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Top 7 Tips For IT Beginners (HINT: None Of It Is Technical)

Getting Started in IT The IT community is very small in San Diego. Go to any user group and guaranteed you’re connected to someone through a colleague. Many IT beginners show up looking to interact with other techies and engineers, hungry for information and knowledge.

Some ask for tips on getting their foot into network engineering, security, etc. My tips aren’t very technical at all but they will get you far. Below are my top 7 tips for IT beginners.

Build Confidence

Build Confidence and Show It

Build confidence. Image from Wall-E.

Over the course of my IT career I have learned that being soft spoken doesn’t give you much of an advantage. You may come across as not knowing what the solution is, scared, not friendly, or just shy. Either way, people tend to go around you.

When I first started I was afraid to walk up to people to discuss their IT challenges. I spoke very softly. I failed to portray any sense of confidence in what I was doing. Clients can quickly lose trust in your decisions.

Overcome any fears of being shy. Speak up a little bit louder so you are heard. Sound confident when communicating. Be prepared to answer the “Why?” questions. This involves understanding the technology you are troubleshooting or explaining. Knowing as much as possible helps boost your confidence. My confidence has been deflated a couple of times because I simply did not have enough information to back my responses.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” There is a lot involved with technology and no one knows it all. I wouldn’t leaving it hanging at “I don’t know” but you should follow that sentence with something along the lines of “I will find out and get back to you tomorrow, is that okay?”

Listen, Listen, Listen

Listen. Pay attention.

Listen to clients and peers. Image from Her.

The single most important action when communicating with a client or end user is to always listen. Don’t interrupt them when they are describing their issue.

I am guilty of this. I thought I knew the exact solution to a problem someone was having but I didn’t let them finish talking. I abruptly cut them off and gave them my response. It was followed up with something like “No that’s not it, let me finish..”. Made me look like a fool.

Get the full details before coming to a conclusion. Look at them in the eyes when they are talking to you and acknowledge them. Summarize what they said back to them. For example:

Let me see if I understand your situation and correct me if I am wrong. You turned on your computer this morning and an FBI message popped up on the monitor notifying you that you had broken several laws and they request a $50,000 fee to decrypt your computer?

This is especially important when communicating over the phone. Listen carefully and make sure you understood correctly.

Get Edumacated

Learn. Always. Never Stop.

Get educated. Learn. Image from Monsters University.

Being in IT you’ll find yourself collecting a lot of books. Technology changes so fast that it’s already time to learn the next new shiny thing that fixes everyones problems. Here’s a little secret, you’ll be constantly learning for the rest of your IT career. Does that scare you? I hope not. You should be stoked about learning new things and getting into the nitty gritty details of how technology works.

My preferred route for education is self-study. Buy lots of books. Read through them all. Practice what you learn (but not in production). But what should you read? Read anything that you’re interested in. There isn’t a hard path here. I can recommend a path for you but now I’m telling you how to run your career.

Is a degree required? Some positions want you to get a degree, some don’t require it. If you want to have a career in IT management you will most likely need at least a bachelor’s degree or an MBA.

While you’re learning you should blog about it. Teach what you’ve learned to others. It doesn’t matter if no one reads your blog. The real lesson here is can you communicate what you’ve learned into words and paragraphs. Can you explain a topic to others. That’s a skill worth having. That’s leadership quality.

Take classes. There are many out there, including computer based training. Check out CBT Nuggets – they are awesome. Get your company to send you to IT training. If you’re afraid to ask them to pay for training worth thousands of dollars, don’t worry. Learn to show them the benefits of sending you to training.

Learn Programming

Learn how to program. Start with Python.

Learn programming. Now. Image from The Matrix.

It’s going to be critical. You don’t have to be a programmer that builds software, but I’ll give you props if you can! The point I am making – you can’t avoid it. Microsoft is heavily invested in PowerShell. You can script and automate a lot of Windows administration. That leads to cost savings for your employer.

Networking is in it’s SDN infancy. Python appears the way to go. That’s the trend. I predict, scripting will be required in the majority of IT positions.

Pick up a copy of Learn PowerShell in a Month of Lunches and Learning Python. If you have a decent computer, you can practice on it. If you start now you will have gained valuable skills.

Expectations

Realize expectations.

Great expectations in IT. Image from Her.

An IT career is not an 8-5 type of job. In the beginning it may be but as you work your way up to the ladder you will find yourself working odd hours. Everyone expects technology to work. I’ve worked 12+ hour days. It’s going to happen. I do it because I love what I do. The end result is gratifying.

I’m not trying to scare you. I just want to inform you that most positions with higher salaries will require work outside normal business hours. If you work for a great employer they may give you the next day off for pulling an all-nighter.

Talk to others in the field. Get an idea of what their work day is like. There are some positions out there that aren’t on-call and only between 8-5.

In IT, you will learn to balance between work and personal time. It’s more about learning how to blend them together without going bonkers, or burning out.

You’ll work some nights and some weekends and sometimes it’s a thankless job. You have to be passionate about IT.

Find a Mentor

Find a mentor

Find a mentor. Image from.. Come on you know where this is from.

In my early years of IT I didn’t know what I was doing, where I was heading, and how to do it. I went to ITT Tech and graduated with humongous student loan debt. Had I reached out to someone in the industry I probably would have taken a different path in my education selection. That’s where having a mentor comes in. Find someone willing to guide you in the right direction with the right amount of push. You’ll have to come up with the 80-90% effort. It’s a two way street.

A mentor can be someone you look up to in the field you’re trying to get into such as a systems engineer. It can be your IT manager or someone at a user group. Find someone you get along with and meet regularly to talk about the industry, where you both see each other heading, and whether or not you’re meeting your career milestones.

Finding that mentor is difficult. It’s not as easy as saying “Hey, won’t you be.. my mentor??”. Maybe it is that easy.

If you do find a mentor, be sure to listen to their advice. Act on that advice. Over deliver and achieve more than what they expect of you. Learn from their mistakes.

Compensation

Know salary expectations.

This ain’t no get rich quick scheme. Image from Gatsby.

Probably your first thought getting into IT, right? My advice is to not get so caught up on how much someone else is making. Don’t expect to be making big $$$ without much experience. Typically, the more experience you have the higher your pay.

If you’re in the IT industry just to make a lot of money then you picked the wrong profession. That’s the wrong mindset and you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

Consider your location when negotiating your salary. What is the average salary of the position you’re applying for in your city. Ask yourself “Why do I deserve x salary?”

Don’t focus on your salary when starting out. Be focused on honing your skills. Learn, read, study, do.

Final Thoughts

To have a long lasting career in IT, develop well rounded skills. Technical abilities are only a portion of the pie. Communication is key. Build confidence and exhibit that when interacting with anyone. Never stop learning. This is a rapidly changing industry. New technology comes out all the time. But know the foundations. If you have a solid ground on the basics then learning new technology will come easily.


2 thoughts on “Top 7 Tips For IT Beginners (HINT: None Of It Is Technical)”

  1. Ben says:

    Great read, I already have that mindset of what to expect but being in the military is different then the civilian sector. These are all good things to keep in mind as I transistion out in the next few months.

    1. Rowell says:

      Hey Ben,

      Good luck on your transition! Let me know if I can help in any way.

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