How to Become an IT Professional: a Personal Story

Guest blogger D. J. Moore writes:

Chris Pirillo was recently asked an intriguing question in his Geek Out segment on YouTube that is near and dear to this author’s heart. Someone wanted to know how to get started in the IT world. Chris had a perfect reply: “Certifications, certifications, certifications, certifications, certifications, certifications, certifications…” While this is the exact answer to the viewer’s question, it does not provide many details. The IT field is broad, with many different specific job titles. With so many choices, it can be hard to settle on exactly what one might want to do.

My Personal Story

I always dabbled with computers ever since my parents went out to buy our first system. It was such a momentous point in my life that I remember the exact day we got it, and the specifications with which it was configured! It was October 21, 1998 when my parents decided to go to Walmart to buy a brand new (mediocre) HP Pavilion desktop personal computer. At the time I had no idea what the difference in Windows 98 or Windows 95 was, nor that Apple’s Macintosh even existed! I was completely oblivious to the personal computer revolution.

That computer and I almost became one. I spent many, many hours on it at a time. This is exceptional considering that, for the first two years, we did not have Internet access! My new hobby was coming in from school and playing the newest game I could beg my parents to buy me (as long as it was able to run with a modest hardware configuration). It was an HP Pavilion 4433 with a 300 Mhz AMD-K-6 CPU, 6 GB HDD, 64 MB SDRAM, 4 MB SiS integrated GPU, and an 800×600 15″ CRT. Nevertheless, I was in love.

My friends and I began swapping games or buying our own copies. Most of the time I would play demos from discs that came with the latest PC Gamer magazine or PC Gaming World, which is no longer in print. With games came learning curves. I quickly learned what hardware was and how it was measured. I also started to learn how to fix issues that would arise due to certain bad pieces of hardware or software.

From there I moved on to Dell desktops and laptops. My family always shopped Dell for all of our computers due to its superior customer service. Even after its customer service fell off, we continued to shop with Dell over HP because we were comfortable with the brand.

All these years I was gaining knowledge about Windows-based computers. Back then you had to learn to fix things yourself. I considered myself to have an analytical mind, so troubleshooting came naturally to me.

Welcome to the Future

How to Become an IT Technician: a Personal StoryI always knew I wanted to work with technology, but for the longest time I thought I would be doing some kind of game development job (with Blizzard) or doing 3D rendering in Hollywood. Then, I went to college. I couldn’t do it. I dropped out, having wasted time and money.

I moved back home and took up a job at Sherwin Williams, but still dreamed of working with computers. It wasn’t until I got a contracting job in Kuwait over half a year later and was introduced to a communications technician that I was finally able to learn about certifications. He told me all about CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+, and many other certifications. I thought to myself, this is perfect! I went home that night and bought the CompTIA A+ book by Mike Meyers from Amazon. Four weeks later I was reading almost a chapter a night trying to soak in all the information I could after a long, 12-hour day at work.

Just a few weeks into reading it, I was transferred to Oman for an upstart contract. Once there, I had more free time, but since it was a huge change for me, I lacked the motivation to study. Something about going from a furnished flat in Kuwait to an eight-man tent in Oman that bothers a man to the point that he lacks drive and determination for a time. When I decided to pick up my studies, I decided to do it through CBT (computer based training). Still, until this point, I had not managed to break into the IT field no matter how hard I pushed.

I found a small company called PrepLogic (now LearnSmart) that offered a buffet of video certification training for two years for $3,000. I took it! I knocked out my A+ certification within six more months of starting to study again. Alas, this did nothing to advance my career, no matter how many jobs I applied for on Dice.

Close to nine months later I took my Network+ test and passed it. At this point, I was handling daily IT tasks for our work area due to the former technician finishing his contract and going back to the States. I wrote this up as experience on my resume that I was sending out. At that time, a manager from another contract spoke with me about the work I was doing. He liked me, but said I lacked experience — even with my certifications.

About half a year later, my resume passed that manager’s desk with more experience, and he picked me up for a starting-level technician job.

Now, here I am today, sitting in a small office with one other technician, who is my supervisor.

What to Do Next?

