If not now, when? Taking your IT career to the next level

Many of us who work in the IT profession get bored with our jobs and try to change the focus and direction of our IT career. For myself, for example, I’ve worn a variety of hats over the years ranging from Microsoft Certified Trainer to network admin to small business consultant to writer/editor, and at present I’m wearing several hats as I run my own business advising and writing whitepapers for several large vendors, writing articles like this one for TechGenix, and reeling off lots of informative and entertaining stuff each week in two popular TechGenix newsletters WServerNews and FitITproNews. And I have some other areas of IT that I’m trying to extend my hand to as well. Am I crazy?

Part of the frequent (and seemingly constant) changes that have been occurring in my own work life as an IT professional over the last 20-odd years were due to market forces beyond my control. Such as a company I worked for shutting down or a change in market conditions like the Great Recession or publishers ditching print books for eBooks. But often the transitions I’ve made in my IT career have arisen from my own personal motivations such as wanting work that’s easier or more challenging or that simply pays better.

For example, a while back I received an email from someone named Doug who was clearly bored in his present job but felt uncertain how to transition into something more interesting. “I’ve been a tech for 20 years now,” said Doug, “and have always been interested in network administration. I’ve learned a lot from the net admins I’ve worked with, but not nearly enough to be able to do the job. So my question, at almost 40 years old, with 20 years as a tech, is it still an option to get into the network admin business or should I just leave that to the younger group? I don’t want to be a tech for the rest of my career, but I also know that there’s a lot I don’t know.”

I shared Doug’s question with readers of our WServerNews to see if any could offer any suggestions on how Doug might proceed in his IT career, and several readers responded with helpful stories and recommendations. I’ve culled some of their best responses for you here in case they may help you take your own IT career to the next level.

Kiss the frog!

IT career
Harry, who works as a senior analyst in technical support systems said, “Please don’t let age stop you and don’t surrender anything to the younger group, especially at 40. From my perspective, you are the younger group. Yes, IT is more complicated now than it was when we started, the techs entering the workforce now have up-to-date skills, and many of them are very bright. What you bring to the table is 20 years of adapting to new technology, of troubleshooting, of analysis, and of maturity. I don’t mean to imply that young techs are emotionally immature, but professionally, they haven’t kissed as many frogs as we have. Adding network administration skills to your experience will make you a valuable asset.”

Get certified!

A reader named Chris highlighted the importance of pursuing IT certifications and explained his reasons as follows: “Certifications — like degrees — don’t automatically make you competent, but you don’t really have time to get five or 10 years of experience under your belt. So, certs are going to matter because they will demonstrate some specific technology knowledge to go along with the years of business/professional experience you already have. Getting certified will also demonstrate you have initiative and some commitment to the field. I would recommend Cisco’s CCNA to start. Don’t bother with Network+ or the CCENT (unless you use it as the first step toward getting your CCNA). You need something with more traction and the CCNA is recognized and portable, and because it’s a popular cert there are a lot of resources to help you without having to spend a ton of money. It’s also hard enough to let you know if this is really the career change you can and want to make. After the CCNA, I would suggest anything security or cloud-related because both are very relevant today. Here I think the CompTIA certs would be a good start because you’re not looking (for now at least) to be a security analyst or a cloud developer. Cisco also has CCNA specializations as an option. This combination will give you some very relevant training and may even suggest a professional track for a bit later in your career (security problems and the cloud aren’t going away any time soon). And both of these tracks include a fair amount of network content so you should be able to roll into them fairly smoothly.”

Keep moving…

IT career

Howard, who lives in Brazil, learned the hard way like I have that you need to keep moving to stay on top in a rapidly changing field like IT. Howard left the automotive field in 1996 at the age of 41 to become a computer technician because, he says, “computers made my job and experience obsolete!” Howard’s story continues as follows: “I became a computer technician, working for myself in small businesses and for individuals. I am not a good business manager and did not open a storefront. I got steady work because I offered quality, arrived on time, quoted a price that I stuck to, and explained and educated the customer. And now, 20 years later, I am a part-time technician. Why? Because of the Internet, which allows any user to find information to diagnose and fix their own personal PC. So I moved on and up. Now at the age of 61, I am a QA specialist, working on line testing Android, iOS apps, and games. Behind the popular Facebook games, newest Windows/MAC/Android/iOS hardware and utilities are thousands of testers worldwide, dedicated to finding bugs and quantifying usability and localization issues.” His words of advice to Doug? “If you see network administration as a step in the right direction for you, take it without a second thought. Age is no barrier unless you make it.”

…and keep learning!

I admire people like Howard who are always excited about learning new things regardless of how old they are. The final story I wanted to include here comes from Vlade, a reader in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, and tells his story about his IT career (which I’ve edited for clarity) as follows: “Got my very first computer at age 40, but at that time I had virtually no idea what I was doing. Later I went through Novell — NCE 3x, NCA 4x, MS – DOS/3x, Win2000, CISCO – CCNA 2x & 4x, CompTIA – A+, Network+ & Security+, and a bunch of vendor certs. I’ve worked as a computer/network tech and a system/network admin, and recently went back to computer tech but at a big company with a decent salary and good benefits. The youngest co-worker I’ve known was in late teens and the oldest was over 70 years old, but primary IT is for younger folks in general. But IMHO no matter which path in IT you choose, you have to be able to learn new things constantly and be able to adjust to newer technology in order to remain successful.”

What about your IT career?

Vlad says it all as far as I am concerned. I have a sheet of paper stuck on the wall beside my desk that lists, let’s see…16 new and emerging technologies that I need to learn something about in the next quarter to remain knowledgeable in my field. How can I do it? How do you do it? Use the commenting feature below to share your own tips on staying leveled up in your IT career.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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6 thoughts on “If not now, when? Taking your IT career to the next level”

  1. Hey Mitch,
    I have enjoyed reading this article. I feel so much better LOL, I’ve also been a tech for many years and it go so boring book in a PC day in day out same old same old all you updated about is just the hardware part. So I’m in network administration now and thanks to you with your amazing Microsoft Server books. All I can advise is keep learning hey, I’m learning security now and want to fight against randsomware that is out there these days. I loved reading this it was refreshing.

    Regards, your fan,
    Johannesburg, South Africa.

  2. Hi Mitch – good article. I’d gotten my start in IT as a result of a career transition; did that around age 26. Twenty seven years later and still in the same field, I feel pretty fortunate and my experiences have greatly helped along the way. I started by running jobs on mainframe printers and eventually graduated to Computer Operator, while working on my bachelor’s degree during the day. Afterwards, I got my first professional job as a PC database programmer (dBase III+, Access, etc.)/hardware/software tech (i.e. jack-of-all-trades) until eventually making it as Systems Analyst. Today I am an IT Supervisor and am happy for the experience. This entry-level management position provides a new perspective and one thing I have to say about it was I’m grateful for the opportunity. It has rekindled my interest in the profession and started to give me a new way of looking at the role of technology within the organization.

  3. wow. this is an eye opener. i am currently in the same spot as the person in this article. i am currently preparing to get some certifications. i was unsure which IT career path to take. thanks to this article, i now know where to pass.

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