For those who don’t already know, I left behind a 12-year career in law enforcement in the UK for one in IT. I started at the bottom, worked hard and studied hard and went from helpdesk to network support to consulting and then starting my own company.
I’ve worked from the bottom with first level helpdesk guys and girls to the top where I was working with top CEOs of multi-million dollar companies, so I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also made a ton of mistakes which cost me valuable time and money. Here are my top mistakes in case you want to avoid them.
1 – Starting at the Bottom and Working Your Way Up
Who invented this philosophy? We’ll never know I suppose. Because I started out on the helpdesk I took a huge pay cut of 35% at a time I really needed a pay rise. The helpdesk tier one was all about helping people find the spellchecker on their word processor or how to add attachments to their emails. It was soul destroying.
It took me many months to work my way up to the network support team which was what I really wanted all along. The helpdesk didn’t involve any networking to speak of so didn’t help prepare me for the networking role. I should have just applied for the role I really wanted all along in the first place!
2 – Letting Money Guide my Choices
When I started out in IT, the salaries were crazy. There simply wasn’t enough engineers to go around, so hiring managers were fighting over CCNPs and MCSEs. They would keep calling you and taking you out to lunch and try to sweeten the offer with company cars, gym memberships, and other benefits.
I spent months studying for the MCSE because it was high paying. I later spent 18 months studying for the CCIE because it paid really well. I never actually took the time to think about what I really enjoy doing. If I had done, I’d have probably gone for more of the business side of IT such as project management or IT manager.
Imagine spending months of your life working towards and on stuff you don’t even like that much? Of course, money is important but there are so many career choices, and roles out there so why not choose something which pays well but you also really enjoy? Then work no longer feels like a chore.
3 – Listening to Bad Advice
“Don’t aim too high,” “Start at the bottom,” “Stay technical,” “Don’t become a specialist.” The list of advice from self-proclaimed experts is endless. When I started out, discussion forums where the main point of information for career and technical advice.
I saw the meteoric rise of several forum warriors. These guys were the self-appointed gurus. They had low-level certifications in everything and considered themselves experts in everything technical and career. They posted literally thousands of times every month and so were raised to top level posters. They were quick to pounce on any post asking for career advice. It was always the same, start at the bottom and work your way up over the course of several years.
I later found out that one of the ‘experts’ worked in a tiny office writing exam questions for a testing engine company. He didn’t even work in an IT department. Another one couldn’t find a job and came to me looking for work a few years later.
The famous poet Rumi says that you shouldn’t ask directions from somebody who is lost. Instead, find people who are doing what you want to be doing and ask them how they got there. Take any advice with a pinch of salt.
4 – Be a Generalist
Knowing a little about a lot is useful if you are an IT manager or the only IT person supporting a small company. For the rest of us, specialization is the key to success. Become a security guru, cloud computing, network design architect, web developer, etc.
Don’t let the job adverts asking for a Microsoft, Cisco, Juniper, NetApp engineer fool you. This is a wish list created by somebody in HR who doesn’t understand IT at all. To get to mid level in every one of these subjects would take you about five years of work and three years of studying. In my years of experience, for any important role, an expert was hired.
5 – Following the Rules
The rules say that you need to apply for a job in writing after you see an advert. You then need to wait until you hear back which is usually never.
I found that actively contacting IT managers was far more productive. I went to networking events and struck up conversations with them and eventually dropped into the conversation that I was a Cisco engineer. Most of the time I got an invite to come and see them at work and chat more about roles. I’d managed to bypass the entire application process!
These are just a few ideas. If you want to get ahead of the pack, then please check out my IT Careers courses. I’ll show you how to land your first role in IT or start out your own freelancing IT business. It might just save you a few wasted years and make you a few thousand buckaroos.