Every so often, someone who is seeking to begin a life in IT reaches out to me to get some new tech advice. Typically, the question is broad, and it leads to asking for some work. I almost always take these calls if I can. There have been too many times we get under-prepared candidates who might otherwise be great hires. The soft skills can take you far in IT, but without any decent tech experience or education, the trip will be short.
The first thing we need to talk about is the types of IT employers there are. Now here at MSP Startup, we talk of course about MSP, but there are many other types of IT employers. There are some important characteristics about teach type that should be considered.
Big corporate IT department work can be very bureaucratic. Workstation IT can’t do anything with servers, they need to go to the Server department. The Server department can’t do anything with the network, so they go to Networking, and so-on. Even within these there can be specializations. Could be a great opportunity for someone who likes mastering just one discipline. The customer-centric minded person will probably dislike it a lot.
MSP and small business employers usually offer broader roles where you have a few more disciplines under your belt. If you don’t know anything about a particular area such as networking, hardware, or active directory, you’ll have some problems early on. The best new tech advice here is to get some training by setting up a virtual environment with free demo or trial software.
Thinking broadly there are two different kinds of roles you could find yourself in within most of those employer types. These roles are going to help identify what kind of person might flourish in the company given some non-technical skills and experience.
The first is customer-facing. This is probably the first couple tiers of support, and a few other positions. Depending on the size of the business, they might be all customer facing. Having the ability to explain technical issues to a laypersons understanding is a critical skill. Having patience and a positive outlook are key. Success can be getting things done but getting customer kudos for a job well done is what promotions are made from.
The other of these two is of course non-customer facing, or purely internal. The project manager might have to face the customer, but the project team lead may not. Success comes from excellent organizational skills, being able to clearly communicate technical situations and good documentation.
Lastly, and most often asked new tech advice is what kinds of skills should they focus on to have a good start. Many have these neat home labs set up in which they’ve played around with networking. Some have probably set up a server, which is a great starting point. That’s just it – starting.
Today’s technology is becoming more and more interconnected. The term “integration” is common and there are many tools which marry systems together to make them more effective. Let us not forget the “cloud” either, which is probably the most interconnected as we get. Networking is key to making interconnections happen. Education and/or certifications is an important step.
I am not talking about getting any particular “brand” of certification. In fact, I would suggest avoiding certifications by hardware vendors if you can as a new tech. It could be a waste if the employer does not use them.
The immediate next thing to have a good understanding of is Active Directory. Unless you will be working exclusively with Macs or Unix, you need to understand it. Entry level needs to know how to change passwords. Next tier troubleshoots access problems. The next works with the ways the AD works with everything else. Get some knowledge here and it does not have to be much. Focus on user needs and file system access. It is a solid start.
Lastly develop a broader understanding of how the employer uses technology. If it is an office environment, realize that they might be using copiers to email PDF’s. There may be a fax machine (believe it or not) that must email faxes. If so, some more email understanding might be required. In manufacturing some older networking functionality might be used to control CNC machines like FTP. Wireless might be an important business consideration in a warehouse, or in a medical center.
I share this new tech advice to help people get a better understanding about IT and the multitude of forms it takes. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what we do, and unfortunately some just entering the workforce may have some challenges with the courses advised to them. It’s more than just knowing how to set up a router, or forward packets through a firewall. The home lab can only get you so far, not a bad thing to have, but just know it’s the best first step to a longer road of understanding.
Techs and business owners out there put their teams and businesses together in just as many ways as there are techs and business owners. For some this advice rings true. For others it might be just the wrong step entirely! Don’t take my word for it alone. Do some research and reach out to a business you’d love to work for. Do not ask for a job, ask what they want to see in a candidate. Then work on becoming that. Remember some salary research too! Never sell yourself short! Good luck!