What skills are most in demand these days in Tech?
January 15, 2007 8:14 AM   Subscribe

What sort of technical degree or certificate is most likely to get me a solid interesting job in technology.

Basically I have come to the revelation (with the help of other people's questions on AskMeFi), that my undergraduate Liberal Arts degree, while certainly extremely valuable to me is not enough to land me a satisfactory job. So now I have been considering spending another large sum of money to get a masters degree in my fairly useless if wonderful field (East Asian history), or I can get a technical degree from a place like Strayer or what have you that is geared towards a specific job and is likely to cost a great deal less, both time wise and financially.

Basically I am sick of temping, and doing administrative work, and I have always been pretty passionate about technology, but I am not interested in becoming a programmer, and I dont think I have the talent or patience for that career anyways. I am interested in working with computers, and making them run smoothly, I am technically very competent with crafts type skills, and I generally the tech support person in my department when people dont want to go to IT.

My question is this, is a degree from a place like Strayer valuable in the eyes of potential employers? For people that have gone to a place like that, how is their job placement service? What specific set of skills should I be looking to acquire to make me the most attractive to potential employers?

Sorry for the muddled nature of this question, I will be watching the thread to clarify in any way I can.
posted by BobbyDigital to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I will answer your question with a "case study" as we like to call them.

Me: Undergrad in computer engineering from prestigious engineering school.

Friend: degree in English, taught English in Japan, came back went to the now-semi-defunct ITI, which I assume is like Strayer, though Strayner looks better.

Me: started as a developer, worked my way into marketing and eventually Product Management (which is a decent job).

Him: started as a sales engineer (i.e. demo monkey), worked his way up the food chain in pre-sales, eventually was pulled into Product Management.

Me: eventually got laid off from the company we worked at together.

Him: still works there, the little shit (kidding, we're still friends).

So, yes, it is possible to get a decent job with a degree from one of those places, but expect to work your way up from a junior position and no degree will take the place of being smart and ambitious. It will get you through the door and help you know what the acronyms mean.
posted by GuyZero at 8:25 AM on January 15, 2007

Plenty of IT support folks don't have degrees in related technology. Our best programmer (at my 1100 person science and engineering company) as a degree in music and is a saxaphone player.

Perhaps you can concentrate on getting OJT experience, coupled with suitable external certifications/training, and when/if you run across something that makes you passionate, think about a Master's in that, or another bachelor's.

The significance of a degree is not so much in its content, IMO, though that's somewhat important. It is a demonstration that you can make a log term plan and successfully execute it. You passed that test with your history degree.

if you add to it with specific skills, and slowly develop expertise in fields you idenitify as interesting, and go out and compete for those jobs you see that interest you, your income will follow.
posted by FauxScot at 8:29 AM on January 15, 2007

AFAICT, job interestingness is orthogonal to owning degrees or certificates.

Do you find some open source project interesting? Contribute to it -- everyone needs more eyes than just programmers. Build a reputation, and when a interviewer asks you what makes you qualified to work for them, you can say "If you use Foo, then you're already benefiting from my work. Here's how..."
posted by cmiller at 8:30 AM on January 15, 2007

As others have said, a degree won't get you a job. You may find it necessary to go to a formal program to gain required job skills, but the vast majority of tech jobs require the right person, not the right degree.

The only sector that seems to care about degrees is the financial sector - they specifically want people who have degrees in the hard sciences. Elsewhere, selling yourself matters far more than the pieces of paper you can produce.

That having been said, getting a Microsoft or Cisco cert may have some value. Since Microsoft is promoting Vista now, there may be demand for IT people who have been trained on it. Cisco is often also a good bet, but the telecom sector isn't particularly hot right now.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:43 AM on January 15, 2007

Thanks for the suggestions so far. I am mainly interested in getting some nice padding to put on my resume that says, he has useful skills too. Also I would want to go to one of these programs (I say Strayer, because they have a campus near my home, not out of preference) because, while I do feel pretty competent in computers, and technology in general I want to be a genuinely well qualified applicant, and I would like to become as strong skills wise as is possible.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:48 AM on January 15, 2007

Does writing interest you? Technical writers are still in demand for a variety of fields (not just IT). If you have a natural curiosity on how things work, play well with others (engineers of any kind), and enjoy playing Scrabble, then perhaps a Master's Degree in Techincal Communication, OR... just paying your dues at some non-profit for a year or three writing manuals to build up your resume. Just a thought.
posted by bytemover at 9:10 AM on January 15, 2007

me = B.A. in English, graduated 1998, when IT/Tech was THE place to get a job. I grabbed an entry level Tech Writer job, worked my way (diagonally) into implementation (which actually requires a bit of technical knowledge of the software, db, etc). Although a CompSci education would not have prepared me any more for what I am doing, when I tell former college buddies what I am doing (they all became teachers, yow), they seem perplexed.

