Every now and then, I’ll get a question along the lines of “How do I get into computers? Is there somebody willing to train me?” That isn’t an easy question to this answer. A lot of people don’t seem to like this answer and some even consider it to be derogatory. No matter what profession you are trying to get into, there are four main steps.
The first step is to figure out what you want to do. Do you want to get into application development, system administration, or cybersecurity? You can chose something and change your mind later but you do need a plan. You can figure out what a person in that role does on a daily basis by reading job postings, reading blog posts, or optimally by talking someone who is in that profession.
You can’t expect American Airlines to hire you as a pilot without having flown a plane or P. F. Chang’s to hire you as a cook if you’ve never cooked a dish, before. You DO NOT need to know everything but you do need to know the basics.
You can do that the old fashioned way by getting a college degree. You can also study independently, on your own schedule using something like ITProTV, Pluralsight, or Frontend Masters. I curate two lists of learning resources on my website (one for application development and one for everything else). These can be low-stress ways of learning something new.
Your local technical college will also have inexpensive classes on a variety of topics. A wednesday night class for Web Programming 1 at my local technical college is just $500.
My suggestion would be to do what works for your style of learning. If you think that you need a teacher, start with a single night class and see if you like it. If you think that you can do self-directed study successfully, do that. Neither have a huge cost of entry.
I would not recommend looking at code camps. I have just heard too many bad things about them.
This might be the most difficult part of the process. Now that you know how to do the job, you need to find a way to demonstrate that you know what you know. The traditional method has been to get a degree or a certificate of completion. You can also complete the tests to get a CompTIA, Apple Certified Associate, or MCSA certification. Another route is to blog, contribute to open source projects, or build a portfolio. Whatever you do, you need to be able to demonstrate to a potential employer that you can do the job.
Some hiring managers require coding tests to examine what you know. This could be a “whiteboard exercise” or a 3-4 hour project that you do for them (for free) to show what you can do.
Whatever you do, you need to leave a potential employer with a feeling that you will be able to step into a position and get the job done without too much trouble.
Technology never stops changing. This means that your understanding of technology can never stop growing. Some employers budget for ~20% of your time to be dedicated to education and experimentation. Other employers don’t budget for any time for education. This means that in order to stay current, you may need to learn during your free time. The key is to keep learning. If you don’t keep flexing those muscles, they will atrophy and die.
No matter where your career path takes you, it is important that you stay interested in what you are doing. There are so many little pivots available in this industry. Don’t find being a DBA interesting? Look at application development. Don’t find application development interesting? Look at information security. Once you stop having fun, you stop wanting to learn and start having problems.
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