc., all in the effort of solving business problems.
thinking and problem solving skills are crucial. Companies will hire you to
solve their business problems. It is your responsibility to find the right
technology to get the job done. And if you haven't yet mastered the particular
technology skill-set that is required to solve those business problems, then it
remains your responsibility to go out and learn it (or let go of the job).
Google and all other
search engines should be your best friend. You can literally find answers to
almost any problem you come across by searching. It’s amazing!
As with any new skill
that needs countless hours to master, there would be a learning curve as you
progress through your career in IT from apprentice to expert level. Ideally
with time, the process of learning new technologies would become less involved
as your experience grows. This then would hopefully allow you to spend more of
your time actually solving business problems for companies.
3. Remain a 'Learner'
As I mentioned
earlier, IT is about learning and using technology to solve business problems.
However time is short. If you are single, straight out of college, no kids, with
no family to look after and not much of extracurricular activities eating away
at your time outside of work, then the problem of limited time may not be an
issue for you. But with time, as family comes in the picture and life becomes
busy, it might be hard to work on improving career skills and remaining a
'learner' on the fore front of all new technology advances while balancing all
the other commitments?
For me, I consider my
time pretty limited and valuable, i.e., time is money. So I try to make the best use
of every spare second I have. Most of my learning time has been spent at work.
Picking projects (when possible) that interest me and slipping in learning time
during those projects to keep my skills current.
Not everybody will
always have the leisure of choosing the projects they want to work on. So, a
little creativity may be required. For this, I sometimes spend lunches
educating myself, have even had to spend some time at night, practicing skills
or reading about the intricacies of some new feature or trend in the industry.
Line: The IT industry is
constantly changing. New technologies, trends and buzz words come and go almost
on a daily basis. If we don't keep up with news and trends, we can miss key
opportunities and risk having very outdated skill-sets.
So, keeping up-to-date
with the industry and constantly learning is key for building expert power. By
developing expertise in the industry, you'll earn the trust and respect of the
people around you, gain job security and be highly sought after.
4. Go Beyond the 'Rookie' Barrier (The Catch-22
Everybody is a rookie
at something. If you aren’t, then well, you might as well consider yourself out
of this world. For those of us that are not out of this world (pun intended), we
are always looking to move beyond our current positions, onto the bigger
positions (i.e., a young graduate trying to land the first job in IT, or a
junior developer trying to be a senior developer, or a manager trying to be a
director, or a director trying to be VP, CIO, or CEO, e.t.c). If the world
operated the way we all wanted, then these transitions would be smooth. But
unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way.
The realization is
that, in order to take that next step and get a job that is new to us, we need experience. But in
order to get that experience, we need to have had the job. This an age old
dilemma that haunts countless of individuals looking to break into the work
force or make advancements in their careers.
My hope (as I have
sought to do throughout this tip) is to challenge absolute beginners to the
IT industry (fresh out of college or otherwise), with little or no experience, that
you are not out of luck.
Even if you don’t yet
work at a company where you can develop and test your new skills on live
projects, the good thing about IT is that unlike fields like Engineering or
Medicine, you actually have the ability to test and practice even while sitting
in your own home.
An aspiring Structural
Engineer does not always have the luxury of going out to build a full scale
bridge on a river in order to learn how to build bridges. But in IT, at least we
have that luxury of being able to prototype and set up development environments
on our computers. An aspiring IT individual only needs his/her computer, the
required software (which often comes free for developer versions) and a whole
lot of enthusiasm/creativity to make things happen.
With a laptop sitting
at home, an ambitious individual can slice and dice, churn and turn concepts
with only the skies being the limit. Once they are confident in their skills in
this forgiving environment (i.e. the test lab at home), they can then move on
to real world challenges.
companies would want to bring in a self-taught IT person to handle their
critical business functions, just like no one would feel comfortable consulting
a self-taught doctor for help, or a self-taught lawyer for legal advice.
You can overcome this
Catch-22 effect while practicing at home (or in school), by showcasing your
skills with great examples that would make companies feel comfortable bringing
you on board to handle their expensive projects.
ü Build up your portfolio by developing apps
ü Team-up with some people at local IT
communities to contribute to a project.
ü Blog about what you are learning and the
failures and successes along the way – this will help get the word out about
what you are doing and provide encouragement, help and support to others.
Line: Remember that you are
your own best advocate and sales person. You must sell yourself and stay
A lot of companies may
turn you down as you try to get into the field with little or no previous work
experience. But stay persistent no matter what. It only takes one door to open
and you are in luck.
Once that door opens,
be sure to do your best and keep building your portfolio and skill-set. Value
your time. Every day is a day to learn something new.
'you' more than credibility and people speaking kindly of you, giving you good
references or recommendations. Be sure to do whatever you can to earn that