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April 23, 2008 11:33 AM   Subscribe

What skills should I work on to transition to an IT role?

I have no formal training to work with computers. I'm comfortable troubleshooting any PC issue I encounter at home (5 PCs and an X-Box 360 on my little network). I have worked for 4 years on 2 different HelpDesks.
Job 1 was 2 years at a major DSL provider.
Job 2 (also 2 years) is a HelpDesks for PC/Equipment/software, phone work only. (I don't repair hardware, however I do diagnose it.)

I'm proficient with VBScript and can do some HTML, (no JavaScript, css, etc.) I regularly use virtual machines, remote access, and use scripts to accomplish tasks both at work and at home. I've built 2 of the PCs at home and done a few for friends/family. By far my biggest strength is problem solving.

Before I can successfully get a good IT job I'll need more training. Due to my drive/work time most formal education will have to wait. In the mean time, what skills should I work on? Any tips on learning the skills? (In other words, if you tell me to learn HTML you might point me to W3Schools) Do you have any other advise for someone like me looking to transition?
posted by TheDukeofLancaster to Technology (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Different IT jobs require different skill sets, but if you are thinking of doing some sort of programming work, I'd highly recommend that you learn Structured Query Language (SQL). Many business applications involve some sort of interaction with a relational database. The actual programming language may change from project to project, but vanilla SQL is still THE language of choice for interacting with relational databases. In my nearly ten years of business application development, I don't think I've EVER worked on a project that didn't involve SQL to some degree.

Here's a SQL tutorial.
posted by sherlockt at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

What exactly are you looking to get into? Systems administration?
posted by meta_eli at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: In my line of work (IT operations) Security and Server/storage (specifically SAN technologies and Linux) are most coveted.

You can get SAN and Linux training at most community colleges... I know they have evening classes on Server/Storage at CCSF (San Francisco) and Im sure they have at most others. There is no substitute for experience, though I dont know how you will get that without any experience...
posted by subaruwrx at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2008

Response by poster: Ha, two proof reads and I missed that. Heck I suppose if anyone has a recipe for an IT dinner roll would be good too, but yeah, role.
posted by TheDukeofLancaster at 11:57 AM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Your first step is deciding which area(s) of IT really interest you. You probably know that there are no jobs in 'IT' as such. There are jobs in network admin, in programming, in web development, in a thousand other fields. But virtually all of them require some in-depth knowledge of a specific subject.

I started in much the same way you did (well, it was the early 90s and I was a drop-out from teaching, but it doesn't matter). I'd always had an interest in programming, so I spent every moment of spare time learning Visual Basic. I got to be pretty good at that and after about a year I felt confident enough to go for a job with a small educational software company. I got the job, started on a low salary, but quickly proved my worth and within a year or two was getting paid reasonably well to do something I enjoyed.

If my own experience is anything to go by, take a look at your own strengths and weaknesses, decide what area of IT you enjoy most, and devote yourself to getting really good at it. Whether you choose to take a course, to teach yourself through books, or just to 'learn by doing' doesn't really matter.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:59 AM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: First of all, and I say this with no intended ill will to you or anyone else, I will tell you that PC and network support-types are quickly becoming a dime a dozen, and you're unlikely going to get anywhere in that arena. I would concentrate on learning a language, and getting certified in it. Say, C# or VB.NET with a Microsoft certification. It's not going to be easy, but if you don't have a degree (or even a relevant technology degree), it's probably your best chance to break into the industry. HTML and VBScript are mostly just considered "stuff" on par with knowing Microsoft Excel or Word. It's expected, not really something you can point to as a skill you can leverage to get an IT job.
posted by fusinski at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2008

(Another option, as pointed out above, would be to concentrate on getting certified in something security-related if you are more interested in an administrative role.)
posted by fusinski at 12:03 PM on April 23, 2008

Response by poster:
sherlockt SQL is the one thing I've wanted to learn but devoted zero time to. Thanks!

meta_eli Right now, I'd just like to get my foot in the door. Our IT has a guy that is a "Micro Computer Specialist" who has a job I'd like, although programing is something I've found very fun.

