I recently wrote about my experience going from IT to DevOps.If you’re currently in IT and looking to get involved with software development, or just curious about the transition, I advise you to go check it out.
After sharing that post, I got a bunch of requests to share how I broke into IT with little to no experience. It’s great that so many people want to be involved in tech and with coding, but with so much information out there, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of information.
- In Part 1 of this 3 part series, I’ll be focusing on making the jump, having the right mindset, and learning how to learn.
- Part 2 will cover resources and educational tools for learning how to code and break into tech.
- Part 3 will conclude with the interview process, how it works, what recruiters look for, and how to continue to advance your career.
One thing I wish I could tell myself from 5 years ago is to stop wasting time and start taking action. Some questions that killed any progress for me included:
- What I should be studying?
- Is this course worth the investment?
- What path I should focus on?
- How do I gain experience without a job?
Well, hopefully after reading this and me sharing my experience, you’ll gain some insight as to what path to take, how to get started, and where to go from here.
NOTE: As I mentioned in my IT to DevOps post,this is my specific experience. This is not the best, nor most efficient, nor most optimal route or path to take, but it’s my route and it got me to where I’m at today. I’m sharing to help anyone who may find themselves in the same position I was 5 years ago.
A little about me — I was around 25 years old, working a sales job that I was terrible at, had a negative bank account, and suffered from depression. Talk about rock-bottom.
After one day deciding I’d had enough, I made a plan to completely pivot my career path and get involved in tech. My goal was to be a software developer, but I didn’t want to go back to school, and I needed a fulfilling job, ASAP.
Not everyone is willing nor will have the opportunity to work at an Apple Store, but one of the first and best things I did was leave my sales job and work for Apple.
I didn’t quit my sales job before I had an offer in place, but I did leave a full-time salary career with bonus and commission, for a part-time hourly position. I went from making $40–45K a year to just about $13/hour. I bring this up because this is the kind of dedication one needs if they really want switch careers, especially one as demanding as tech.
It wasn’t easy living just above minimum wage, especially with part-time hours, but those weekdays I had off, I used to learn how to code and develop websites. Not saying everyone needs to quit their jobs, but it gave me much needed time to focus.
It also helped that while at work, I still was around technology, so I was inundated, whether outside of work, or during work, with technology, computers, and software.
I highly recommend anyone looking to change careers to find some kind of side gig, part-time gig, or even full-time gig, revolving around technology. When you’re surrounded by tech your whole day, it isn’t that hard to switch gears when you come home to continue learning and self-education.
Note: If you can’t find a job at Apple or any side-tech gigs, it might be worth it to work in hospitality while you are teaching yourself how to code/change career paths. Working in hospitality as a bartender or server provides you with cash on hand, and also almost always is later in the evening from 5 PM to 2 AM. This allows you to wake up early and use your brain when it is at it’s strongest to learn code.
Trying to learn how to code at 7 PM after a long day of work is one of the hardest things to do and you will lose motivation quickly.
You don’t need work experience to gain tech experience. Teach yourself using your own environment.
Since I had little to no experience, I knew I would have to be creative in order to land my first tech/help desk role. I’m an avid Apple/Mac fan and was already working at an Apple store so I leaned into my strengths and focused on Mac OSX Support and Help Desk roles. I went on Indeed and LinkedIn and did some research for what skills recruiters and firms were looking for when it comes help desk roles. Most job listings included things like:
- Strong troubleshooting skills.
- Strong understanding of network infrastructure.
- Ability to configure and troubleshoot network infrastructure devices such as routers, firewalls, and switches.
- Creative problem solver.
- A self-starter and able to solve problems creatively without much management
I highlight that last one because it’s critical to understand this. Working in IT is all about solving problems and thinking outside of the box if a solution isn’t obvious. Constantly looking for the next step and needing someone to tell you exactly what to do every step of the way is a huge red flag that maybe you aren’t thinking the way IT engineers should be thinking.