For an up-and-coming technician, I would recommend starting with the basic CompTIA A+ certification, then moving on to Network+ and Security+. Try to gain experience any way you can, by any means possible. Make sure your resume is spectacular, but don’t lie! You are going to be an IT professional; any manager would expect that you know how to operate Microsoft Word and have a good command of the English language, otherwise you will be overlooked.

Unless you are already working for an IT company or section, chances are that you will have to pay for these tests up front, yourself. Once in the field, many companies offer reimbursement for certifications if taken while working for them. Research other certifications, and talk to other people in the arena who are already certified to find out what you most want to do. The key is, when you can find a job you love to do, it’s no longer work.

I share my life’s story here in hopes that all young, aspiring IT professionals have something from which to learn. The going may not be easy, but if it’s your calling, you’ll get there with the right attitude and the willingness to work hard.

Article Written by

Guest Blogger is from all sorts of different times and places. Guest Blogger is usually less mysterious than James Bond, but often more mysterious than Austin Powers. Guest Blogger has a knowledge base that is as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. Guest Blogger is sometimes me, and Guest Blogger is sometimes you.

  • Charlie Ellingson

    This article would be relevant 6 years ago. Times have changed.

    • Luke Woods

      Oh Do go on…

    • D. J.

      It’s pretty relevant to me, and thousands of other technologist around the world. Plus, due to the high unemployment rate sweeping across the nation, it is more relevant today, compared to six years ago. Managers and executives want accountability when it comes to a prospect’s experience and knowledge.  When you are just starting out, this is a great way to get ahead of the competition.

  • Michael Stokes

    Luckily, my school receives discounts for students wanting to take the CompTIA tests. For example, for me, the A+ is only $180 for both tests. There’s also discounts on all other tests as well. Plan on taking as many as possible before graduating High School next year. 

    • D. J.

      The longest one, A+, just takes persistence and time, but you can do it!  If you’re a geek then you know 80% of the material already!  I know a computer science major that took it without studying and he passed with flying colors just recently.  But, I recommend studying, because it is a very broad exam; at least use the book as a refresher.  Even $180 is nothing to throw away!

      • Dustin Harper

         On the other side of that coin, I’ve seen some MCSE know it all’s that couldn’t swap out a hard drive. They were software only, never played with the hardware. They are definitely geeks, but not with that side of the field. Same with come Cisco geeks knowing everything about BGP, but not anything about a simple Windows error. A+ is a GREAT foundation, and I think anyone going into IT should have those foundations, regardless of where your goals are. From there, Network+ or MCP would be a great next step.

        With the Security+, I was already pretty educated in the material, but I bought a book (Darril Gibson’s, highly recommended). It was well worth it. I knew most of the material, but it was a great refresher and filled in any gaps that I had – and helped me out with the obscure stuff that you only find on exams. :)

        I took my A+ in ’99. It was a lot of IRQ’s, and stuff like that. After all my experience, I think I’d still have to study for the current exam. They are easy (relatively speaking compared to the other exams I’ve taken), but there are those things that you have to study or memorize (like IRQ’s back when I was taking mine).

      • Louis

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  • LukeLC

    Thank you so much for writing this post! I’ve looked in the past for such stories and found nothing nearly this helpful.

    • D. J.

      You’re more than welcome!  :-)  I’m glad I can help.  I plan on submitting more articles, going a little in depth about A+, Security+ and Network+.  Hopefully, it will help others decide if this is what they wan to do in life.

      Personally, in the next half year or so, I’m going to start teaching A+ to kids after school hours in our high school auditorium.  I want these kids to have the chance I never had at their age.

      • Nicolas LaBarre

        Please continue to write about CompTIA certifications. This is the exact track that I am on now. I am taking the 220-701 exam tomorrow and hopefully with the help of the Mike Meyers All in One Exam guide and the Professor Messer YouTube video series I pass.

      • Sbro

        I was pretty lucky as a temp in my last job, learning how to archive Outlook emails, and burn them to disk(which the process took forever!), how to setup email on people’s computer once the IT person put it in the system, how to map a network drive once IT gave them the right permission, and how to add a network printer on people’s computer, and a bunch of other stuff. I learned/am learning to fix people’s computers through people asking me my computer won’t boot, can you fix it? or I’m getting a bsod, can you fix it? Which is cool bc last year I got to clone a bad hard drive and re-image it to a new one. And I was fortunate enough to build my brother a computer, and build me a computer last year. I don’t know if I want to be IT, though, bc I spoke with IT from my last job and they can be stretched prettttty thin, they have everybody hitting them up to work on their stuff all the time(and they have to tell people “put in a ticket for it”), and they have to justify every minute of every day for what they did that day. Oh, and they have to travel all around the market area bc they are in charge of the whole market area. Sounds interesting, but very stressful. 

