Starting your I.T Career

Let’s be honest, the past year plus has sucked. The world has gone into multiple lockdowns, and you may have lost your job. Hopefully you didn’t, but even if you didn’t, you may be trying to figure out a new career. Some of my friends have started to come to me and say things like “Josh, how did you get into I.T. [Information Technology] without any sort of relevant degree?”

Well… That can be a complicated story, but the shortened version is that I was lucky. I had a plan, but it ultimately relied on luck and being comfortable with selling myself during an interview.

So let’s look back. I originally went to school for Software Engineering, but quickly found that wasn’t for me. It was because of this experience that I incorrectly assumed a technology career was not for me. So, I changed my major to History and Anthropology with a focus in archaeology, with the goal of becoming Indiana Jones. And then I got to work, without a whip in hand. That was given to me as a present years later, by my loving and supportive parents. Now, what I learned in spades, through my choice in major, were impeccable research and analytical skills, and this would prove to be one of my greatest tools in the future.

After graduating, I was lost, like how most of the world is still feeling. I didn’t know what to do with myself, because I knew that I didn’t want to continue going to school for several more years to get a PhD. So I did what any reasonable fresh college graduate would do, I lived out of my parent’s basement “trying to figure my life out.”

Eventually, I started at a job working for a family friend. We both knew this would be a temporary position, but they needed help and I needed a job. It was a small company of roughly five people, so I did a lot of things, from managing their front-office to working in their mechanic’s shop building industrial electrical equipment (think anything ever that reads Danger High-Voltage).

Now, I am sure you’re wondering; How does your degree in History and Anthropology play into this? And I am sure you are even more confused as to how this relates to I.T., and I will explain.

I threw myself into this job. It was all I had going for me at the moment, and I wanted to do my best. So, I learned everything I could about electricity and how to build these components. It was through my research and analytical skills that I was able to help these mechanics build all the equipment they needed to.

But I also did something else while I was at this company; I helped them grow. See, at this time in the late 2010’s, this small company was still running exclusively Windows XP systems, and they were suffering for it. So I presented a case to the owners and pitched an upgrade, which would reduce down-time in their offices and help them perform tasks quicker. And they agreed to it.

So I got to work learning to configure these new systems for them, and train everyone on how to use their upgraded software.

But, like all good things, my time with this company came to an end and I was lost again.

The big difference this time? I wasn’t living at home, and I couldn’t afford to fail.

So I made a plan of how I was going to break into I.T., and for me that was through data entry.

Now, I did a lot of research into how I could break into the I.T. field, and that leads to a few options for you too.

Option One: Go into Data Entry or a similar entry-level technology related field, and build your skillset to move into an entry-level I.T. position.

Option Two: Go back to school for an Associates or BS in a technology related field, such as Management Information Systems (MIS) or Networking.

Option Three: Get a certification like the CompTIA A+, CompTIA Net+, AWS, or Microsoft Certifications.

All of these have their own pro and cons. For example, if you need a job right now, option one will give you a paycheck and resume experience right off the bat, but it can be a longer journey to get into a more senior level position and you’ll need a bit of luck. Option two will help to guarantee a job, but you need a lot of money up front for another degree, and time to get it. Option three is great if you have a few months, and roughly $250, but you will need to work hard outside of your standard work hours to get one of these certifications.

So what did I pick? Option one. I needed the money, and figured if I could work hard, I would land the job I was after.

Now, let me tell you about my first, and only, data entry job. It sucked. Don’t get me wrong, it was exactly what I needed, but it sucked. I was a temp, working terrible hours (think 4pm to 2am, four days a week), with no benefits, and I knew no one at this company. But, I made the best of it, and started to learn new skills outside of work.

Excel is a major tool of the trade in data entry. Sure, you may have used it in high school or college, but do you really know it? Probably not. Excel is a powerhouse in the business world. It can do just about anything you need, and is greatly underappreciated by many. Through YouTube, and other reliable sources, I learned tips and tricks of Excel, like how to automate a lot of my work through VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) programming.

Now, I stuck out this job for a few long months, before I started on the harder part of option one; landing that first I.T job.

Part two of this option is much more difficult. You need to find a company that is looking for an entry level I.T. position, and then you need someone to actually look at your resume and reach back out. This requires an immense amount of luck, but if you are lucky, you can get the job. You just have to sell yourself.

