I said in my first post that I would discuss how I got into the IT industry in more depth. I will do this below. What I do want to achieve on top of this is to add some helpful, thoughts of wisdom and recommendations for those people who are new or thinking of entering the industry. First of all. If you had asked me 10 years ago what I was going to be doing now, I don’t think even my 10th guess would have been accurate. What I’m trying to say, is that IT wasn’t a set in stone career for me. I wasn’t one of those lucky people who knew what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it. The reality was for me, that by the end of high school, I still had no idea what the future would hold. I had been lucky enough in my upbringing to experience all sorts. A rural lifestyle, a good exposure to outdoor pursuits, as well as being brought up on a vineyard, so naturally I had a strong interest in viticulture. I had no calling, so to speak of which way I should go. For this reason, after high school, I bailed overseas to the UK to do a gap year.
On this gap year I was actually working in an outdoor education centre and was heavily involved with instructing and training of both children and adults. I loved it. My heart was in it and I really thought that was me, game, set and match. However. strangely enough , one of the men I was working with at the centre, had an interest in IT, and he ran the network and communications for the site. Surprisingly, I found myself interested in what he was dong. Although what he was doing (Windows SBS admin) brings me no joy now, at the time it was pretty cool. I had always done IT stuff at school, and although I enjoyed it I wasn’t an arty person, so I was never really that great at the website dev etc etc. My school did not teach networking. It’s not something that is taught in mainstream (generally). I always did enjoy a bit of code though, and spent many hours at home in my spare time playing with HTML and CSS etc. I never pursued it as I couldn’t think of much worse that trying to do design when it really didn’t come naturally to me. Basically, IT stopped there for me until I saw a different side of it while in the UK.
When I came back to NZ, the first thing I looked at was getting into teaching outdoor education. I also looked at other careers options. All things outdoors. For various reason, niether of these worked out and I ended up working for the family business. At this point, being 19, in Nelson when a majority of my mates were in Christchurch studying awesome things and living the (then) city life up. There wasn’t much that would stop me going to explore. I started looking into things that I could do in Christchurch. Again, I looked at outdoor ed, but I also remembered the interest in IT that I had gained whilst away. This interest was enough for me to inquire into some courses. The more I read, the more I learned, until I was hooked (it didn’t take much!). I originally started at CPIT (Canterbury Institute of Technology) with the intention of doing a degree in electrical engineering. However to get started, I did a certificate in computer technicians. Whilst doing this, I got a bit of a love for the technology I had began to work with, at such a basic level at this point. I was convinced to carry on the course and do a diploma in computer networking. The diploma was a full time course and started off with (amongst other things) the Cisco Academy course, CCNA 1 – which in an introduction to networking. I carried on enjoying this area and went through the entire CCNA curriculum at CPIT. This was of course along side a bunch of other classes. These included a bit of AD, Some Security as well as what was my favourite course – Network Analysers. This course focussed on basic but essential ‘real life’ networking. We worked with WireShark till we knew it inside out (specifically we analysed the hell out of Radius). We did a bunch of cool stuff in this course. I often call on this stuff, even now.
If you are thinking of joining the IT industry. Go for it. However, be careful in how you approach it. I know all too many people who get into the industry without knowing what they are in for. It’s hard work and you have to realise that for most of us in the industry, study is inevitable – probably for all of your career. Technologies are constantly changing and being developed. There are companies that are incredibly innovative and are fast developing technologies to deal with the incredible uprising of technology in the last decade, as well as preparing for the next decade. It’s not one of those industries that you learn for 3 years then that’s you sorted for life. For me, that’s what I love about it. For some, that may be the worst thing in the world. There is however something special about keeping up with the newest and best technology that’s ever been invented for a specific purpose within the industry. That’s always going to be the most amazing thing about the IT industry. What’s an amazing way of doing things today, may in fact be a dead technology tomorrow (well, in a few years realistically). Once you’re in, you’re in and you’ll be addicted. It will take a while to gain a basic understanding. An understanding that you will need to have in order to get on to some of the more advanced, cooler stuff that we work with.
What I want to touch on quickly is how we are best to start and give ourselves the best opportunity for success. What I also want to discuss (very quickly mind) is a couple of the options for introductory certifications. This is all my personal opinion, from which I have gained from my experiences entering the IT industry, are more specifically becoming a Network Engineer at a Large NZ ISP. When first learning basic networking, most courses that I know of and most networking certifications at this level cover a broad variety of topics. They give enough information for an insight, and to gain a pretty good understanding of the purpose of a technology, or more specifically rqnge of commonly used protocols. They teach us of common topologies, likely situations, and problems that are likely to occur over certain topologies and offer general good practice to avoid and work with such issues.
The two certifications I have had experience with at this level are CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) and JNCIA (Juniper Networks Certified Associate). Both are great entry qualifications for their respective companies. I’m not going to delve too much into these. As far as I’m concerned, they are both great entry level certifications which I would recommend doing. If you’re a CCNA then have a look over the JNCIA material. I certainly found it very interesting moving between the two vendors and I felt that almost straight away after getting into the JNCIA and playing with Junos, an ‘oozing’ of innovation and enhanced functionality. Anyway, I could talk about that topic all day but that’s not what we are here for. A quick bit of advice though, is that you’ll come across several vendors throughout your networking career. Be open to learning the operation of different vendors, as in my experience you never know when it’s going to be useful. Once you’ve had a taste, you’ll probably find you begin to find your niche, or a certain thing that you enjoy. That is one of the benefits of the broadness of those certs – you’ll know pretty quickly what you like doing and what you can’t stand.This is really the deciding factor of the next logical question. Where next? Obviously there’s multiple options. The ones that are most likely to come into your mind are; Routing and switching, or security….. I say this because it’s something that crops up at my workplace. We have a range of brilliant engineers. Some of which focus on the core operations of our network functionality, while others have a security focus. Depending on where you are lucky enough to enter the industry may well influence your decision to this question. My personal belief is to focus on the area which you enjoy the most and run with that till you’re at a level you are happy with. Then at such point I think you can start delving into other disciplines within the industry.
In regards to the next certifications, after completing your first entry level qualification. That’s up to you. Take into consideration the things I have put above, but at the end of the day it’s your decision. Personally, I’m loving the Juniper Service provider Qualification path, and plan to keep attacking this in the form of JNCIP-SP within the next few months. The last thing I want to say is that, as with anything, your success will depend on multiple things. The one thing that in my opinion is an absolute must is the willingness to go out of your way to learn. I know it sounds pathetic and cliché, but I can honestly say that if I had not worked my arse off in the first 3 years of my career (and still now :P) then my development and progression would have been severely hindered. Not because I didn’t have it in me, but because there would have been others who wanted it more. So, don’t let that be an issue. Be the one who wants it the most, be the one who is eager to progress. Back it up with hard work, skill, and of course qualifications. The other thing that I need to say is that, I have found there to be a great community within the industry. I’ve never not been able to find the answer to a question. Some of this is down to the awesome people I work with, but some of this is also down to the contacts you pick up along the way. People in the industry are generally very happy to help. So, with that I will say, never hold back. There is no such thing as a stupid question!