        • D. J.

          I could not recommend going into this field more, if it is something you love.  It has to be a passion, or you will hate it!  You can end up working with some nerve-racking people under intense situations.
          Departments are often stretched thin due to costs associated with more technicians.  Businesses are for profit, so the fewer people you hire, the more profit you might stand to gain, but this often isn’t the case.  When you are paid per job, it can be more better to have more technicians, but when it’s just a department in a larger company, then it makes more sense to have fewer people.
          Do not let someone else sway you out of a very fulfilling career path.  You can always move beyond help desk.  😉  (It sounds like the person you talked to was more than likely help desk.)

          Do this if you have a drive or passion for it!  That is the key.  Without it you will be miserable in ANYTHING you do.  

          • Dustin Harper

             Have to agree. With the passion, you can go anywhere and do anything in the field. I’ve seen a lot of burnouts in help desk, but they really don’t want to go much farther. They want the paycheck and that’s it. The pay is nice, but I really enjoy the work. I love learning new aspects of the job. This not only makes you more valuable to the company, you’re also learning more and get to play with the bigger and better equipment!

            Start at help desk, go on to network or system admin. It’s a great journey!

          • D. J.

            Some of the best opportunities are with small companies or departments where you can break out of your “job title.”  You learn so much more that way.  Just let your passion shine through and your ambition lead the way, and people will notice and advance you more and more.  You have to start at the bottom and work your way through the ranks.  Just keep getting certified and get as much experience as you can.  I fully agree, Dustin Harper.

  • D. J.

    Something I forgot to add to this article!

    Remember that you are going to have to pay your dues.  Just because you have a certification for Network+ does not mean you are going to get a job primarily pertaining to networking!  You will have to start at the bottom, such as being a Support Technician. 

    When I was in Oman I had to show my work ethic by working my normal duties, plus doing my IT responsibilities on the side.  Sadly, experience is often hard-earned.  That’s why I say get it any way you can!

    • Mhebert68

       Since 2009 I’ve earned A+, Net+, MCP and Cisco (CCT) I live in the US northeast and still make crap for money.  Can u give me a ballpark example of ur recent earnings??

      • D. J.

        Well, my income is skewed because I work overseas for a Private Military Contractor.  It would not be fair to compared salaries, or ethical in my view.  With A+ and Net+ all statistics tell that you should make about 60,000+ before taxes. 

        You should be doing everything you can to move that CCT up to a CCNA as soon as possible.  They doors will open after that!  Stay with networking if that is what you love.  Networking does not have such a short ceiling as far as pay is concerned, compared to just SysAdmin style work with Microsoft certifications.

    • Dustin Harper

       This is very true. Experience is number 1, IMO. Sure, the certifications can get you in the door, but I’ve seen quite a few MCSE’s, CCNP’s, etc. that had 3 months of Geek Squad experience. I think you should supplement your experience with certifications. CompTIA certs are great because they are entry level (~6 months experience) and look good on a resume. Once you start getting the experience, you could go for a client level Microsoft exam, or if you are in networking go for the CCENT/CCNA.

      Most employers wouldn’t hire a MCSE/MCITP with 3 months experience to be in charge of their servers. They might hire them as help desk. From there, you can learn the trade and cross train with the server admins to learn more. Never stop learning.

      After 18 years of working in IT, I’ve had a few setbacks and had to start near the bottom before, but I’m doing well now. Certifications have helped a lot getting me the interview. After that, it was my skills that got me the job. I’m still pursuing certs (just earned my CCNA – moving to CCNP). I’ve learned a LOT earning my certs.

      • D. J.