Seeing the experiences of those around me, those who went to ITT technical Institute (Western version of Strayer I am guessing) did not fair any better than those who had a solid comp sci background. It depends on the individual, their ethic and drive. The best programmer at my current company majored in mathematics. He's a perfectionist and wont check in code that is sloppy or untested. The worst ones, I don't know where they were educated, but they do the bare minimum to get by, and turnout sloppy crappy work, and will likey get laid off the next go round.
posted by tdischino at 10:40 AM on January 15, 2007

My sole academic degree is in English and my career is in databases. My first career type job, just out of college, was technical writing for an IT contracting/consulting company. I made it clear from the interview stage forward that I was interested in pursuing more technical areas and angled for training and assignments that reflected that. 10+ years later, my career is firmly established, lots of professional options are open to me, and my communication skills are a huge asset.

My experience makes me think that you can change your career without investing in a new degree, and that the best way would be to take a less technical position at a company that will pay for technical training. Be aware, however, that many such companies will hand you the bill for your classes if you take them and then leave the company within a specified time. But then again, sometimes you can get the new company to foot that bill since it's a good deal for the new company because they only have to pay for the class(es), not the work time spent in them.
posted by NortonDC at 10:45 AM on January 15, 2007

I have no college degree whatsoever, but started out doing tech support for an ISP. I started doing internal projects with the little bit of UNIX I picked up over the years just for fun. When I was ready I made the move to system operator, and soon to system admin. I've been in the IT/MIS field professionally for 8 years now, and 6 of those have been as a system administrator.

For all but the largest employers, a college degree doesn't matter anywhere near as much as work experience and knowledge. Pick up as much as you can on the side, and use it, even if you have to set up a home network, in a way that demonstrates that you have the knowledge. Even hobbyist projects can be a talking point on interviews. Start out in a small shop that's more willing to take a chance on you, and try to move to a medium-sized shop (see more on why below...) as soon as you can.

From the description of your interests, it sounds like a system administrator job may be what you're looking for as well (I despise programming) and offers a stepping stone to a lot of other career paths.

SysAdmins can transition nicely into network administration, IT management, software development, storage management, network security, and a host of other positions. Typically in a medium-sized shop the developers, DBAs, etc. are all your customers. All you have to do at these places is expand your areas of service as you pick up more specific knowledge and gradually transition into your career of choice. Large shops tend to silo their employees into one job function and the flexibility to do this isn't as readily available, and for small shops the sysadmin tends to be the "one-stop-shop generalist go-to person" anyway.

Another advantage of starting with a small employer and moving to a medium-sized one is that at first you'll likely be working only with standard computers and simple networks. As you move to a medium-sized shop you'll start to pick up new skills like working with SANs, server-grade hardware, etc. They also give you more budget and tools to get the job done right.

One thing that undoubtedly helped me along without a degree was getting my CISSP, which has landed me at least two jobs in which I otherwise may not have had a chance.

I've sometimes wished I'd gone to college to round out a few of the things I'm most interested in other than computers, but from a purely economic and employment standpoint I'd be better off spending time and money to volunteer on open-source projects and take some additional certifications than to go back to school. For the "round-out" things, I don't need the piece of paper that comes with tuition, and there are lots of free resources out there on the web if all you want is the knowledge.
posted by tkolstee at 10:45 AM on January 15, 2007

My impression is that the certs offered by various vendors (MS, Sun, Cisco, etc) are pretty much tossed aside, since there's no way for a hiring manager to know what you had to do or study to earn the cert.

My BS in Computer Science has done well by me. 3 1/2 years out of college and I run a small team of programmers, and am compensated well for my efforts. My undergrad CS program gave me a nice, well-rounded education in computers, even if it was a bit math-heavy at times.

There are lots of people who get by without degrees. My impression is that you have to be one of the really really smart people to make this work. Also, you have to figure that while they may not have had to put in the 4 years to get a degree, they may have had to spend 4 years doing the scut-work of IT (think helpdesk, netadmin, perl scripts, etc.) before they found themselves in a job where they actually got to use their brains and have some fun.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:07 AM on January 16, 2007

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