The Best Way to Start an IT Career With a Non-IT Background
If you’re considering making a career transition, it isn’t surprising that you are exploring IT. Even in an uncertain economy, employment in the industry remains strong and is expected to grow at a healthy rate in the years ahead.
Even better, jobs in IT can provide a great work-life balance, which is actually the number one reason people look to change careers.
If you’re currently working in a very different field, however, and don’t have experience in tech, you might be wondering how you can break into the field. In this article, we’ll help you think through the steps involved and provide some practical advice about how to begin an IT career with a non-IT background.
What It Takes to Start a New Career
Let’s begin with the big picture. There are three key elements involved in shifting to a new career in IT:
Find direction: Once you know you’re ready to leave your present career you need some clarity about where you want to land. If you’re reading this, maybe you’ve already narrowed down your choice to something in IT. But that’s still pretty broad. The next steps you take will depend upon the career path within IT you hope to pursue.
Get prepared: When you have settled on a clear direction, the next step in the process is getting ready to pursue a job. You will want to quickly acquire the qualifications you’ll need to be attractive to potential employers.
Find a position: After you have chosen your direction and gotten equipped with the necessary qualifications, you’ll need to successfully navigate the process of finding, applying for, and landing a job.
Doing each of these well will make your career transition much easier. Keep reading to find out how.
Find Direction: Career Paths in IT
Information Technology is a broad field with diverse career opportunities. It encompasses everything related to how organizations generate, store, and process digital information.
To get a sense of the possible niches within IT, you should first know that it has three main domains:
Hardware - the physical equipment used in computing and communications, including desktop computers, printers, routers, and mobile devices
Software - the code that runs on the hardware, including operating systems like Windows and Linux and applications like Microsoft Azure and SalesForce
Systems - ways of connecting and managing computer resources, like networking and cloud computing
There are also two different kinds of job functions you can have in relation to these domains:
Creating - These are the people who design hardware, write software, and engineer systems.
Supporting - Support roles range from installing and configuring hardware and software to troubleshooting to monitoring security.
In the real world, there won’t always be sharp boundaries between these areas and functions. Still, it’s useful to have a clearer sense of the possible areas within IT you might decide to pursue.
So what might your career path look like? A traditional way to proceed would be to pick an area of specialization, go to university for a four-year degree, and then look for jobs in that area.
However, since you’re transitioning into IT from a different field, you probably want the shortest path possible to get your foot in the door and start earning income. One common way to do this is to prepare for a job in technical support. As the name suggests, it is a supporting, rather than creating, role.
Someone working in tech support may deal with all three areas mentioned above - hardware, software, and systems. For that reason, it is a great way to get grounded in all the key areas of IT. From there, it is possible to deepen your knowledge and move into a more specialized role or into management roles within tech support.
Preparation: Getting Ready for the Job
We’re going to focus our attention on preparing for the route we just described: securing a tech support job as a launching point for your career in IT. It isn’t the only way to move forward, but it is an especially manageable one for someone coming from a non-tech background.
First, you need to know what you need to be competitive in the job market. Employers will be looking for particular skills and knowledge as well as evidence that you can put them to work in real-world contexts.
Tech support positions require you to understand a fair amount about areas like operating systems, hardware configuration, networking devices, security best practices, and cloud computing. You’ll also need to be able to communicate clearly, solve problems, and provide excellent customer service.
In other words, you'll need two broad categories of skills: technical competence and soft skills like communication and critical thinking. Depending on your previous work experience, you may already be able to show that you possess the needed soft skills. What about technical skills?
The best way for you to get ready in this area is probably to earn a certification. This is a credential that you receive after passing an examination, which demonstrates to the potential employer that you have the technical know-how for the job.
The most widely-recognized certification for entry-level IT jobs is the CompTIA A+. Preparing for and passing the exam isn’t just important so you have a credential to put on your resume. It will also give you the confidence that you’ve learned what you need in order to successfully do the job.
Finding Your First Job in IT
Once you have acquired the foundational knowledge and technical skills you’ll need for an entry-level position in IT, it’s time to start looking for a job. They are a few different aspects to this:
Getting ready for the job market: Before actually applying, you’ll need to have a professional, up-to-date resume. You’ll also want to learn everything you can about how to prepare for and be successful during interviews.
Networking: Connections are so important. As soon as you can, start reaching out to friends and colleagues to build your network for two key reasons. First, you can find mentors — those who already work in IT who might be able to give you advice. Second, you can learn about and get connected to job opportunities.
Search strategy: There are better and worse ways to go about finding job postings and applying to them. This is where the mentors mentioned in the last section can really prove valuable. A little advice from someone with experience can go a long way in helping you be more successful in your search.
When thinking about a new career it’s easy to focus all your attention on gaining knowledge and skills for the job you’d like to land. Remember, though, that understanding and preparing properly for the job search process is just as important.
Starting an IT Career with CompTIA Tech Career Academy
In this brief article, we’ve covered a lot of ground. There is obviously more to explore, but we hope it has helped you gain a clearer picture of what you’ll need to do as you move forward.
Even if it seems clear, it may feel a bit overwhelming. Having a general outline of what you need to do is different than having a concrete set of steps prepared to get from where you currently are to your first job in IT.
We’ve built our online IT-Ready Technical Support program to do just that. You’ll get live instruction and hands-on activities to make sure you thoroughly understand everything you’ll need to know to pass the CompTIA A+ exam and excel in a tech support position.
Just as important, you’ll get robust mentoring and expert support through every stage of the job-search process, from preparing your resume to planning your strategy. You will even have valuable networking opportunities with employers who are looking for candidates with your qualifications.
Even after you’ve landed your first job, you’ll continue to reap the benefits of our strong and growing alumni network for support and networking.Interested in finding out more about following a clearly-designed path to start your IT career with a non-IT background? See the program details.