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A common question I am asked is how to get into the IT field with no experience?

Computers are part of everything that we do on a day to day basis at home and in the workplace. In addition the industry is facing a massive shortage of skilled employees , the IT industry as a whole has seen steady growth in salary over the last decade. So how do you get into the IT field with no experience?

If you are a regular reader of my blog than you may know that I am a software engineer by trade.

You may have even read one of my other blog posts:

  1. 7 essential tips for the developing developer!
  2. Hello world!
  3. Naps are for real men!

How to get into the IT field with no experience.

The next decade will likely consist of a transformation in the IT Industry.

As government agencies complete a transition to more digitized record keeping and workflow which means more jobs. Information Security is becoming front and center in the industry. All the while machine learning is starting to take off and these are all signs that point to a very busy decade for people in this field. If you are thinking about transitioning, now is a great time!

Ok sounds good but how can I do it?

As a guy who grew up in a small town with very little technology footprint, in a family that didn’t even own a computer, it’s fair to say that I started at the bottom. I didn’t own a computer until my 20’s and even after I got one that idea that I could break into this industry seemed like a pipe dream. Never the less I did it and I’m here to share some of the ways that I used to get into the IT field with no experience!

  1. Make friends with “computer guys”

    Jim Rohn famously said “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” .

    While I don’t think this is necessarily a hard and fast rule there is some truth to it for sure! You want to get into computer science right? Well one of the easiest ways to get started is to simply immerse yourself in it! There is probably a department at your work where people are already doing the kind of job that you are hoping to land so why not:

    – Make an effort to chat some of them up.
    – Spend more time in their work area.
    – Find assignments that get you near those work areas.
    – Make it a point to make conversation and let people know that you are interested in computers!

    These are some of the  things that I did (mostly organically) when I was working outside of the IT field. These things are effective for multiple reasons. When you surround yourself with people in the field you are both networking, and immersing yourself with the day to day terms and operations of people who are working where you want to be. You are also building a support system which will be useful when you stumble at trying to learn on your own.

  2. Get a computer and build it yourself.

    My story

    My first job was in warehousing, I worked many hours doing manual labor. Doing this I quickly realized that I was more interested in the computer inventory systems , than I was picking and packing orders. Luckily for me I had made friends with a “computer guy” at work. I can’t even say that I know what he did there but I knew it had to do with computers.

    Getting Started

    I asked him if he could help me pick out my first computer. How he chose to tackle that request changed my life forever. Instead of getting some “off the shelf” computer that I could just walk into a store and buy. He gave me a list of parts from a local PC store (shout out to PC Club in Arizona) and I over the next couples months went in on my payday and purchased as many parts as I could. After several weeks (man this part sure was tough! I wanted that computer sooooooo bad!) finally one day I had them all.

    Putting it together

    I was so excited to bring them over to my friends house and watch him put it together. (We hadn’t talked about this part and myself not really being handy at putting anything together, didn’t even consider that I could take my pile of computer parts that I had been so diligently collecting and then risk putting them together) I called him up and he told me “Ok put it together”, and then proceeded to walk me through how to do that over about an hour on the phone. He explained to me what things looked like, why they were and how they went together.

    The Payoff

    Putting a computer together is really easy if you just get over the feeling that its some high tech thing! It’s easier than working on a car, or wiring up power in your house, it is certainly easier (and less smelly) than replacing or maintaining your toilet! After I put a computer together for the first time, from that point on I was no longer afraid to get under the hood. I had taken my first step toward becoming one of those “computer guys” we mentioned earlier. If you are asking how to get into the IT field with no experience… this is one of the most important steps.

  3. Install Windows and then break it , then reinstall it.

    (OK, you don’t really need to break it but that’s how it went for me. )

    After I got my shiny new computer put together I still needed to install Windows on it. While it has gotten much easier to install Windows over the years. It is an important step toward getting over the fear of not knowing things about your computer AND doing this is going to have you touching on some important things that you should understand about how all that magic happens on your computer.

