“How do I figure out what I want to do in IT?”
I could make millions if I could just answer that question for people (note to self: try to). That question must get asked an untold number of times per day. Your IT career is a personal journey, and the path is all the fun!
Here are some practical ways you can start to find out where you want IT to take you. Be aware that it’s an iterative path- you’ll refine it over time. Almost no one knows immediately what they want to do, so I give you permission to play around with it and see what you like.
Do it for you
Your IT career it just that- yours. You need to get up for it every day, so you can and should enjoy it!
I know the temptation of letting someone else influence or even dictate what you should do or where you should head in IT. The hard reality of this is that if you don’t pick and you don’t like it, you will suck at it. As one of my virtual mentors, the late Dr. Stephen Covey said it:
“Without involvement, there is no commitment. Mark it down, asterisk it, circle it, underline it. No involvement, no commitment.”
“Without involvement, there is no commitment. Mark it down, asterisk it, circle it, underline it. No involvement, no commitment.” – Dr. Stephen R. Covey
Take some time and check out the career landscape. IT is a broad field, with jobs ranging from Sales to Desktop Support, to Systems Administrator (in all kinds of flavors). There are also highly-specialized areas, like Networking, Virtualization, and Storage, to name just a few.
If you make a wrong choice, it’s OK- you can always make another! Don’t worry. Ask yourself, “How can I make the highest use of my gifts?” instead of, “How can I make loads of money?” The money will come if you enjoy the work you’re doing.
Ask yourself, “How can I make the highest use of my gifts?” instead of, “How can I make loads of money?” The money will come if you enjoy the work you’re doing.
Talk to others
Remember how I said you should not let others push you into various IT disciplines because “there are lots of jobs” or “you can make loads of money”? It’s true- don’t.
I also want you to get to know some people who are doing the work. If you are already in an IT shop that’s more than one person, just start talking to people doing other jobs. You can ask them things like:
1. How did you get your start in IT?
2. How did you land your first IT job?
3. How did you get started doing X work that you do now?
4. How do you like it?
5. What job would you pick in IT if you were starting all over again?
Getting an IT career mentor is even better. See if you can find some ol’ salty dog who can show you the ropes- maybe they can help you get your first gig! Offer to help them, assist in any way you can, and ask if they can explain concept from time to time.
Don’t be afraid to expose your ignorance and ask a question. They get it- we were all new once. Remember that ignorance is just not knowing a particular thing, not an indicator of intelligence. A caveat: Don’t fake knowledge in areas that you don’t have it. The people in the know can tell basically instantly.
Experiment and Evaluate
IT is cool in that you can try out technologies before you buy them in many cases. Taking time to experiment with a few before you start looking for jobs will pay dividends. For example:
Let’s say I was fresh faced and ready to start checking out IT as a career. If I was clever (I wasn’t), I would go ahead and start checking out courses at Microsoft’s Virtual Academy. They’re free videos that can give you exposure to the world of IT and some basic training. They actually have a really cool beginner’s page with videos that you can use to get your feet wet. Their student section is really nice also. All free.
I give you permission to play around with it and see what you like.
So, after checking out some of these videos, I decide- heck, I like Security. Just on that site alone, there are dozens, maybe hundred of free videos on security.
Other vendors offer this as well, like VMware’s Hands On Labs. These are absolutely killer.
On top of that, these and other vendors offer free evaluations of their enterprise products so you can get experience installing and operating these software packages, many of which are thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to buy. You can download them and run then on a beater PC to get a feel for it.
If you hate all of it, you can become a developer instead. They key is that there are abundant resources out there to get you started. Once you get past the beginner level, they aren’t all free, but I can tell you from experience, they are worth the money. Poke around for free and see what you like.
When you map out your IT career path, you don’t need to see all of the steps- in fact, you won’t even if you wanted to. Remember: Do it for your own reasons, talk to others, and experiment and evaluate your opportunities. These steps will move you down the path of discovering the direction you’ll want to head in.
What are you doing to further your IT career? Or maybe just get it started? Comment below and let me know!
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