le morte de bea arthur
Thanks for the advice.

fusinski I completely realize that, which is why I'd like to work on moving up. Even the HTML and VBScript were included simply to show where I'm at. I'm not thinking those will be any big asset, they are just, there. I appreciate the tips, I'm very interested in programing so the tip on getting a cert for a language is a good tip.
posted by TheDukeofLancaster at 12:28 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Another very hot area is virtualization, which I am fascinated with. This isn't just installing VM Ware and loading up XP for users. This is running high-demand servers an appliances virtually. It's also learning how to take physical workstations and convert them to virtual. Also area is actually create fall back rountines so that if something goes down, the business doesn't skip a beat.

A fairly large area to, which you may find interesting and I can tell you more about offline, is SMB consulting which would involve setting up and working with small businesses and their servers. Lots of interesting stuff there.
posted by tcv at 1:34 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Here's my suggestion if you want to avoid going the academic route:

Networking guys are a dime a dozen. Some would say programmers are also a dime a dozen. I suggest learning a language and learning it well. You'll want to learn a language that works both for applications, and for web applications (e.g. Java, C#) if you're goal is more about getting a job than about writing the next big thing.

From there, you'll want to decide if you lean more towards the Microsoft way of doing business, or the more cross platform way of doing business. They both have advantages and disadvantages, but that should help you decide on whether you want to do Java or whether you want to do C#. The good news is you can change your mind later, but it's easier to focus on one platform to begin with.

So now you want to go about learning the language. Books can be helpful, the web is full of resources, you can mix it up with an Intro to Programming course at any college/university, most are done online now from home. That's all great, it will make you more comfortable in what you do. You'll have to learn SQL too, it's a must... there isn't much that doesn't talk to a database these days.

The next key thing is being able to distinguish yourself from others in your field. Certifications don't mean much, but if you don't have any academic or work experience then can help get your foot in the door, but they won't really distinguish you from those competing for the same position. If you want to impress me as an up and comer who just needs a real position to shine, then you should also have learned a scripting language, and no, I don't mean VBScript, I mean Bash, Perl, Ruby, Python or similar. Smart people have scripts doing work for them. You should also learn regular expressions, a way of parsing strings. If you don't know regular expressions, then you'll do work for me inefficiently, and if you really know regular expressions, you'll be as important as Google to me.

The thing that will impress me the most is if you have code you can call your own. You've written scripts to simplify your workflow, you've written a web app, you've maintained something. It can be something you drew from tutorials, but there's nothing I love more than seeing someone's code and talking about it with them, it opens up a lot of insight. I suggest you look at other people's code whenever you can, and ask yourself (or them) why it's written the way it is.

Best of luck!
posted by furtive at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Networking guys are a dime a dozen, true...but ones that can really troubleshoot are rare. Formal education can't teach you that. I just had to hire a 22 year old for a position similar to what you're talking about (microcomputer specialist), and this is only his 2nd IT position - but he has good client relation skills and thinks on his feet. I can teach him the rest - and I'll bet you're the same way. there anywhere you could volunteer to assist with their network? We deal with a couple of organizations, like Junior Achievement, for example - and they always need help. It's even more of a challenge with that sort of client, since stuff is often hodgepodge, and they've had all kinds of people coming through in either a user or support role.
posted by Liosliath at 2:16 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Learn a language (if you're comfortable staying in the Windows world, C# or VB.NET, Java for anywhere else).

Learn a scripting language too (Python is a good middle ground -- stay away from Perl as a newbie, and I speak as a long-experienced Perl coder).

See if you can get some coding experience on an open-source project. That will help fill out your experience and your resume at a very low cost to you. Just be prepared for flames. Many people who code have a "my way or the highway" attitude. Be humble and ask for guidance, and you'll receive it since most coders love to show *why* their way is right (note: it may not be).

Certifications can be helpful, but experience is what counts most. Thankfully that's easier to come by now than it used to be.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 8:51 PM on April 23, 2008

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