    The Bios?

    Get in there , install it, break it, fix it! One of the things that you learn about while doing this is the BIOS. I’m not going to go into any detail here but to me the BIOS is like an underlying operating system that controls the hardware of your machine and allows it to boot up to a real  operating system. Understanding how to access the BIOS, and configure it (they are all pretty similar in my experience) is going to take you a even farther down the path of getting ready for your new career.

    Understanding how to install and configure Windows is another important step in our goal, how to get into the IT field with no experience.

  4. Find a project / Start learning / Pursue a degree?

    OK so which one?

    How you tackle this can really vary and I would suggest that you do what is right for you. I will tell you about some of the first things that I did though!
    Let’s tackle college first. I am just about to wrap up my Masters Degree in Information Technology. When I look back at my time in school it definitely is not the deciding factor in my success.  If you have to pay for your own schooling and work while doing it, without a doubt, you will learn far more from personal projects than from anything else in my lifetime (especially college).

    Is college for me?

    Colleges these days are pretty far behind current technologies. (Books take a long time to write publish and get approved for curriculum! ) The new fad seems to be online college in compressed time frames to churn students through the rankings. On top of that you could very easily come out of a degree program (like me) owing a ton of money.  I’m just not sure that it is necessary. While the structure of a college curriculum can take away the burden of self-motivating and self-directing. If you aren’t careful you will find yourself pushed down the wrong path, learning the wrong things. It’s easy to find yourself with a schedule that’s been assembled by a student support system whose main goal is to enroll students , not ensure they are taking the right classes.

    OK so if not college then what?

    I think it is a good idea to start some personal projects! Do some free online classes , set up something in your home that stretches what you know! Take control of your networking environment , set up your router , make a network diagram, find a video series and follow it but put your own spin on it! Adapt that tutorial to something specific in your home environment.

  5. Start reading job postings (and applying to them)

    Here is the thing about job hunting. It takes up a bunch of time, employers have more tools than ever to screen out candidates and there is more information then ever out there about what skills employers are looking for than at any time before.

    So what does that mean for us?

    First off , one of the hardest things about getting into the IT field is just how many different avenues of learning there are to pursue. In addition, how much do you need to know about each? How do you find a good learning path to ensure you have the required skills?

    This is where job hunting comes in.

    Looking over job postings (at least monthly) will give you an idea of what kinds of jobs are available and what skills are required for them. Start looking and applying as soon as possible. Even before you feel 100% that you can land a job get the process going. Understand that this time is an investment in your career and while it might not land you a job. You will see over time how much more prepared you are as a result of it.

  6. Don’t forget about networking

    First off get on LinkedIn… NOW.

    I know I know , you are anti conformist and you “Don’t do that social media stuff”.. well you do now! Every job I have accepted since my first job in the technical field has been at least partially due to networking. Get on Linked In, start giving your coworkers referrals and start making connections.  The more people you have access to the more information you have about jobs and the better chance you have of landing them. This doesn’t mean that you should make an effort to create superficial connections. We aren’t looking for an “instagram likes count” we want to make strong connections with people who know what kind of worker you are and can vouch for you. Also remember to do the same for others too!

  7. Start looking for crossover positions

    Last but not least start looking for things in your current role, that work as a crossover into the IT world.

    – If there is a spreadsheet to maintain… maintain it.
    – Look for a manual process in your area and  automate / digitize it.
    – Find a pain point in your department, find a solution and sell it to your manager.

    If you can do these sorts of things long enough, ask for a title change to reflect the work you are doing. Even if you can’t get a title change (bigger companies often have inflexible title structures) these kinds of activities can go on your resume. Do them long enough and you now have real experience which might actually qualify you for a new job in your chosen field. If you do this you can go from “how to get into the IT field with no experience” to “How to find a job in the IT field WITH experience”.

 

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