Since I had no professional experience (besides being an Apple Genius), I built my own home lab and hosted websites locally so I could learn and understand things such as DNS, Nameservers, DHCP servers, and routers. All of this “experience” is possible with just your home network and laptop/desktop you already have. Not having real “work experience” is a lazy excuse to not get started in IT. It is literally one of the only professions where you don’t need formal training or real work experience to break into, unlike being a doctor or a dentist.
When it comes to learning a new topic, technology, or language, I try to incorporate a “brick and mortar” approach. Studying and learning the material is almost like laying breaks. The foundation in my case was always a large side project I was working on. Whether it was building a web app, a home server, or designing websites, I always had a side project motivating me to get something done. The point wasn’t to fully 100% grasp everything then and there, but to go through the process of project management start to finish.
The cement and bricks part of the building would be supplemental YouTube videos or interactive coding courses. After going through a side project, I would watch YouTube videos to reinforce what I was actually learning. It’s critical to physically go through the motions of coding and project planning, and then reinforce what you just learned with supplemental material.
If you just try to learn everything through coding tutorials, you just end up being a keyboard monkey not retaining anything you typed. If you just try to learn a topic by binge-watching a 20-hour Udemy course, your eyes will glaze over and you’ll forget everything you just watched by the next day.
You can tweak the brick and mortar approach to cater to your lifestyle and schedule but I stand by the idea that you will suffer from burnout if you try to learn one thing specifically by one single method or curriculum.
I always was working on a project, in the middle of a YouTube tutorial, and also reading a book. Everywhere and anywhere I went, I could learn something.
Having two topics or subjects to learn sometimes can help balance out your schedule and habits. I know when I would try and focus on one topic and I would get stuck, it would derail me and I would lose focus and passion and drive. Learning two things at once can give you something else to turn to when you aren’t feeling so motivated on one specific topic or project. It also makes you more marketable when applying for jobs.
Applying for help desk roles with IT experience is great, but marketing yourself as a self-taught IT professional with a passion for web and server technologies is going to set you apart from the competition. I was an Apple Genius Bar Specialist with a passion for web development technologies including server management.
This post is specifically meant to be about making the jump from no experience to entry-level IT/help desk, but I did want to include web development as a key topic I would bring up during interviews.
Chances are you won’t be going from zero experience to a web development role, but showing interest in technologies and skills outside of your immediate job requirements shows the recruiter you are ambitious, curious, and constantly learning.
Working at Apple was a good experience at the time, but my end-game was web development. During my days off (since Apple was part-time) I would run through coding tutorials and binge watch YouTube coding videos. Going in to help desk job interviews with the desired skill set and also a passion for advanced technology really set me apart from other applications who just had 2 years of school and a CompTIA A+ cert.
I covered a lot in Part 1 of this series and I still feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. To summarize everything I mentioned:
- I broke into IT with no experience. It’s hard work, but it’s more than doable. You just need to focus and make it work with your life and schedule.
- Stop worrying and start doing. Worrying about which line of IT you should focus on isn’t important when breaking into the industry with no experience. Your main goal should be to find a help desk or support technician role. Worrying about coding languages, frameworks, or security protocols is pointless when you still have no experience.
- Your learning process should be something you stack to with a schedule and a pattern. One day can be focused on your side project, the next day can be reading an IT fundamentals book or watching some YouTube videos/tutorials. Either way, keep it fresh so it keeps your motivation high to avoid burnout.
- You don’t need real work experience to build IT experience. IT is one of the only fields you can start learning day one, today, right now. If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can start learning and change your career as you’ve always wanted to.
In Part 2 of Breaking Into IT, I’ll be highlighting specific resources I used to break into IT and advance my career. I’ll be covering YouTube content creators, Udemy courses, interactive online courses like FreeCodeCamp, Codecademy, and more.
Jovan is a web developer and DevOps engineer who loves tech, automation, movies, and video games. Visit his site at www.jovanshernandez.com