How to build a successful career in I.T. when you have no skills and no job
This article is aimed at young people (aged 16-25) who are still wondering what career path to take and whether to get into a tech career. The reason I wrote it is because I’ve chatted several times with my nephew and niece, my children and more recently to my nephews mate on a recent birthday celebration (or “sesh” as they were calling it!) and realised they all had similar questions, doubts and reservations about their future.
The exact question I received on FB Messenger (I don’t use Snapchat ;)) was this :
Hi Mark. How are you? We briefly spoke the other weekend about IT. I’m interested in a long term career in IT, specifically networking. What advice or qualifications would you advise for moving into this field of work? I apologise that it’s quite late on a Sunday buddy.
Choosing the correct career can be really daunting! My 15-year-old daughter (Hannah) is in her exam year and she’s still very unclear about what she wants to do. The latest indication is that she quite fancies a tech career. They’ve been doing the basics of programming with Python at school and she’s really enjoyed it.
Firstly, before I get started, a brief introduction into my back story…
If I am being honest, I chose IT in the first place because my dad had done it all his life and at the time I really enjoyed copying 10 pages of code, line by line, word by word from a trendy magazine of the time called “Input” into my Commodore 64. They were simple, happy days!
Back in the early 1990s when I was starting out, the Internet hadn’t taken off, data was stored on “floppy disks”, games consoles mainly consisted of a single joystick and 2 buttons and mobile phones were generally the size of a house brick. How times have changed in the last 25 years!
In my career I’ve been lucky enough to gain experience with 3 different roles:
- I started out as a developer (beginning with ‘Basic’) and specialised with Microsoft technologies.
- I’ve run a business, which means I’ve tried everything from graphic design to sales, mainly because someone had to!
- I’ve got pretty good at marketing, specifically “digital marketing”, which really means marketing done online.
Looking back I’ve often wondered if I could choose again, would I have taken the same path? In all honesty, knowing what I know now, I think I’d probably go with marketing. So why did I end up in IT? I think the main reason was that I simply didn’t know that Marketing existed at the time – I’d had no real exposure to it and (at the time) the IT environment was developing so fast I was carried along with the flow. Thinking about it, unless you’re lucky you’re never going to find your true passion from day 1, however, we’ve all got to start somewhere!
Current careers that I think have limited future opportunities!
Now this is a little ‘crystal ball’ as it may not all come true. However, I believe the writing is on the wall for many jobs due to massive advances in technology. Jobs that are the norm today will be gone in 5-10 years. Maybe sooner, maybe longer, but they certainly won’t have the longevity to take you through to retirement. More and more jobs are becoming automated with technology providing the potential for robots to replace real people (they can work 24/7 and rarely complain). Robots also have the potential to repair other robots providing a double-whammy effect on the working population. This is bad news for some careers and professions, as it means if your job gets automated (done by a machine) then you’re going to have to learn new skills and jump career at a time when you might have your own family and financial strains.
This BBC article is awesome and reported on the threat of automation 2 years ago. It allows you to pick your chosen career and will give you a probability of it being eaten by computers.
- Retail – Amazon is changing everything. In the U.K., we’re seeing high streets really struggling. Big department stores and the old power-houses of town centres are shutting down. Supermarkets are moving to self-serve checkouts. Amazon are already trialling a store with no staff!
- Car Industry – Look at how Uber has disrupted the taxi driver industry. Add in driverless, electric cars and we’re probably going to end up with people not owning cars. So that’s the entire car industry struggling in as little as 15 years. Check out this more recent BBC article Why you have (probably) already bought your last car
- Finance – A new technology called Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also growing really fast. This has the capacity to take in 10s of 1000s of data points and to provide you with a result in less than a second. In fact, when you search Google, you’re probably using AI. AI can make decisions far faster than any human, so if your career has lots of number crunching or analysis, there’s a good chance AI will do it faster.
As one career dies, another is born!
Now one thing to note and (it’s just been pointed out by my daughter’s boyfriend, Alex). As jobs get automated this leads to more opportunities. Take Amazon’s “Alexa” for instance, she didn’t exist 10 years ago. It’s an entirely new way of interfacing with computers. With that new tech there are now 1000’s of opportunities. So many manufacturers are now utilising Alexa in their products. You could write your own skill for Alexa and sell it on the marketplace.
When driverless cars gain mass adoption, this will create new opportunities. Car layouts will change and become more leisure experiences, so expect a load of “in the car” entertainment and working devices.
One way to think about it is this: “What products and services will be needed for this?”. There are always going to be some.
So what careers are more future proof?
