It’s fair to say that I've made some terrible mistakes in my 44 years on Planet Earth. When I was a baby I decided to tip the contents of my potty onto my head and it was pretty much downhill from there. Financial disasters, marrying the wrong woman, hiring a friend who ended up stealing a lot of money from me. The list goes on and on.
But I've got a few things right as well. Mostly in terms of my IT career. My first career was as a police officer in the UK which I enjoyed, but after 12 years of working shifts, fighting with crackheads and dealing with the politics of a large organization, I was ready for a move.
My logic was that because I had no experience to speak of nor any qualifications, I should establish some credibility by getting both. I also realized that I knew very little but I wanted to learn the basics and go from there.
I studied for the CompTIA A+ and then the Network+ exams, passing both. This gave me a good grounding in computer and networking fundamentals, and was sufficient to convince myself that I enjoyed IT enough to have a career in it. It also gave me some useful qualifications and would prove to any prospective employer that I was motivated to better myself rather than relying on them to spoon-feed me.
At this point I had to decide which career path I wanted to take. At the time it was technical, managerial or project management. For technical your main choices were Linux RedHat, Microsoft or Cisco, certainly as far as certification was concerned. There were a few other players out there such as Lotus Notes and Novell, but the choices were pretty limited.
I chose the Cisco route and passed the Cisco CCNA. However, at my first company there were no Cisco roles so I studied for and passed the Microsoft MCSE in Windows NT. After six months I saw a job opening at Cisco Systems, so I applied and started to brush up my Cisco skills.
I had a technical phone interview, then a second interview in person and got the job. As soon as I arrived, I started to study for the Cisco CCNP. I wanted to keep my skills fresh as well as have opportunities open for me with the advanced certification.
I planned to pass my CCIE and had one lab attempt when we were all told we were being made redundant. Suddenly, 40 experienced network engineers were looking for jobs in the same area. Because I’d passed my CCNP, I had an advantage over many of my colleagues who had procrastinated, and I quickly landed a freelance role doing network support for BT. I tripled my income whilst more than halving my workload.
But I didn't stop there. I’d learned a lot so I decided to work for myself. I started to moonlight doing freelance consulting work. It was basic router and switch installations and configuration. I also started to teach computer networking at Network+ level for other companies. The teaching work grew and grew and I started to offer Cisco CCNA courses run by my own company. Those actually became so popular that I ended up quitting BT and just teaching CCNA courses and then CCNP.
I eventually sold that company and took six months off to think about what I wanted to do next.
So, the stuff I got right:
- I built a strong foundation first by choosing the right certifications to take.
- I chose one path rather than trying to be all things to all people.
- I made sure I applied for roles relevant to my qualifications.
- I ensured I aimed for continual improvement.
- Each role I took was an advancement from the previous.
I've added pretty much every course you need to get started and get ahead in your IT to howtonetwork.com so please check them out.