Looking to improve IT career chances
February 14, 2016 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Currently looking to find ways to break into IT careers but lack typical routes due to a series of unfortunate events. The worst part is I'm already 24 and completely broke.

In the beginning I planned to get certain IT certifications but I lacked the money to afford them like CompTia A+, N+, and etc. After looking around I started practicing coding with FreeCodeCamp although I do like the site I feel like it's very scattered esp how I don't feel like any of my projects look well complete. I have a github account but not sure how to contribute to open source projects. I've been to related sites like Codecademy but I feel like I'm missing the fundamentals.

My current college has a Computer Info Systems program but I'd need to take a out a enormous amount of student debt to complete it. Also, my local CC has associate degree version but same problem as I'd need to work full-time and attend classes too. Let's just ignore code bootcamps because money.

Meantime my job search for the past year has a return rate of 10% for variations of office assistant, help desk, and support desk jobs. However this is considerably higher than using my college's job board vs job search engines which is closer to 1%. Please don't suggest walking around NYC for Help Wanted because I've done that and it's just horrible.

Also, I have looked into The Recurse Center but I lack the basics and wouldn't qualify for it yet.

Any suggestions to help start my career in Front End Development and/or IT work before I turn 30 would be great.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Work & Money (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've been basically you twice, on two job searches in this field.

Just keep applying for help desk jobs. Especially REALLY basic ones like Nintendo help desk, etc, where you're just answering the phone customers and answering basic questions. One of the biggest things that held me back getting a slightly better job like that was lack of ticketing experience(which I eventually fudged up as a description from silly way a previous job handled that)

I'm a few years older than you and was feeling similarly bleak, with no certs and just some experience, and landed a pretty decent help desk job.

During this second depressing search I found that most places wanted certs, specifically those ones you mentioned. Even though most people in the same role or the one above it know they're boilerplate crap(especially a+) HR and the non technical people still want to see it.

My main project now is getting a stack of certs so that next time I'm looking I look better. But not having them didn't stop me, even from getting my first help desk sort of job.

I do think that writing a good cover letter and a skills-based resume that sells your self training and what you already know would land you a basic L1 helpdesk job, especially at BigFacelessCorp that just wants butts in seats to answer phones and make tickets and doesn't set all that strict of requirements. Multiple friends and colleagues landed their first job that way. None of them had college degrees or certs at the time.

Net+ and ccna are the certs I would call "worth paying for" btw. People still want to see a+ but it's stupid(although easy), and everyone I know agree Linux+ is a stupid waste of money. Look in to one of the big security ones too. My new job, and several I saw out there on the hunt were interested in those.
posted by emptythought at 2:52 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

keep moving forward. i advise you to take what work you can and continue getting better/smarter: self-study, college degree, whatev. you can't really advance without a roof, food, and broadband.

the more you are in the working world, the more you see how tech is leveraged and what sorts of tasks beg for solutions. Even point-of-sale systems in retail offer lessons about task-flow and UX. then build these (or simple approaches to them). or find an OSS project that does it, and then contribute.

The idea is - get good at solving real problems.

while certs and bootcamps can be a springboard, they're very expensive and leave gaps. my two cents.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:30 PM on February 14, 2016

I'm going to approach this from a systems administrator role, even in helpdesk - personally I suggest avoiding desktop compute support as it's a very commoditized space. It can lead you to a more comprehensive career but you have to do a lot of time, likely in an organization that is sizeable such that they have multiple systems areas and are growing.

You need to have two angles - you need to acquire a knowledge of existing and legacy technologies. I'm going to take systems administration as a start. Assuming Linmux/Unix You'll need to get comfortable with how basic linux systems function, what tools are used on a system, how to patch, modify and edit the systems. That's basic general landscape familiarity.

The second angle is looking forward, what does the industry need for the next 5 or so years and bridging to a place where we're (an indistry and society) more and more dependent on servers, services, and apps. The basic themes I'd look for are - configuration management, automation, "cloud" computing. This is where we're headed to - I'm a pretty firm believer that if you're not doing more configuration management and some automation than not within 5 years you are in deep trouble.

So where to start:
Basic linux systems administration, or basic Windows systems administration - you need to be familiar with RHEL/CentOS (it's the majority of the linux server market), Vsphere (incumbent on prem virtualization).

Config Management:
Puppet, Chef, or ansible, DSC

AWS or Azure (you could say GCE, but they are 3rd tier at this point)
Vsphere (the incumbent on prem virtualization tech)
Openstack (this is a maybe, I've not seen it REALLY take off yet)

Extra Credit (seriously, most of the technologies below are years away from broad deployment):
Containers (RKT, Docker)
Windows Nano

There is a certain argument for adding Pivotal/ServiceNow/etc to this list, but I've not worked with these technologies/platforms enough to be able to speak about them in detail.

