Experience, Certifications, or Degrees – What Matters Most? Part 2

If you are looking for that first job in IT, you can expect to begin on a telephone (remote) support help desk, or in desk side (in person) support, or in a hardware repair facility.  If you are coming to your first job with certifications or degrees, but little or no experience, this will be where your career will start.  Even if you have a BS in IT and an MS in cybersecurity, you will still need to begin at the beginning, and get the basic experience you need to attain a higher level job as a system admin, networking admin, or cybersecurity analyst.  You need to build a level of trust with your new employer.  They need to know that you actually have the skills and acumen to perform at that level before they will consider you for a higher position.

This is the second part of an article I started on Monday, and if you missed it you may want to start at the beginning

Let’s take a look at the three factors we put in the title.

  • Experience.  Nothing beats experience as far as IT employers are concerned.  Relevant experience in an information technology role represents over 50% of the decision to hire a candidate for an open job.  The first hurdle for people looking for their first IT position is going to be lack of experience.  There are ways to overcome this problem, and we will explore different ways you can acquire at least some early experience in information technology.
  • Certifications.  Certifications are actually more important than degrees to most IT hiring managers.  64% of hiring managers value certifications over college degrees, and see a certified candidates as someone with high technical expertise.  Relevant certifications can get a candidate through the first cut in the hiring process.  60% of information technology professionals indicated that certifications help them to get that first job, or to earn a promotion into a better, higher-paying job.
  • Degrees.  Getting a degree is probably a good idea for the long run, but is not a guarantee towards getting that first IT job.  Many colleges and universities are still offering “Computer Science” degrees, which is about programming, for the most part.  If you are not interested in programming, and are looking to get into tech support, networking, or cybersecurity, then this degree is a waste of time.  Only 56% of hiring managers think colleges are providing the basis for a career in information technology.  In many cases, a two year associate degree from a technical college with a strong IT and cybersecurity programs beats a 4 year BS in Computer Science.

If you are in high school and are looking towards a future in information technology, this is the best time to start preparing.  I have met with students in high schools that have IT programs, and more school districts are offering these sorts of programs.  If this is true for your school, enroll in the IT program.  If not, you may even want to consider transferring to a school that does.  Some employers are hiring top IT students right out of high school, but they are still going to be looking for experience and certifications.  Your school program may be set up to provide both, but more likely, you will need to pursue this on your own.

If you are determined to go to college, or worse yet, your parents are strongly advising (pressuring) you to do so, save yourself and your parents a small fortune in tuition, and find a technical college with an IT program, and start your first two years there, then transfer to a 4 year college.  Look for a technical school that provides opportunities to earn recognized industry certifications from Microsoft (PCs and servers), Cisco (networking), or CompTIA (The CompTIA A+, Network+, and Security+ certificates).  Stay away from unknown home-brewed certs offered at some colleges, as they have no value on your resume. Focus on hardware, operating system, and networking courses.  Two years may be enough to land that first job, but employers are still going to be looking for experience and certifications.

College and university degrees are insanely expensive ($50,000 or more), and even online colleges with their prerecorded lectures, online curriculum, and virtual instead of expensive physical classrooms, have not passed their economies of scale on to their enrolled students.  This is one of the many reasons I think colleges are a bad idea.

And make sure you find the right college program.  Computer Science is for programmers.  If you want to get into networking or cybersecurity, look for programs that teach those skills.  Again, these will be easier to find in a technical college.

Let’s say you get certified in high school or at a technical college, and then land an IT job with a corporate employer.  There is a great possibility that they provide education benefits, which means you can get your employer to pay for your Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, saving yourself and your parents from the burden of college loan debt.

Now you have a good paying job, are student loan free, and have a plan for getting someone else to pay for college.. Tune in Friday for my specific plan for getting the experience, certifications, and degrees you need to prosper in an information technology, networking, or cybersecurity career.

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About the Author:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at http://wyzguyscybersecurity.com


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