People who want to enter the IT field or those who are just entering it often ask me about the best way to get started in IT or how to build their IT career. In this post, I’ll outline some ideas for a basic plan.
Start with IT Career Certification
Start by pursuing a basic certification such as CompTIA A+. Get an A+ study guide, read through it and work through the exercises and examples. Consider attending classes at a local community college. Build a lab in your home with used equipment. Experiment, explore, and get as familiar as you can with IT equipment such as computers including servers, desktops, and laptops, routers, switches, and firewalls. Build a network in your home and learn to troubleshoot it. There are many free videos available online to help in your learning process. When you feel like you’re ready, go take the A+ exam. Bear in mind that the certification alone won’t mean you’re qualified for a job in IT. It means you’ve put forth the effort to gain basic knowledge and you’ve invested in yourself.
Get Involved in the Community
While you’re working on your A+ certification, find users groups in your local community. Search on terms such as “computer network users group” to find one nearby or visit a local meeting of LOPSA, the League of Professional System Administrators. Introduce yourself as someone who is brand new to networking and looking for advice on building a career. Don’t expect to understand all of the technical jargon in the discussions, but just listen and start to learn the terminology. Users groups are also great places to build contacts. You might even find a study group to help with your certification prep.
Next, volunteer with non-profit organizations, including churches, schools, shelters, or anywhere else that could use some help. Don’t get discouraged if you get turned down, just go to the next place you can find until someone accepts your offer of help. The purpose of volunteering is to gain practical experience running networks and supporting end users and to make contacts and get references for paying jobs in the future. You might be able to find an internship at a company, but unless you’re attending a school, you’re probably better off looking for volunteer opportunities. Remember, as you work with people, they’ll be evaluating you based on both your technical skills and your people skills. Be pleasant, positive, and professional.
In a nutshell, this plan will immerse you in the world of IT and get you exposed to its inner workings. The certification process will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of self-taught individuals, such as knowledge gaps. The users groups and similar organizations will help you build a network of contacts and give you a second-hand look at an IT career, and volunteering will give you a first-hand look at an IT career while also helping you build contacts and references.
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