8-Step Guide to Starting a Career in IT

6 min read
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At a time when technology is central to our daily lives, launching a career in information technology (IT) is more than just a smart move — it’s a leap into the future. The IT industry is a titan of innovation and opportunity, shaping how we work, communicate and live. It’s also constantly evolving, making IT one of today’s most exciting and rewarding career paths.

In this 8-step guide, we’ll navigate how to start a career in IT, from assessing your interests and skills to embracing lifelong learning. Whether you’re a new graduate, an experienced professional considering a career switch or somewhere in between, this guide is your resource for understanding the steps and strategies needed to establish and advance your IT career.

Step 1: Assessing Your Interests and Skill Set

Starting a career in IT requires understanding your interests and skills and aligning them with the industry’s needs. This step is crucial for finding a fulfilling and suitable role in the IT sector.

First, reflect on what aspects of technology excite you to pinpoint the IT areas that align with your passions, such as cybersecurity, data analysis or software development.

Next, assess your existing skills. Even if you’re new to technical skills, your current abilities might form a foundation for IT roles. IT careers demand both technical and soft skills, so consider your problem-solving abilities, organizational skills and understanding of complex systems

IT is dynamic, with constant technological advancements. A commitment to continuous learning is vital to stay relevant and adaptable.

Success in IT often depends on a combination of specific skills, including:

  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Analytical abilities
  • Creativity
  • Project management
  • Problem-solving
  • Resourcefulness
  • Leadership
  • Flexibility
  • Coding/programming languages
  • Network configuration
  • Hardware deployment
  • Operating system knowledge
  • Database management

Step 2: Making a Career Switch

Transitioning to a career in IT often involves leveraging transferable skills from your current profession.

Reflect on the skills acquired in your current career and how they apply to IT. For example:

  • Accounting: Attention to detail and data analysis are valuable in IT, especially in areas such as data management and financial technology.
  • Military: Leadership, discipline and strategic planning skills from military experience are advantageous in project management and cybersecurity within IT.
  • Finance: Analytical skills and risk assessment abilities are transferable to IT roles focused on data security and financial software development.

Core computer skills are essential in IT. If you’re starting from scratch, explore resources such as online courses, certifications, tutorials and local community college classes to build a foundation in basic computing, programming and network management.

Step 3: Navigating the IT Landscape

Understanding the diverse landscape of the IT sector is crucial for anyone looking to enter this field.

IT is a field with many domains, from network administration and cybersecurity to software development and artificial intelligence. Each area requires specific skills and offers different career trajectories. This diversity means there are multiple paths to success, depending on your interests and abilities.

First, identify a specific pathway in IT that aligns with your skills and interests. Whether you are drawn to data science’s analytical aspects or web development’s creative challenges, focusing on a specific area can help you become more skilled and employable. Consider what aspects of technology you are passionate about, and look for roles that align with these interests.

A practical approach to understanding the IT landscape includes connecting with professionals already in the field. Networking with experienced IT professionals and conducting informational interviews can provide insights into different IT roles and what they entail. This can guide you in making informed decisions about your IT career path and offer a real-world perspective on the skills and qualifications needed to succeed in various IT specialties.

Step 4: The Role of Education in IT Careers

Navigating the educational requirements in IT can be complex. Understanding the role of education, from undergraduate degrees to specialized master’s programs, is key to making informed decisions about your career path.

It’s possible to start a career in IT without a formal degree. Many professionals enter the field through self-study, boot camps, certifications and hands-on experience. However, this path may require a significant increase in the time it takes to build credibility and can limit advancement opportunities in some organizations.

Regardless of formal education, technical skills and practical experience are vital in IT. Employers value demonstrated abilities in programming, network management and system administration.

While there’s no specific IT undergraduate degree, degrees in computer science, information systems and software engineering are relevant. They offer comprehensive knowledge, which is beneficial for understanding complex IT concepts and technologies.