        The guy that was here, that I took the replacement slot for, was nicknamed “Best Buy” because he had worked at Geek Squad.  Once again, this is mainly SysAdmin style work, with little networking past SoHo environments.  To play in the big leagues takes working for a real IT department with servers, Cisco equipment, and fiber.  Or, doing it yourself, or as a independant contractor/small business setup as an on-demand IT solution

      • N0F3AR

        I was fortunate to land an intern level job doing desktop support for a major bank outside Chicago. The opportunity, which required me to take a $3k pay cut, said “if you know computers we’ll teach you the rest”. paying your dues is key; I crawled under desks doing deployments, hunted down bad connections in wire closets and sweated in the warehouse handling ingoing and outgoing loads of new and old pc’s. Such an opportunity comes along rarely, but when it does you have to recognize it. I am 47 now and still have no certifications, but with 16 yrs in IT my experience is what keeps me employed. I have to manage to learn new software of every kind and be open to the ridiculous hours IT demands–who can say they work a 40 hr work week anymore? Not most in IT.

        Certifications are great but you can’t be a “paper MCSE” for example (ie passed the test but no practical work experience) and expect to land a living wage. Those guys are a dime a dozen once the word got out about certs = good job. Now it takes practical experience to prove you can pull your weight, and it is still somewhat an employers’ markey unfortunately.

        That said, I consider IT to be 1000% better than any other profession because you tend to work with intelligent people, learn new things constantly and are exposed to cutting edge software more quickly than other professions.

  • John C.

    Thank you so much for writing this article. Your story is very similar to mine up until studying for your first certification. Our family got our first computer in 2005. Ever since I have fixed every problem that we have had. Now I am looking to get into the IT field also. I am unable to dedicate time to an online course yet but I was wondering what book or books you would recommend for me to start reading to get a jumpstart on my first certification? Looking forward to reading more of your articles for beginning IT professionals.

    • D. J.

      The book linked in the article by Mike Meyers is a perfect start to A+.  I never used another book to study with for A+, because it was so thorough.  IT is a very rewarding field!  Thank you for the positive reinforcement.  I’m glad I could help you in choosing a career path!

      • Pradeep Hs

        hi i live in india i just did my  diploma in electronic and communication and got job as system admin but really i dont know any thing abt it but i am reallly good in assembling pc and stuff plss suggets me some ideas… i have done a+,n+

        • D. J.

          I’m not sure how the job market is in India. I’m sorry. I’m sure you can find some kind of entry level job. Try looking to the Middle East for employment with an American company. We hire people from Indian, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and The Philippines all the time. It’s hard to judge for another country, because I’m not familiar with the job market. Just keep up the persistence and hard work.

          • Pradeep Hs

            hmmm Okay Thanks For The Reply……….

  • Tom Braarup Cuykens

    I can see this is mostly a point of view from the US, I live in Europe and those certification although they are available, are not the things that will get you a job. Cisco CCNA (and the higher ones, CCNP and more …) and the MSCE (Microsoft certifications) are more the way to go. The thing is that you can get some of the certifications in school and they will cover the expenses, and most school are free in Europe. But if you want to do something more exotic, like Linux or Cluster you ll need either to take a Master in computer science or learn by yourself.

    A good start also is to take the study called IT supporter / IT support technician you ll get part time in school, part time in job for 2-3 years and you ll get a broad approach of IT. It is very broad and very superficial knowledge but you ll get your hands on a lot of things and find the area you are interested in.
    This is my point of view and experience from Denmark and France, this might not be the same in other part of Europe.

    • D. J.

      I fully agree and have made statements supporting what you have just said:  a certification is not the only thing that will get you a job.  It takes a mix of certifications and experience to get a job.  I’ll say it again, get experience by any means possible!  :-)

  • Mike Houlden

    Well i started in 1986 on an IBM XT 8080… That was fun… lol

    • D. J.

      I met one technician with no certifications, but his claim to fame was: “I am older than computers.”  He won that argument!

  • J_Degnitz

    great article lots of inspiration

  • D. J.

    Thank you.

  • Pradeep Hs

    hi i live in india i just did my  diploma in electronic and communication and got job as system admin but really i dont know any thing abt it but i am reallly good in assembling pc and stuff plss suggets me some ideas… i have done a+,n+

  • Hello Bye

    I have a choice between two schools, one is offering CCNA the other one EUCIP. Which is better? I live in Europe.