Every once in a while someone asks me how I got started in working in the information technology realm. Usually someone that is not in the industry or they are interested in working with computers as a career and are not really sure where to start. I do not think I have been able to come up with a great answer but here is how it has worked for me thus far.
I have always had a mechanical inclination. I was one of those kids that would rather take apart their toys (read break) then play with them. I originally had a love affair with cars, especially engines. I would have one of my parent’s take me to the junk yard (before I could drive) just so I could pull old V8’s and bring them home to disassemble them. This was entertaining but then our family got a new computer. I had worked with friend’s computers but was careful not to break them as I knew their cost. You can imagine my dad’s face when he brought home our first computer and shortly thereafter I had the internals of it laid out across the floor. Lucky for me I somehow was able to put it back together and it still worked. I was hooked as there seemed like an endless amount of possibilities to keep me occupied.
I continued on my quest of learning more by installing other operating systems such as Redhat 6 besides the Windows 95 install as a dual boot installation. Not a very interesting feat now but at the time it was amazing for me. Fast forward a few years and I had gotten various jobs working for firms setting up and maintaining computer systems. I eventually got bit but the security bug while working at a university. I find the aspect of securing computer systems quite interesting as not only are you concerned with how information systems are implemented but also what vectors may be used to attack them and so much more. Enough about that here’s what I told the last person that was interested in getting into the technology scene. Opinions vary greatly here.
It depends upon what you see yourself doing in 10, 20 years from now. Computer Science (CS) degrees are great and they usually cover the spectrum when it comes to the world of computing. I was going to get a CS degree but was undecided the first two years and by the time I pulled it together I realized I would need two years of Calculus and Physics before most universities would even consider me for their programs. I instead went the Computer Information Science (CIS) route. This worked well for me as they are well recognized and the prerequisites were less demanding and time consuming.
Many universities now offer a number of programs such as Decision Information Science (DIS), this example focuses on more of the business perspective. I know one person whom has gone this route but they have done well. Most jobs will say they want a technology oriented degree though are not always specific. Regardless do your research. This ultimately depends upon what you expect to do and where you want to work. If you know the type of position you might see yourself in then look a position descriptions and figure out what the firms desire in that field. There are plenty of jobs out there but just more competition for them.
Due to competition in the market I would definitely recommend three things. One, if feasible, regardless of the bachelors program get a masters, these seems to open more doors and some schools have 3/2 programs that allow you to pretty much get a masters and bachelors at almost the same time. Two, get an internship and/or job working with computers, helpdesk at a university or work for a small company maintaining their network, etc. Besides education, experience is highly regarded in the industry regardless of your concentration and this will help you figure out what you want to do career wise. Three, look into certifications such as a CCNA, Security+, MCSA. Even entry level certifications may help get you in the door though this is debatable by some.
I will state that I know people that rely purely upon their experience and others that are more academically focused. I do not think there is a sure fire method but for me a combination of both has worked fairly well.