The most common theme (about all of the predictions above) is that technology is causing a huge disruption to many industries and it will continue to do so. If you are uncertain about what you want to do, then something with a technical nature is not a bad option. Technology will soon be ingrained in everything from clothes to glasses, wallpaper to windows, cars to drones. I bet we will also see it being used in the human body in my lifetime.
If you already have a massive passion to change the world in some way or help a certain group of other people, do that. Doing something you’re passionate about keeps you happy and fulfilled. Just keep one eye on tech advances and try to look for those opportunities.
Anyway, let’s get back to the original purpose of this article, how to ‘get into I.T.’ (in this case Microsoft) and what to do?
Now, I’ve hopefully given you a little food for thought, one of the best points about I.T. … You’re spoilt for choice. Getting ‘into I.T.’ doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stay up all night writing code. There are so many angles to take as it’s literally used everywhere and in everything.
Do I need a degree?
I.T. generally isn’t like some other professions such as training to be a lawyer or doctor where a degree and fixed learning path is mandated. A degree is by no means necessary. In fact, unless you go to one of the specialist universities then you could well find that some of the IT skills you learn at University are already out of date. Some companies run graduate trainee roles or specify that you need a degree qualification, so it again really depends on what you want to do.
Would I do a degree if I had my time again?
If I had my time again, I probably wouldn’t do a degree. I’d go down the apprentice route and learn up to date skills from day 1. My degree taught me quite a few things that were useful to my initial careers such as Object-Oriented design and database fundamentals.
It also taught me a whole load of rubbish.
Technically speaking, I left knowing very little real-world tech and learnt far more ‘on the job’. I.T. is pretty unique because it changes so often, so things date fast. The fundamentals are usually the same but there are 1000s of courses that will teach you what you need and an apprenticeship gives you experience, fast.
What A-Levels should I choose?
To pursue a path in I.T., then an I.T. related A-level makes a lot of sense. I’d also intermingle it with something like business studies. Being able to understand how a business operates really helps.
Have you considered a Microsoft Apprenticeship?
You may not know but Microsoft offers their own form of apprenticeship programs which are beneficial to both you and the employer.
Anthony Pounder, Director for a Microsoft services company called Intelligent Decisioning has employed many apprentices and had this to say:
The MS Apprenticeship scheme is a Microsoft and U.K. government scheme geared towards getting young people into IT jobs.
The way it works is that the apprentice is either found by QA (the training people) or, you can find your own and put them through the apprenticeship. The IT infrastructure apprenticeships take about 13/14 months and is broken down into time with a company who employs the apprentice interspersed with classroom based training.
They have to have a certain level of basic Maths and English but, if they don’t, they can take on extra learning as part of the course.
The cost of the apprenticeship scheme training is free if your apprentice is less than 18 (I think) with a sliding scale of discount as the apprentice age increases. There are at least 2 threads of learning:
- IT infrastructure
We’ve had about 6 people go through the scheme. Some in IT infrastructure and some developer. The 1st apprentices we took in in Sept 2010 have only recently left the business and gone onto take new jobs in their chosen discipline, so for ID we’ve had 6 to 7 great years allowing us to give them great experience.
I also chatted with Ryan Yates on this subject and here’s what he had to say:
A career in IT will open a wide variety of opportunities including the ability to travel, both for work and also to learn at conferences and user groups, constant on the job learning and a never ending cycle of new things coming out to learn about. If you love to learn, IT definitely is a good choice to get into as there is always something new to learn about and this is not something that is going to change anytime soon. There are many areas that you could learn about within IT (not all of them technical), there are lots of fantastic people that blog and present about the knowledge they have (myself included), and whilst it can be difficult to find out the good from the bad, one of the most powerful things you can do for your long term career, once you’ve chosen that a career in IT is the one that you want, is to network with people like myself and ask questions of us, especially those about career choices or most things related to most forms of technology.
If you’re interested in finding out more and locating a training company then take a look at Microsoft Apprenticeships – Candidates (UK) and the Microsoft Students site. (The links provided are for UK schemes, but I am sure you will find the same in your country given a bit of Googling).
Don’t wait – You’re unlikely to be gifted the perfect career!
If you’ve left school, college or uni and haven’t been lucky enough to find a role then you can really help yourself become more marketable by following some of these tips. When I look at C.V.s, people who show initiative and do things to progress their skills immediately jump out at me.
If someone can self-start and show initiative then they’re more likely to do exactly that when working for us.
If you’ve yet to land your first job, follow these steps to make yourself irresistible:
Step # 1: Start learning …
These are some of the courses you can take to learn the fundamentals. All four of these cost less than a night out, don’t involve a hangover and can seriously improve your potential.
