When I was a sergeant on the police force in the UK, I had a visit from an old school friend. He went into IT after leaving school while I chose the police service. By this time, I had received a law degree with honors and passed police sergeant exams, inspector exams, and detective exams, all taking me several years.
My friend had passed a single Microsoft MCP exam. If we translate our incomes into US dollars, I was earning around $40,000 and he was making $120,000. I was working rotating early, afternoon, and night shifts fighting with violent criminals and filling in endless paperwork, while my friend was sitting in a cozy office keeping server software up-to-date.
I felt a mixture of anger and envy. I knew that even if I reached the very highest echelons of the police force (which would be both unlikely and take me 20 years), he would still be making far more than me. I wanted what he had.
And so my career choice was made, and I spent months studying for Microsoft exams, finally achieving the MCSE. I resigned from the police force and started my IT career doing helpdesk support for various in-house applications and Microsoft Office.
There was only one problem. I was bored shitless.
Looking back, I had become drunk on thoughts of high income and not actually stopped to think about what I was actually interested in or what stimulated or challenged me. If I had, I honestly think I would have chosen project management, and I still would. It matches most of my values.
I eventually moved into Cisco support, which I found more interesting and challenging than Microsoft because I got exposure to the entire network as opposed to just a small part of it.
I know most of us can somehow fall into a certain career, and before we know it, we are stuck. It might be due to current industry demands or office politics or we have a family to support and we can’t take either a cut in pay or risk our job security.
We can all make career mistakes, so let me ask you some questions to determine if you are in the correct career:
- Was this your first choice?
- How do you feel when you think about work?
- Is your current career taking a toll on family life or your health?
- Why did you take this particular role?
- Do you spend the week looking forward to the weekend?
- Would you change jobs if a better offer came in?
- How long do you see yourself doing this?
- How long will your career last into the future?
- Is there anything more to learn?
- Are you getting the recognition you deserve?
There are no right or wrong answers here. I just want you to think about the questions.
A big issue, of course, is time already invested. If you have spent years learning a certain skill and have an established career and income, it can be hard to make a change. We can just settle into a groove at work, not learning much, not feeling challenged, but not quite happy where we are at the moment.
Any IT experience is a plus though, so consider what you enjoy the most out of the available options which include:
- Technical: Network support, server support, installing, configuring, consulting
- Project: Managing budget, deadlines, providers, tracking SLAs
- Design: Creating plans and solutions to meet client requirements
- Sales: Matching vendors’ equipment to customers’ requirements
- Compliance: Ensuring companies and individuals comply with policies and laws
- Management: Monitoring team performance, career planning, reporting to a CEO
- Programming: Creating applications, solutions using command line
Each of these can, of course, be broken down into many specializations by function or vendor. Some require very little further study once qualified, and some require you to completely retrain every three or so years as equipment and commands go out-of-date.
Another factor, of course, is market forces, which dictate salaries and employability. If you happen to love IPX, you are unlikely to find employment supporting it.
If you work for a large company, make contact with whoever runs the department and see if you can do some cross training. There are very few departments that will turn down an extra pair of hands.
Consider self study for your desired career path to prove you are serious. If you can’t make a jump inside your current company, then leverage your current IT experience to get a job with a new company. Just because you do project management doesn’t mean that experience will count for nothing if you want to do tech support somewhere else.
Previous experience in IT is never wasted, so promote the skills you used in your previous career, such as teamwork, working under pressure, speaking to customers, meeting deadlines, and so on, to demonstrate how these skills would help your new role.
You may have to take a short-term pay cut, but this isn’t necessarily so. Don’t sell yourself short by aiming too low. There is no need to take the first offer that comes your way, and if you are currently employed, you are in a stronger position to negotiate salary and benefits.
You can also check out my IT career training if you need job or consulting tips which really work.