Getting Into IT
Nowadays, virtually everyone needs a computer to work. However, most computer users do not want to think about how they are using a computer – they just want it to work. That is where IT professionals come in. Their job is, for the most part, behind the scenes, making sure that the experience of computer users is as smooth as possible.
Of all careers you can possibly choose, a job in IT is probably one of those with the biggest opportunities to develop and progress. Information Technology is constantly developing, with new programs and solutions being designed and launched on a daily basis. It can be hard to keep up, but it is important that you realise you are not going to know everything about all subjects.
Before you start panicking about the multitude of new things you will need to absorb, remember that, as with any other industry, in spite of the importance of a certain degree of being multi-talented, it helps to pick an area that you are particularly passionate about.
Take the construction industry as an example: a plumber does not have to know everything that is involved in building a whole house. He specialises in plumbing, so all the carpentry aspects of it are irrelevant to him and he never needs to worry about mixing cement. If he does, however, have a notion of those areas, so much the better. The same goes for your IT career. Be prepared to learn as much as you can about this broad industry and don't shut the door on certain jobs just because they are not exactly in the area you want to eventually specialise in.
Why you should pursue a career in IT
Few careers are as challenging and innovative as IT. The learning phase goes beyond your school years and extends itself throughout your life. You will need to reassess your skills constantly and keep learning new ones.
Whether you choose to be a games developer, a systems engineer or a security specialist, there are a number of paths you can take to get your goal. It doesn't matter if you don't see yourself as a computer genius or if you think java is just another word for coffee. There's always time to learn.
It is important that you get as much experience as you can, even if most of it is self-taught, before you can study it further. An NZQA-recognised qualification is a valuable asset with which to kick-start your career. A search on the NZQA Web site (nzqa.govt.nz) will tell you which institutions and courses are recognised.
There are a number of schools and institutes offering diplomas in a range of IT subjects, from computing to systems technology. Alternatively, if you want to invest in post-graduate education, all major universities in New Zealand have IT degrees in which you can enrol.
The right steps
Dennis A Smith, founder of Go Kiwi Internet and the Web Developers Association of New Zealand, has a number of years of experience guiding IT professionals through the first years of their career. According to Smith, “getting your foot in the door” is essential for a successful start. More than the theory you might learn in school, right people and establish good connections in the industry.
“Business is all about people, and when you connect with someone, unless there is a strong reason why not (such as cultural resistance, a clear mismatch of experience and job requirements or a personal dislike) they will naturally return to the people that they have an existing relationship with. Be it selling yourself, or your products or services, make sure that it is you they naturally want to open the door to,” wrote Smith in one of his articles at the Emerging Talent Web site (www. emergingtalent.co.nz).
Still according to Smith, there are three main channels through which you can develop your IT skills: work experience, university and specialised training. Of those, work experience is the one that Smith points out as the one that can open the most doors. “Employers are looking for experience,” says the IT entrepreneur.
If you are looking to gain work experience in the IT field, prepare your CV and contact companies that match your skills and preferences. More often than not, you will find that these companies have their doors open to students who want to learn more about the profession. Smith's Web Development company, Go Kiwi (www. gokiwi.net), for example, offers a number of options to aspiring IT professionals, from internships to joint ventures and subcontracting.
Invest in your skills
One of the best things to have listed on your CV if you are trying to make a career in IT is a Microsoft certification. Microsoft offers certification diplomas in a range of areas of expertise and these are highly regarded amongst most IT employers. Cisco Systems also provides certification for professionals using their products. These span a broad collection of subjects, from network security to routing and switching.
A number of institutes in New Zealand also offer other types of courses and training. Ace Training (www.ace. co.nz), for example, provides a vast number of technical and application courses, as well as certification and a diploma in Computer Technology.
Top tips for a successful start
- Have a good personal Web site. It will be your face on the Internet and, if that is the area you want to work in, it's a great way to showcase your abilities.
- Don't underestimate the power of social networking as a way to establish the right connections in the industry.
- Gather as much experience as you can, even if that means starting out by doing some unpaid work.
- Work on your CV. It will be the first thing your employer reads about you, so it must reflect all your skills and capabilities.
- Never assume that you have learnt all there is to learn. The industry keeps evolving and you need to evolve with it.