IT N00b After 30: Starting an IT Career Later

This post is about making a career change to IT … a bit later than some. I am going to show you that you can begin an IT career at any age- and give you some actions you can take right now to help make that happen.

I got my first “real” IT job when I was 32. Instead of starting when I was 18, I worked in retail, inside and outside sales, ran my own businesses, worked in a call center- I even was a day care teacher. That’s right, folks- boogers.

IT always intrigued me from the first time I “hacked” NetZero into giving me a free dialup connection without the ad banner. Anyway, for reasons I don’t totally understand, I didn’t get into it right out of high school or go to college for it. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had in the interim for anything.

If you’re not a “kid” any more, you can still get in- you just have to hustle and be a bit more creative.

It’s never too late to switch. If I can do it, so can you. If you’re not a “kid” any more, you can still get in- you just have to hustle and be a bit more creative. Your age isn’t you- it’s just a number. Let me encourage you! I want you to remember that someone, somewhere you there is waiting to meet you and put you to work.

There are actually some good things about getting into IT later:

Varied Experience

Every job- anywhere- is service. Period. You do have skills that carry over to technology work.

You might think of your “non-IT” experience as something to hide, but in reality, it’s an asset when you’re making the change. You may have varied experience that makes you more valuable to an employer. You probably have some sales, service, or people management skills.

Every job- anywhere- is service. Period. You do have skills that carry over to technology work. For example, let’s say you’re a professional fish cutter. Some crossover skills might be that you are strong at process and automation. You might provide outstanding service or have a knack for simplifying complex ideas.

You’ve already worked out the “living life” kinks.

When you’re a little older, you are potentially a more responsible and organized person (I realize there are exceptions on both sides of this- I’m not talking about you). You probably don’t couch surf every night, you know how to iron your clothes,  and can probably communicate reasonably well. All of these make you a more stable and productive worker, which companies and customers will like. If you have a family that you’re supporting, this is probably even more true.

I’m not going to say that IT is only a young man’s game- not by a long shot, but there is an age bias in IT. However, if you are smart and teachable, you can get in. People you encounter may judge you based on your age, but don’t let that stop you. You can’t make yourself younger and you should not try to act “hip” if you aren’t already. Just be your awesome self and don’t worry about this one because you can’t change it.

The IT ship has not sailed. You can still get on it and reap the generous rewards of a this business, so if you’re thinking about it, you should act right now. Here are some steps you can take immediately:

Read my article on breaking into IT.

It’s a primer on getting into the business and will get you up to speed with the basics. It talks about knowledge and mindset you’ll need to get your start.

Network. Right now.

And I’m not talking about blasting some generic message on LinkedIn. I’m saying you need to get out and start talking to people. Tell anyone you think can help you that you are trying to work in IT. Let you friends and family know.

Nothing wrong with putting it on social media, but you need to personally talk to people to make sure they know. Attend your local SpiceCorps and user groups for technology that interests you. You never know where an opportunity will come from.

Manage your online presence.

Cleaning up your Twitter and Facebook are a given- that subject’s covered exhaustively. So do it. I’m really talking about getting you associated with online IT content.

If you don’t have IT experience, joining the conversation about it online or even starting a blog discussing IT concepts you’re interested in can give you credibility. SpiceWorks is a fabulous place for to learn and contribute. Join some groups in IT areas you are interested in and jump in and get known. This should be done thoughtfully- I’m not in any way suggesting that you fabricate or embellish. Don’t pose as an expert in areas that you aren’t.

Skip entry level.

Entry level IT jobs don’t often pay well and being a grown-up is expensive. That’s OK, because the people in those roles are getting paid to learn. You can get more than this. I say this with conviction because I’ve done it, and so can you.

If you are smart and teachable, and have shown the problems you can solve, you can get the money you need.

Realistically, you know what you need to live on. For me, the lowest I would consider leaving my previous job for was $50k. Many of you are probably in that kind of place. If you are smart and teachable, and have shown the problems you can solve, you can get the money you need. Hold out for more money if you have to. Remember- someone will pay you what you’re asking.

Look at Mid-Sized businesses.

You might try targeting smaller IT shops. I say this because smaller businesses can’t afford to silo their IT teams (that means dedicated people for everything, and you don’t touch outside your area). It’s too expensive to have a network engineer who doesn’t touch servers, or a Desktop Support Analyst who doesn’t help with infrastructure. If you go to bigger companies/IT shops, you may not get the same opportunities to cross train.

Be open to moving.

I’m not saying you should up and move to Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. Consider that the IT opportunity that you want may be in a different city. Just for your career in general, if you live an a place that has few businesses that need IT support, supply and demand take over and can suppress the wages.

That should get you going. I know that’s a lot, but you don’t have to do all this at once. Just start by reading my article and then go out and check out your local SpiceCorps. Find out when the next meeting is and go! I’m behind you!

If you are interested in taking part in some focus groups, I am giving away free early access my newest content. I’m looking to better serve the IT community. Also consider subscribing to my free newsletter.

How old were you when you entered IT? What tips could you give someone else following in your footsteps? Comment below!

 

Photo by WarmSleepyCC BY 2.0

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4 Comments

  • Mark McClure Reply

    I entered when I was 26 (a long time ago!) and exited in my mid-40s.
    Yes, keeping tech skills current is vital for subject matter experts but I think that demonstrable soft skills (from non-IT career paths) are also very relevant for ‘mature’ folks looking to break into IT.

    • wowitsdave
      wowitsdave Reply

      Great point, Mark! I also think that’s where us experienced”folks have an edge on the high school and college grads. I would almost say that 80% of this job is soft skills and the other 20% is technical. Thanks for your comment!

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