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4 Things You Need To Know About a Career in IT

, 12 Mar 2014 CPOL
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Thinking about making a career in IT? It may be easier than you think.

Abstract

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.

Introduction

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 right seeds.

Understanding this 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.

Bottom 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 business problems.

Understanding the 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 products.

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.

Technology principles 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.

Bottom Line: Critical 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.

Bottom 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 Effect)

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.

Obviously, few 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.

ü Etc.

Bottom Line: Remember that you are your own best advocate and sales person. You must sell yourself and stay persistent.

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.

Nothing advertises '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 credibility.

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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About the Author

Fru Louis
Technical Lead
United States United States
Fru Louis is a developer, blogger and all around technology enthusiast. He writes and stays abreast with the latest innovative ideas, news, and trends.
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Have a tip, comment or critic? Email him at fru.louis@gmail.com
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Comments and Discussions

 
Generalmy vote of 5 PinprofessionalPaulo Augusto Künzel2-Apr-14 8:25 
GeneralGood insight about IT PinmemberMr. Yogesh Sharma12-Mar-14 5:53 
GeneralRe: Good insight about IT PinmemberFru Louis12-Mar-14 6:08 

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