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How To Get Started In IT

10 Steps to a Tech Career

1. Determine Your Personal Interests
You want to be happy in your career, right? There are many specialties to choose from in IT. Which one would suit you? Figure out your own interests first, and then work towards fulfilling those interests professionally. 

2. Set a Career Goal
Once you know what you want, consider how you’d like to achieve it. Do you have an interest in management, or would you prefer to work in the field? Perhaps you’d like to be an entrepreneur or a freelance technician. Determine an “end game” for your career, and develop a strategy to hit that goal. 

3. Get Involved in the Web Community
Forums, blogs and social networking sites are a great way to find out about IT firsthand. You can soak in a lot of information from articles and message boards on sites like searchnetworking, slashdot, computerworld, sadikhov, itnews, and infoworld. These sites can provide you with info about your career, or give you new ideas about potential opportunities.  

4. Target Entry Level Jobs
Before you can work your way up, you have to know where to start. There are many names for entry-level positions in IT, but here are some of the most common:

  • Desktop Support Technician 
  • IT Technician
  • In-store technician
  • At-home technician
  • End User Support Technician 
  • Help Desk

When you’re starting out, expect to see the terms technician, support and help a lot, because these are the roles you will fill. By knowing the entry-level positions, you’ll know what the requirements you’ll need to meet are. 

5. Learn Stuff!
The most important element of an IT career is having the skill to perform your job. Those skills are learned through experience and training. For most people, training comes first. You’ll want to undergo a training program that teaches you the skills that you’ll need for the entry level positions you want. Some of the most important skills you’ll need to learn include:

  • Hardware and Software
  • Networking 
  • Routing and Switching

6. Find a Training Source and Stick to it
Learning new skills can be a chore for many IT beginners. We suggest making the learning process as simple and uncomplicated as possible. One way to do that is to find a source for training, and then stick to it. Too often, beginning IT techs will make matters difficult by going on a search for training every time a new skill must be learned. A better idea is to find a reputable, reliable source for training and hit them up when it’s time to start a new program. 

7. Build a Foundation of Skills in Hardware and Software
When you’re getting started, we recommend building a foundation of entry-level skills that will be applicable to many jobs. Having a strong command and understanding of contemporary hardware and software is essential. But what skills do you need? A great resource is the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). You can use the requirements for their A+ certifications as a checklist for the hardware and software skills you need. Some of them include: 

  • CPUs/Processors
  • ROM and RAM
  • Drives/System Devices
  • Power Supply
  • Operating Systems 
  • Security
  • Troubleshooting

8. Build a Foundation of Skills in Networking
Another commonly required talent is networking. In any size organization, the transfer of information between users and systems is crucial. There’s always a demand for a skilled tactician who can offer reliable and effective networking skills. According to CompTIA’s requirements for the Network+ certification, here are some of the basics you must know: 

  • Topologies
  • OSI Model
  • Ethernet Basics
  • TCP/IP
  • IP Addressing
  • DHCP
  • Encryption/Authentication
  • Wireless
  • Remote Connections

9. Build a Foundation of Skills in Routing / Switching 
Connecting your network to the outside world is just as important as internal networking; maybe more so. To get your start in IT, have a plan in place to acquire skills in routing, switching and other external networking concepts. Cisco offers the CCNA certification to validate your skills in this area. Training programs for the CCNA include vital concepts you need to know, including:

  • WAN Concepts/Configuration
  • Shared Networking
  • IP Routing Concepts
  • Static IP Routing/Dynamic Routing
  • LAN Devices
  • Ethernet Switch Configuration
  • Router Security
  • Network Address Translation
  • Virtual Private Networks

10. Mix the Right Formula of Education, Experience and Credentials To be an attractive candidate for most IT positions, you must possess the right mix of education, experience and credentials. Fall short in any of those areas, and you’re less likely to get a job. Few companies want to hire academic-only candidates with no real world experience or IT certifications. Likewise, a technician with years of experience who hasn’t bothered to acquire any professional certifications will have more career trouble than one who is certified. 

At this point in your career, you can compensate for your lack of experience with IT certifications. Certifications show more relevance and timeliness than most academic IT training and they illustrate your commitment to your profession. They also show that you possess the skills that your potential employer wants. 

11. Build Your Online Presence Carefully
Using resources like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to get ahead professionally is a smart idea. But there still isn’t a lot of research on the long term results of online social and professional networking. Be cautious when using these resources. Don’t let them backfire on you. Make sure you’re discreet about things you want to keep personal and don’t let info that can harm you become public. Plus, we recommend limiting your accounts. Choose one service and focus your attention on it, rather than trying to maintain multiple accounts. An out of date profile can be just as damaging as an embarrassing party photo. 

12. Never Be Finished with Your Education 
Having multiple certifications is key in being valuable to employers, but having the latest and most-up-to-date certifications is just as important. This is a dynamic and constantly changing field. To be successful in IT, you need to know the cutting edge technologies. Continuing to learn and expand your resume not only makes you marketable when searching for a job, but staying current makes you more capable and valuable to your employer. 

13. Create a Resume, Keep it Updated
The key to an effective resume is to meet your needs by meeting your employer’s needs. When a potential employer first looks at your resume it has to show who you are and what you can do quickly. They’re looking at hundreds (maybe thousands of resumes), and the first step is to weed out the bad ones. A resume that’s clear, concise and up to date allows your employer to see your experience/credentials at first glance. That makes the employer’s job easier, and makes it more likely you make the cut for the next round. Make sure that any IT Certifications that you currently hold (like MCITP certificationCisco certificationa+ certification) are clearly displayed on your resume. These certifications will help you stand out from the crowd. 

14. Create Your Own Network, Gain Referrals
They say the trick to getting ahead in the business world isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. Well, that’s not entirely true. In this field, you need to know your stuff. But knowing the right people can help you get your foot in the door, or get your resume moved to the top of the pile. 

Build relationships with everyone you meet, whether in a business or social setting. Attend trade shows, strike up conversations at parties, and don’t be afraid to ask friends to introduce you to people who might be helpful. Get your name out there any way you can. 

15. Chart a Course of Achievements
As you’re starting out on your career path, you’re going to need a game plan. Once you’ve determined your ultimate goal, set shorter-term checkpoints along the way. Your starting target might be to get your first certifications, and your second might be to find that entry-level job. Breaking your journey down into smaller chunks not only makes your goal seem less overwhelming, but it also serves as a roadmap to keep you on track as you progress. From a certification perspective, many new professionals in the IT industry begin with the CompTIA A+ certification, working up from there to the Network+ and Security+ certifications from CompTIA

16. Get Access to Technology 
Hands-on training is essential to your education. To reinforce and truly make sense of everything you learn, it’s important to have access to the technology you’ll be learning about in order to practice and become more comfortable with your new skills. For example, computers with various operating systems would be useful in studying for your A+ certification, and a Cisco router or switch would be helpful in preparing for your CCNA. 

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