My career, let you show me it
June 14, 2012 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Graduating with an IT degree at 31 - how to be attractive to employers, please?

My career has gone something like this:

I lucked into a lowly admin position five years ago in an insurance office. Promoted to claims handler, office supervisor and now regional supervisor. I have a lot of MI, WIP management, stat analysis and office-running experience. I hate this job and want to leave.

When I was an admin, I completed the first year of a BSc in IT at night (very generalised degree, covers programming, networking, databases, web design). I failed year two, as I had been promoted to claims handler and the country's regulator decreed that anybody in an 'insurance advisory capacity' had to take exams to get to chartered status. So, working full-time + work exams + IT degree = impossible for a human.

Now, at year five with this company, I am two exams away from chartered status. Again, no longer want to work in insurance, want to go back to college and complete my degree. By doing year 2 and 3 I'll have an ordinary degree, a fourth year will give me an honours. There are opportunities during the degree to get either work experience and/or IT qualifications.

The real problem is, I'm only doing this degree because a) I'm sick of the job I have, b) in Ireland a mature student has access to decent grants plus I have a year's wage saved up, and c) IT is something I'm capable of doing and I don't mind it. My real passion is writing and I've been published/short-listed for awards, and it's something I'll always be doing for the rest of my life, regardless of any success or my 'real life' career. But I know I *need* a real life career; writing will not pay the bills.

Anyway, this means I don't have a particular area of IT I care about. I like the make-and-do aspect of programming and love understanding code. I like getting my hands dirty when it comes to networking/hardware. I don't like entity relationship database stuff. I don't mind CSS/Javascript stuff.

So, I'll be a female, 31, with a BSc in IT. I am hugely concerned with being utterly unemployable. What qualifications should I get that more or less guarantee employment, or at least look enticing on a CV?

Based on my circumstances...:
1) During the degree, should I focus on work experience, qualifications or a mix?
2) Based on the above, is there any particular area of IT I should focus on when it comes to being slightly older?
3) Honours degree or not?
4) Any particular qualifications that are essential? (This is a huge concern of mine, not having any IT letters after my name)

(Family plans do not figure into my career at all. Not interested in getting hitched/kids. I also own a house and car and zero debt, fyi)
posted by Chorus to Work & Money (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think you are jumping the gun here. You are burned out in your current job. You know you can "do" IT, but it's hardly a passion. But you have managed to give yourself this wonderful opportunity to spend two or three more years at University. You don't need to have all the answers for what you will do in year four. Part of University is to help answer those questions. Part of University is to provide you with opportunities that will let you learn about what you are and what you enjoy and what you're good at. Don't lock yourself into a rigid path now -- who knows who you will be, and what the industry will be like, when you get out?

In answer to some of your specific questions and concerns:
  • It's unlikely you'll be utterly unemployable, but there's nothing that will more or less guarantee employment. Work on the stuff you enjoy.
  • Age makes no difference when it comes to software. However, since you have management and leadership experience, you might want to look into IT Management.
  • Honors? Why not? If you can afford the third year, and you're enjoying it, go for it. Do you have to decide in advance?
  • There are no courses or subjects which are "must haves".
Again, this is a great opportunity you're giving yourself. Please use it to broaden yourself and learn about yourself and to expose yourself to all sorts of interesting things. If you regard it as a two-to-three year preparation period for another job you don't really like, you'll be missing out.
posted by ubiquity at 12:53 PM on June 14, 2012

You need a story.

Most of what you need for a good story is already there in fact: you needed a job to support yourself, you got the job in the insurance office, you were promoted.

Don't say you hated the job. At this point you need to insert a detail about how your "passion" for IT was born. This can be something as simple as "I was always interested in computer science" or there can be some connection between the insurance job and your fascination with IT.

The length of time it took to get your degree you can explain away by referring to how "demanding" the insurance company job was/is. (You can include some details about how much your office depended on you and how you pride yourself on excellence

I don't think you are best advised to tell anyone in a job interview that your "real passion is writing." You can say something like, "I also enjoy writing in my spare time, and I find that this hobby has helped me in my IT work through X, Y and Z." What you said about the "make-and-do" of programming is a good example, just so long as you can relate it to the writing.

The story will help you get your first IT job, which probably won't be a great fit, but it will establish you in the field and provide contacts for further employment opportunities. I'm not from Ireland and I don't work in the IT field, but I think it's pretty universal that what employers are looking for is current employment in a roughly comparable sort of job and a generally good attitude (thus no mentions of "hating" anything).
posted by La Cieca at 1:00 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

The work experience is more important than the other considerations, especially for figuring out what you really want to do. "IT" is not a nebulous thing and there will be some jobs, e.g., going straight to management, that might bore you as much as your current field.

I suggest finding a technology that people are excited about - look at tech news sites for who's hiring and what technology they use. Get involved with open source communities - most communities are short on people who can communicate well in writing and you'll stand out well in such communities. Start fixing bugs and answering support requests, look for stuff that needs to be done but no one is doing yet.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:16 PM on June 14, 2012

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