Experience, Certifications, or Degrees – What Matters Most? Part 3

We live in a society that places an unwarranted importance on college education. If you are in a STEM education track, a college degree may be worthwhile.  If you are in Business Administration, probably less so.  The world is awash in business administration and MBA candidates who can’t find jobs in their field, and are working in sales, retail, and food service jobs instead.  If you are looking to Liberal Arts or Fine Arts degrees, save your money.

There are very good high paying jobs in the building trades and other technical school tracks that pay better than six figures after a few years of experience, such as plumbing, electrical, carpentry, cabinetry.  Tech schools tend to have lower tuition, and students are done with their education in two years or sometimes less.  Information technology is one of those technical trades.

Here is my plan to get you hired in your first information technology job, and start a rewarding and well-paying job with a great future.  If you are a student in middle school or high school and have an interest in IT, you might want to share my articles with your parents.

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

Getting experience.  This is always the toughest part of the process, so we will start here.  You can expect to be a little creative here, and potentially uncompensated, but this will qualify as experience, and can be gained in high school, technical school, or college.

  • LinkedIn profile – Create a professional profile on LinkedIn, and keep it updated as you gain experience, education, and certifications.
  • DIY – Get a computer or maybe two.  Or three.  And a network switch.  It’s better if they are not new, and best if they are free.  Start asking around and let people know that you are looking for older computers to work on and learn from.  Many businesses have closets full of old computers that they are hoping to recycle some day.  Just ask.  Set up a Windows system, and a Linux system.  Get lots of books to read about your new computers.  Try stuff out.  Reinstall the operating system a few times.  Learn where the configuration changes can be made in each system. Set up a network.  These systems will come in handy later on when we get to certifications.
  • Friends and family – Put the word out that you will help people with their computer problems.  Most of the solutions you need to fix these problems can be found online with a little Google searching.  This is a great way to learn and get useful experience.
  • Volunteer – Find some local non-profit organizations that you can volunteer to help support their computer operations.
  • Internship – Look for internship opportunities in bigger IT departments in large corporations in your community.  Yep, you will have to work the phone for this one.  Or maybe you can do some LinkedIn searching (remember your LinkedIn profile?) to find contact information for IT managers at your target companies.  Contact them through your LinkedIn profile or by email expressing your interest in an internship position.  Keep trying.  Sometimes internships are unpaid, or you may be able to create an internship by suggesting that an unpaid internship would be acceptable.  Also look for internships at the smaller and medium sized IT support businesses in your community.  If you can get on with one of these companies, you will get exposed to a lot of different experience more quickly.
  • Self-employment – I really got my start in IT after getting laid off from a high paying job as a sales engineer for a tech company.  You can get experience fixing other people’s computers, and get paid in the process.  In the beginning I was only charging $25 an hour, but in the beginning it took a lot longer for me to fix a problem than it does now. (Experience)  Self-employment is excellent experience.

Earning Certifications.  This is easier to get than experience, but will require commitment to a goal, focus, and lots of studying.  Check with local Workforce Development Programs to see if there is a way for you to get classroom training for free.  Google for CompTIA’s IT-Ready Program for an example.  Another good way to get free and low cost training is online.  Check out Professor Messer’s great classes on CompTIA‘s A+, Network+ and Security+ certifications.  Check out Cybrary, Simpliv, Udemy, and Lynda.com.  YouTube is a trove of little tutorials on a limitless number of IT problems, solutions, and processes.  Certifications to start your career include:

  • CompTIA A+ – This is a two part certification, requiring two examinations with passing scores .  This is a non-proprietary exam, meaning it is not focused exclusively on the technology of just one company, like a Microsoft or Cisco certification would be.  It is considered to be foundational in an IT career, and is best earned early.  This certification covers hardware, operating systems (Windows, Linux, and Apple), networking, security, and IT operations and troubleshooting.  Buy a book, take Professor Messer’s online course (free), get a practice exam, and then take the two exams.
  • CompTIA Network+ – This certification expands on the computer networking skills you acquired in the A+.  Again, a strong understanding of computer networking is fundamental to success in an IT career.  Professor Messer has a great free online class for the Net+, too
  • CompTIA Security+ – Cybersecurity has never been more important to IT operations and society in general than it is today.  Professor Messer has this course available, too.  Earning this entry-level cybersecurity certification is a great was to learn  how to secure computers, networks, and humans from cyber attacks, and another important way to show an employer that you are serious about your IT career.

Earning college degrees.   Many companies have removed college degrees from their list of requirements for IT positions, or are asking for a “degree or equivalent work experience.”  Degrees are not required for all IT jobs.  But if you are intent on pursuing your degree in order to advance into a management role such as COO, CTO, CIO, or CISO, then my recommendation is get your IT job first, and let your employer pay for your college education.  Stay away from Computer Science unless you aspire to software programming.  Many colleges have degrees in other IT specializations that may be more interesting than Computer Sci.  There are a lot of schools offering BS and MS degrees in Cybersecurity, and if you are drawn that way, as I am, this might be a worthy pursuit.

Hopefully, you have found this article as you are exploring educational and career options for yourself or your middle school or high school IT prodigy.  I hope you found it useful, and an alternative to the usual pro-college drivel that everybody seems to be offering.  Good luck in your career.  If you want some specific advice for your situation, you can contact me through the contact page on this website.

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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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