How to get started in an IT career
Getting started in IT

IT is one of the most multi-faceted career pathways

Whether you’re a school-leaver or professional, you’ve probably asked yourself “What should I do for a job (now)?” You might have even asked, “What kind of career would offer more to me than just earning a living?” Any job has its pros and cons. If fact, some that are perhaps outside of your immediate interests could still become something you’re passionate about. IT is one of the most multi-faceted career pathways and – whether you’re a self-styled geek building PCs at home in your spare time or even a “non-technical” person – the ubiquity of technology has given rise to a huge diversity of job functions and opportunities to interface with many other businesses/industries. So how do you get into IT?

To begin with, are you good with your head or hands? That is, did you play chess or rugby at school? As a rule of thumb, people who like brain teasers tend to follow the development path (software, websites); whereas people who like physical and constructive activities often go down the engineering route (hardware, systems, server, network support). Mind you, it’s just a rule of thumb.

Having determined generally what area of IT might be best suited to you, it’s helpful to your long-term career prospects to choose a specialty that is currently in demand and shows promise for the future. For example, if you’re keen on web development, we wouldn’t recommend investing a lot of time in fading technologies like Flash, but steadily growing areas like PHP are a fairly safe bet; there’s presently a significant shortage of good junior and intermediate level PHP developers to fill jobs in Auckland digital agencies and software houses… Do your homework on what tools and technologies are popular and would seem to be relevant to the future of IT in order to increase the chance of remaining consistently and gainfully employed. In terms of resources, following Computerworld and CIO NZ  for a start will keep you up to date with local and international industry movements.

By making informed decisions early on, you’re already starting to manage your career. Career management is a planned effort to link your career expectations with organisations’ workforce requirements. That means you not only need to take responsibility for your trajectory, but remain actively interested in and aware of industry trends. Working out where you want to be in five or ten years, given your best understanding of the job, technology and market factors, helps determine the kind of education and/or portfolio you need to achieve to realise this.

University degrees give you a good, broad skill base and prove to an employer you have the required intelligence and persistence to complete something you started.  Some employers prefer tertiary qualifications and will make this explicit in job ads, so as part of your research, have a look at the careers section of your ideal employers’ sites to see what their education requirements are, if any. To supplement this, or if you are already working and looking to bolster your real world experience, industry certifications can be helpful. In Auckland, this is largely means Microsoft certifications: not so much MCPs which tend to get overlooked but rather the full compliment such as MCITP, MCSA (support, administration), MCSD (development) or similar.

It’s a dynamic, evolving, changeable industry with a lot of competition. Securing the role you want requires considerable commitment, determination, constant learning and in a sense, courage. It also helps to set realistic expectations and actively market yourself:

  • Getting started in IT can be a catch-22 situation: employers want experience but you have to get a job before you can offer this. What else can you be doing then to exercise your knowledge and prove yourself? If you want to be a developer, create websites for your friends’ and family’s business to build up your portfolio. If you want to be in support, repair desktops and laptops and volunteer/intern at small businesses or even charitable organisations – they all need IT support of some form!
  • Be a bit brave and network. No, we don’t mean turn up unannounced to businesses or recruitment agencies. Yes, ensure your social media profiles reflect your interests and demonstrate how well you interact with other people and engage in your (future) industry. But also, take advantage of in-person networking opportunities in your area. Employers are increasingly finding that job boards return a lot of applicants but few real candidates. Networking can be your opportunity to build a relationship that, if managed well, can convey why you’re a good potential employee while circumventing the fact that you might not have all the technical experience yet. #SMCAKL is a great example for anyone interested in the digital space. Some companies like Orcon sponsor similar events which present even more opportunities to build relationships. Don’t discount the value of a business card (even if you’re yet to get into a business) in these settings.
  • Prepare a CV that clearly outlines your skills; always keep track of where you’re sending this and to whom – spamming, re-sending or doubling up through multiple recruitment consultants is counterproductive.

These days employers are often first looking for good communication skills (not just verbal and written English skills but negotiation, persuasion and ability to engage with both technical and non-technical people) and secondly experience doing a similar job. You can use this mantra at any point in your career; often your soft skills, potential cultural fit and the general “vibe” you give a hiring manager will be the deciding factor between you and someone with equivalent skills. Staying alert, informed and self-motivated will also enable you to position yourself ideally and make career decisions that continue to pay dividends along an exciting journey in IT.