When I applied for my first I.T. position, I put out over 100 applications before I got a call back. No one was looking for an inexperienced I.T. staff-member, but once I got that email asking for a phone interview, I set to work on making sure I could sell myself.

I prepared a list of skills I had, which wasn’t much, and made sure to include how I was constantly teaching myself new skills. But I also made sure to include my experiences in automating my data entry job as best I could, and how I upgraded a company from Windows XP to Windows 10.

When that call finally came, I nailed it. But now my issue was that I had sold myself to a placement agency. Of course they were going to be interested. They are always interested, because if they can place you into a job, they get paid.

So I had to prepare even more for my actual interview. I researched the crap out of this company. I wrote down everything I could find on them. But I didn’t stop there. I researched the people I was going to be interviewing with, so I could try to make a more personal connection with them, and hopefully land this job.

I was, after all, out of time as my temp contract was coming to an end. But, I was determined. Not only because this was what I wanted to do, but also because my parent’s told me that they didn’t think this was a path that would lead to the position I was looking for.

Come the interview, I wore my best suit. Well, my only suit. And I made sure to come prepared with my resume, which I had practically memorized, and thought to myself;

“You are completely unqualified for this position. You have no right to apply for this. But you did, and they want to have an in-person interview, so @#%$ it. Have fun with it, and do your best.”

The interview came, and passed in a blur. I honestly couldn’t tell you specifically what they asked of me. There were the general questions about why I wanted the job, and what I would do when I came to a problem I didn’t immediately know the answer to.

But then came the point where they asked if I had any questions… and I did. I made sure to ask something about their corporate values and how they pertain to my community. I asked a question about the future of the company and the direction it was going. I asked if I can work in one of their entry-level positions for a week so I could really know how their systems operated – this by the way is a pro-level question that shows your commitment. And then I said the following, most ballsy question ever;

“What time do I start on Monday?”

After all, what did I have to lose? I wasn’t qualified for this job, and I was sure they had other candidate, but they wanted to talk to me for a reason. So, why not act like I own the palce and show the confidence that I was going to get this job.

When it was all said and done, I thanked them for their time, and told them I looked forward to working with them soon.

Then I waited. I sent out a thank you email that afternoon. And then I waited some more.

And finally, after two days of waiting, I got my offer letter.

I finally landed my I.T. job as a Systems Administrator, a distinctly non-entry level position.

But this isn’t where my story ends, and it’s not where yours should either.

You see, I got the job, but just because you are offered the job, this doesn’t mean you can take it easy. You still need to actually learn how to do the I.T. work. So, I worked my ass off. I put in the full eight hours a day at my job, learning everything I could, instead of spending time scrolling Instagram or Tik-tok between tickets.

I had something to prove, not just to them, but to myself. I had to prove that I could do this job and make a name for myself.

Two years later, I was still working my ass off. I learned programming, oversaw projects, helped grow a team, and eventually landed an Assistant Manager’s position.

Why am I sharing all of this?

To tell you that it can be done. I didn’t take a conventional path to get to where I am… to a point of starting a new job in just a few days with a start-up, with ridiculous benefits, great pay, and a huge sense of fulfilment. While I didn’t have the conventional path, I did everything I could to prove that I was the right candidate. I networked with people so high up the ladder that I couldn’t see them through the clouds, and they all had great advice. They all took the time to talk to me, share their story, provide reassurance that I could do this, and told me the same thing time and time again….

They didn’t go to school for anything technologically related, if they went to school at all.

Yes, you read that right. Some of the most senior I.T. professionals in Silicon Valley, at these major corporations, did not get degrees in technology fields, and may not have even graduated from college if they did attend any school.

So don’t sit there and think, I can’t do this, or I will never get there, because you can get there and you will. It will take some time and a lot of hard work, but you will get there, and eventually you will have that tech job making more money than you did before, to a point where you can finally buy that next round of beers for everyone without having to worry about how to pay for your groceries, or your utilities.

I apologize for how long this has been, but it was a lot that needed to be said. Starting out on a new career path can be a wild and crazy journey, so if you have any questions, please reach out and ask, no matter how silly you think the question may be. I will do my best to help answer any question you have, and provide guidance where I can, much like everyone else I spoke to did. You’ve got this, because you now have someone in your corner helping you fight your way to the top.