This seems like a lot, it is - 5-8 years ago I would have told someone like you to latch on and absorb whatever they could about Vmware and Vsphere. Things have shifted a bit, you can absolutely find work specializing in something like Vsphere, AWS, Azure, Rhel or Windows Server.

I trend way more to aiming at being a T shaped person - broad across a range of technologies, very deep in one. For me I was a technology generalist who specialized in network and security.
posted by iamabot at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Just so you know, COBOL (the language that is supposedly dead) is still heavily in use in some companies. I know of one company that hired 12 trainees with almost no computer background to teach them the language and associated technologies to replace employees that have retired, for knowledge transfer from existing employees or just to change the existing systems to meet new regulatory or other requirements.

Odds that you would stumble into one of those opportunities might be very slim, but I just thought you should keep the possibility in mind.
posted by forthright at 5:39 PM on February 14, 2016

I attended (and now work for, because it is an awesome place) the Recurse Center so I'm almost certainly biased, but they're basically how I got a "real" tech job as a self-taught front-end dev. You don't need to be a super advanced programmer to attend! If you learn enough programming on your own to do one of these examples that's likely enough. And even if RC doesn't make sense for you, building small projects like those are an effective way to get better at programming in general. As far as online resources, Eloquent JavaScript is my favorite introductory programming book, and it is FE focused.

Other programs that don't seem to be accepting applications right now but that could be also worth keeping an eye on are Access Code and the NYC Web Development Fellowship.

IT/helpdesk/sysadmin jobs can require a pretty different skillset from being a developer, so it may make sense to focus on one or the other. Feel free to message me if you want to chat more about RC or teaching yourself FE dev.
posted by firefleet at 6:59 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

A lot depends on what you want to do. If you want to do front end development, the biggest thing is to learn and do front end development. There are a lot of online coding classes you can do for free, and others (like Lynda.com) that you can pay a little bit to take. The community college courses really seem like a good idea if you can swing them. They'll be more structured and require more discipline than online courses do.

Once you've started to learn some things, put them to use. Give yourself some projects and do them. Once you have a little confidence, maybe ask around at some small businesses you or your friends know to see if you can develop a FREE new or revised website for them. Make no promises, and at this point, don't mess with anything where people buy things through the site. Look for information-only web sites, maybe for mom and pop restaurants that don't currently have a site.

To summarize - develop knowledge, some experience and confidence, and then see if you can land a job.

The conversation is completely different if, for example, you want to do IT infrastructure work.
posted by cnc at 7:09 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you tried going through recruiters? They are wizards at turning up jobs even in entry level like help desk. You pay them nothing and they find the jobs that are open and may not even be advertised. I got two of my best jobs thru recruiters. Many of them have contracts with the big companies who are hiring and some will only go thru recruiters for candidates. My current recruiter is Kforce and they are nationwide. I am in telecom and they have contracts with all the telecom companies in my city.
You have nothing to lose. They will negotiate salary which some do not like but if you are broke and need a job that may not be a deal breaker. Also if you are contract you get no benefits but the pay is higher. I ended up with a 30% pay raise after 18 years working with Big Teleco Company. And may are temp to perm if you start out as contract.
posted by shaarog at 7:44 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

2nd iamabot. Also firefleet is correct that front end work is pretty different than help desk work so you'd be best served focusing on one.

>The worst part is I'm already 24

This is silly. You have ~25 years before you're "old" in IT. I know plenty of 30 year old help desk people.
posted by anti social order at 9:28 AM on February 15, 2016

As a suggestion of what to do next, go to local meetings and network, and by "network" I mean "make friends but with one eye on job opportunities" not "pretend to befriend people while actually working out what they can do for you". Linux user groups and similarly IT related activities, make friends, see who's got something you could do.

As a minor addition to what people has said, with all due respect, 24 is nothing. Some outliers are very successful very early, but a lot of people build a career slowly but surely, and you might have good life experience that will be more useful than you expect.

While I realise my own IT career is a single example and therefore statistically insignificant... I'm in my mid-forties on a good salary in a relatively specialist technical area and am constantly sought after by recruiters... my IT career started at 25 after I graduated with an incredibly general arts degree; while I like to think I'm pretty smart I would think I'm about average for a MeFite, so this is certainly something you're capable of.
posted by DancingYear at 8:14 AM on February 17, 2016

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