- Learn to code with HTML – Beginner to Expert
- Step-by-step HTML and CSS for Absolute Beginners
- Database Design Introduction
- C# Basics for Beginners: Learn C# Fundamentals by Coding
These 5 online courses will teach you the basics and from there you can decide on your chosen path. There are also loads more courses out there – take a look and give one a try, you never know what opportunities it could unlock.
Step # 2: Join a group, ask questions and be helpful
There are plenty of us old folk who are willing to offer some advice. In fact, quite a few of us actually enjoy sharing what we’ve learnt. For example, we have a Facebook group for Collab365 where there’s always someone willing to help. When using online groups, always consider the magic of reciprocity – just think about how you feel after someone has helped you out, you are far more likely to help them back. Now compare this to the polar opposite and think about someone who constantly asks you for help, but never offers anything back in return.
The best advice is where possible, help others. Okay, at the beginning of your career you may think you have nothing to share, but consider sharing your learning. Tell them about courses you’ve taken, what you found useful and things you may (with hindsight) have done differently, you may just be surprised about the amount of feedback and other useful tips you get in return. You could even start your own group to share learning with your peers.
Step #3 : Think of and build a “fun project”
If something interests you (this could be anything e.g. a mobile app, VR / AR, teach Alexa a skill, automate your parents home lighting system etc.), develop the idea further. You will find that your learning really benefits from some focus when you’ve got a specific project in mind. Once you’ve learned those skills you may even be able to make a career out of them – you never know who may also want to achieve what you’ve done. It’s also brilliant to chat / blog about your hobbies/interests and they add huge credibility to your C.V.
Step #4 : Share your learning on YouTube / Blog and here!
This will not only allow you to cement what you’re learning but it also looks amazing to prospective employers. How cool would it be to say in an interview, “I built a YouTube channel to share what I’ve learnt and got 150 subscribers”. I’d be blown away by that. As a little indication of how this can work so well for you…
I set up a community with a very proactive chap I’d met online called Vlad Catrinescu. He was just 20 at the time. He put so much effort into improving his skills and building a reputation for himself that he is now one of the most recognised names in our community and (I am pretty sure) is one the youngest Microsoft Valued Professionals (MVP). An MVP is something Microsoft give to a few around the world for their contribution to one of their products. In fact, it’s a pretty big deal! For Vlad to get it so young just shows what’s possible if you commit to doing something.
Vlad’s now been invited to speak at several conferences and also produced several courses (in his own time) that now sell to people all over the world.
** We accept blog posts on this site, so grab an account and let us help you share your new found expertise. The more you blog and get your name out there, the more this helps you land a job. **
Step #5 : Consider taking a Microsoft certification.
Microsoft has a massively popular certification programme and their certifications are recognised worldwide. You can pretty much study for them for free by using YouTube, blogs and Microsoft Virtual Academy.
In short, when you’re looking for work use your time wisely – should one opportunity not work out, don’t be too downhearted use the opportunity of free time to learn something new. It will motivate you and provide you with a much-needed skill that could prove to be the key to success in your next interview.
Advice from others ..
I also asked for advice from others who have been working in tech for a while.
Andrew Connell, Owner Voitanos
IT is a *huge* field in terms of breadth… know that if you go into it, it’s a career in learning as things will constantly change. If you embrace it and look at that as a positive, you’re gold.
To that point, interview LOTS of people in the field and find out what they like best about their position. From network admins to IT pros to help desk to support to DBA’s to architects to software engineers to web developers to designers to BA’s… find out what they like & dislike.
With your studies, focus on big picture/core things. The courses that taught me the most were the ones that made me think about concepts, not the ones that taught me a programming language/database design.
Most importantly though, pick something that makes you think, that challenges you.
There are only three books I still have from my college years. Discrete Structures (same stuff from the start of Goodwill Hunting), Design Patterns (by Gang of Four) & Business Law.
Marc D Anderson, owner at Sympraxis Consulting.
I think the notion of a “career” is passé. It’s more important to do work you love than plan some grand career. Do high-quality work, don’t burn any bridges (if you can help it), and build good relationships with your co-workers.
“I.T.” can mean so many things these days, but if anyone you talk to is customer-focused, please encourage them to give it a try.
Be open-minded and stay open-minded. Technology changes rapidly and often so consider how things are done as much as what they do as then you’ll be well placed for what changes. Don’t be afraid to shake things up a little but don’t be an arsehole about it
I really hope this helps. I know from my personal experience and my daughters more recently, choosing a career can feel so daunting. Don’t worry if you choose the wrong one, just keep an open mind and follow your passion.
Never stop learning and go help others 🙂