  • Computer science: A computer science degree concentrates on software development, programming and computational theory rather than IT operations. While valuable, a CS degree typically aligns more with development roles and may not directly lead to a job in general IT.
  • Information systems: Focuses on applying technology in business settings, ideal for roles in IT management
  • Software engineering: Emphasizes software development, useful for application development and software project management roles

Pursuing a graduate degree, such as the MS in Information Technology Leadership offered by the University of San Diego, can provide significant advantages, including the following:

  • Competitive advantage: A master’s degree can differentiate you in a competitive job market, particularly for leadership roles.
  • Specialized knowledge: IT graduate programs offer more than technical expertise. They emphasize developing vital leadership skills, including communication and business understanding. A master’s program is a practical and low-stakes environment for learning and applying skills essential for navigating real-world challenges.
  • Career advancement: A master’s degree can help break a mid-career rut, providing new skills and perspectives when specialization isn’t enough. It’s key for realigning with organizational goals and opening growth opportunities in specialized fields.

While it is possible to enter the IT field without a traditional degree, formal education, especially at the graduate level, can offer distinct advantages in knowledge depth, career advancement and specialization.

Step 5: Unlocking Opportunities with IT Certifications

IT certifications are pivotal in opening up new career opportunities, especially when pursuing a specialization path. Let’s explore key certifications and understand how they can bolster your career prospects.

  • CompTIA A+: This certification is ideal for beginners. It covers fundamental IT skills such as troubleshooting, networking and security. It’s widely recognized and can be a stepping stone to more advanced certifications.
  • Network+: Also offered by CompTIA, this certification focuses on networking concepts and practices.
  • Security+: This CompTIA certification covers essential security concepts and best practices, making it a great asset for roles in security management.
  • CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate): This Cisco certification delves into network infrastructure and is essential for roles involving network installation, configuration and management.
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect: This Amazon Web Services certification focuses on designing distributed systems and is highly sought-after due to the growing reliance on cloud services.

Earning IT certifications is an investment of time, effort and money. Not only do they improve job prospects and professional recognition but more importantly, they open doors to specialized roles. These roles are instrumental in growing your experience and enhancing your resume.

Step 6: Building a Strong IT Resume through Practical Experience

Practical experience is vital for building a strong IT resume. It’s the bridge between theoretical knowledge and real-world application.

Engaging in internships, part-time jobs and volunteer work in IT-related roles provides hands-on skills and demonstrates your commitment to the field. These experiences are invaluable for enhancing your resume.

Entry-level IT positions may include:

  • IT support specialist: Offers experience in troubleshooting and technical support
  • Junior project manager: Involves managing smaller IT projects and teams
  • Network administrator: Provides foundational knowledge in network management
  • Junior data analyst: Ideal for those interested in data processing and analysis

Starting with these roles lays the groundwork for advanced opportunities and showcases your practical IT capabilities to potential employers.

Step 7: Expanding Horizons through Networking and Professional Associations

Networking and involvement in professional associations are crucial for advancing in IT. These platforms offer learning, mentorship and career development opportunities, which are especially vital in specialized fields such as database development.

In IT, networking is key for uncovering professional opportunities and staying informed. Engaging with peers and mentors through events, forums and groups can lead to job prospects and valuable industry insights.

Some of the top IT-related associations include:

Active engagement in these organizations can significantly enhance your knowledge, networking opportunities and career trajectory in the IT industry.

Another key aspect of networking is finding an experienced professional who can serve as a sounding board for your ideas. Such a mentor can provide perspectives based on their experience, offering insights into how they may approach similar scenarios. This guidance is invaluable for navigating the complex and ever-evolving IT landscape.

Step 8: The Journey of Lifelong Learning and Career Advancement in IT

In the IT community, the excitement stems from a continuous quest for improvement. This drive leads to fast-paced tech advancements, tools and best practices. For IT professionals, this means embracing a lifelong love of learning to stay relevant and lead in new developments.

However, it’s important to note that while technology evolves, so does the need to discern the relevance of these technologies to an organization’s unique needs and constraints. Additionally, IT professionals must be adept at communicating technological solutions to non-technical stakeholders. This skill ensures that new technologies are not only implemented but also integrated and understood within the organization.

Programs such as USD’s MS in Information Technology Leadership are designed to equip IT professionals with the technical ability, business insights and leadership skills needed for advanced career roles.


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