You don’t have to wait for employment to learn and develop IT skills.
You’re trying to get into the IT field. Maybe it’s straight out of university or you’re going through a career transition like myself.
You’ve seen the “entry-level” job postings many times:
- “Must have 1–2 experience in an MSP environment.”
- “5+ years experience in an IT support role.”
- “CompTIA A+ certification preferred.”
Seeing these phrases can be demoralizing. I know, because I’m currently working on getting my first IT role and I see these phrases frequently. But recently, I’ve been making progress. Since the year has started, I’ve had four sets of interviews with four different companies.
Rejection after rejection after rejection after rejection.
Despite emotionally crushing rejection, this is a huge improvement from last year where I couldn’t even get an interview in the first place.
So what’s changed?
I did four things to help me gain experience in information technology without having had a job in this field.
They’re not just pieces of paper
People have mixed feelings about certifications. But I think they are absolutely important because they keep you up to date on current technologies.
Certifications also do a great job with keeping you up-to-date on concepts currently deployed in the IT world. For example, automation in the networking space is huge. I recently passed my Cisco Certified Network Associate(CCNA) exam and automation and programmability was a topic covered on the objectives.
There’s a group of people who don’t necessarily frown upon certifications, but they don’t view them as the hallmark of IT education — which is fair because they aren’t. But for newbies to the tech space, they’re a great start to introduce you to the important skills you must have to be marketable.
When I first started my career transition, I went ahead and started from the bottom. I studied for and achieved my CompTIA ITF+. Then I went on to achieve my CompTIA A+ certification. These two certifications brought me up to speed on all of the currently deployed IT concepts and technologies.
They also gave me a great springboard to launched into my CCNA studies.
Certifications are a great tool to get you into the IT field — especially if self-study is your method to obtain them. Self-study develops the discipline needed to be a life long learner in the IT field.
Being an autodidact is important for when you finally land your first IT role because you’re going to be expected to learn and deploy new technologies quickly. And in order to do this, you must have the ability to self-learn these technologies.
Maybe your employer will send you to a course to get up to speed on the new tech. But maybe they’re tightening their budget and opt-out of it.
A few weeks ago, I landed my first network administrator interview(I didn’t get the role) and the interviewer asked me some questions about Aruba technology.
I have never heard of Aruba. But I was easily able to learn Aruba because I’ve already developed the habit of self-studying. It turns out that the Aruba command line interface is almost identical to Ciscos IOS.
Just from that one interaction with a senior engineer, I was able to pick up a new skill simply by having developed strong self-study skills.
So don’t sleep on certifications. They have the capacity to mold you into a life-long and curious learner.
Don’t underestimate the power of hands-on learning
I use to hate labs in high school.
As an adult, labs are my bread and butter when it comes to building the necessary IT skills to land an interview.
As a matter of fact, I just learned how to install and configure active directory which I demonstrated on my YouTube channel.
You can absolutely build lab environments that facilitate your IT education. And you can do it for FREE(or mostly free).
Besides getting a basic laptop or desktop setup, learning tools like active directory is FREE. All you need to do is download virtual box and make one visit to Microsofts Evaluation center and you’re all set.
Knowing active directory is a must have skill when starting out in IT. On every interview I’ve been on I’ve been asked about my experience with active directory.
I thought I could skirt learning active directory but I finally gave in and got serious about it recently. Once I put that skill on my resume, combined with my recently earned CCNA, the phones and emails started flying in.
Studying for the CCNA? Packet tracer is free.
Packet tracer is a free network simulator that’s more than enough to learn 95% of the CCNA material. All you need is a Cisco account.
If you need to learn ticketing systems, Spiceworks has a free platform you can tap into. You can have your ticketing system up and running in a few minutes. All you need to provide is an email.
Ofcourse you won’t get to test the full range of features because you’re not in a production environment but it’s enough to get you familiar with the buttons.
Take the initiative. Be a self-starter and learn the necessary skills and technology by building a lab. You don’t have to buy everything all at once, start small and work your way up.
Be prepared to put on a show
I’ve been building my IT portfolio since Summer of 2021.
I think of building my IT portfolio as creating my own opportunities. Who knows where it will lead me? The internet is a great place for discovery.
There’s been many times my content has been discovered by startups, given me teaching opportunities and collaborative opportunities. Who’s to say that my IT portfolio won’t do the same? And who’s to say the same can’t happen for you?I implore you to get out of your shell.
Start creating content.
Now there’s two things that you’ll encounter that are complete falsehoods. Both of them come from your own mind.
- Insecurity about putting yourself out there in front of a camera or behind a mic.
- Imposter syndrome.
We’re all insecure to some extent. For me, it use to be hearing the sound of my own voice when I first started producing content. Eventually, I got over myself.
No one cares. Trust me. You’ll find that out immediately when you start putting content out.
You won’t get any views. You won’t get any reads. You’ll start feeling like an amateur, which you are, but that gives you a lot of time to develop into a professional.
Look at your favorite content creators first video, blog post or listen to their first podcast.
It was garbage.
Now, they create quality content and entertain or educate many people.
Imposter is a whole other struggle. You’ll gain the credentials and the experience but still feel like you don’t have the authority to speak on the subject. Sometimes I feel the same — even though I have two college degrees and three IT certifications.
It doesn’t matter. Push through anyway.
Ultimately, the purpose of your content should be to demonstrate and practice in-demand IT skills. And once you build up a size-able portfolio, add it to your resume.
A huge store of value is a live video of you working through a lab, making mistakes and troubleshooting. That will show clients and prospective employers that you’re level-headed and logical. It will show them that you have the passion to work through problems without getting frustrated.
The idea is to show, not only tell on your resume and in interviews.
Content brings your abilities to life.
Be a model citizen
I’m currently considering volunteering my networking skills at local churches and organizations for free.
The idea is to put my skills to work in real time, in the real world.
Volunteering is a viable option if a company doesn’t want to hire you without experience. Gaining experience through volunteering allows for you to apply what skills you already have and gain new skills in the process.
You can also volunteer your skills to friends and family, although not as powerful as volunteering at an organization.
These days, especially in the current economy, we have to get creative.
Even despite the economy being the way it is, using the methods outlined in this piece puts you ahead people who only want to do the bare minimum.
Set yourself apart from the rest and put the work in.
You’ll be rewarded along the way.