“I had passed CCNA and couldn’t find work due to lack of hands on experience. I’m studying for MCSA now and wondering if the same thing is going to happen. My experience has mostly been entry level help desk and repairing computers out of my home.”
I’ll leave the author of the email anonymous but I tend to get a lot of these kind of questions and I think its high time I write up my “official” response to this question.
Short answer: get an internship, network with the right people, stay hungry for knowledge, keep getting certs, and never stop until you got what you want.
Long answer: I personally got into the field through an internship that I got while getting my Bachelors. I was working at the bank doing teller work and finishing up the bachelors degree doing night classes. At the time I had no idea what a Cisco was, OSPF, networks, let along how to setup a Domain Controller or what VMware was. I had no silver spoon or no hookups in the field either. No one in my family was in IT or even remotely close to it. I was literally starting from the ground up.
I just knew I liked IT because my High School Guidance Councilor said it was the top jobs that paid good money for the 2000s so I went after it. I would of rather enjoyed being a History professor or an artist but that obv didnt pan out. Oh and I went to a no-name school for my Bachelors degree so no sorority parties or hookups for me there either.
At the bank where I was working by talking to everyone I knew at the moment, a co-worker mentioned to me there was a Part time job opening at the bank’s IT department for Desktop Technician. I applied for the job with only the experience that I installed my own CDR burner on my home PC and I was close to finishing my bachelors degree. I got the gig.
At work while on my downtime I somehow stumbled upon certifications for Microsoft Windows XP Desktop Technician. I went after it and was able to finish off MCSA 2003! The thirst for knowledge was there.
I left the job at the bank and started my consulting career of going from different manage service companies and inhouse companies. ALOT happened but its way too much to fit in this post but suffice to say I got my ass handed to me a few times and long hours and lost relationships.
After a few jobs I quit/got fired from a job (long story, ask me in person) and I took 6 months off to go on a study bootcamp. I achieved CCNA, CCNA Security, CCNA Voice, CompTIA A+, Net+, and MCSE 2003. I then found a job at a local startup company and touched Cisco for the FIRST time ever.
I remember a friend of mine saying “you study 8-10 hrs a day, and you never go out on the weekends, and you just got to the gym at night, I’m surprised your not on anti-depression medication” I wasn’t though, I was perfectly fine. I had a goal and I KNEW what I had to do to get to where I needed to go. Funny thing happens when you have a goal and a desire in mind, all depression goes away. The gym really helped me when my brain was fried to beat my physically body up to help “balance” myself out. I also started salsa dancing classes to help my creative part of my mind and to let me do something other than IT.
Another great thing I did during those 6 months was I went to my local Toastmasters International club and started doing speeches and taking on some leadership roles. Although all volunteer, it really helped me develop my speaking skills and confidence in front of a crowd which REALLY helps during interviews.
I also ended up trying to find people who were like minded like myself. One of the reasons I ended up creating the group was for just that reason. Two years later here we are.
So what does all this have to do with “–help!!”? I hope my story helped you realize that theres no silver golden ticket. No surefire way to get in. If I had to bulletpoint it I’d say…1. Intense Desire2. Confidence in your skills and abilities
3. Putting on the blinders for a certain amount of time
4. Network network network
5. Eat, breathe, live what you want to do. After a while, you’ll start attracting the right people
6. Never stop learning, there’s ALWAYS something new to learn.
7. Make it a habit to study DAILY (or 5,6 times a week, whatever your schedule allows) to make it happen
Finally, you need to offer the market what the market desires. You could be the best person to fix VCRs, but no one uses those nowadays. Same with IT, go on dice.com, careerbuilder, or network to find whats hot in the field, or what most employers are asking for and make yourself as much as you can the expert in that field. But from what I found most employers generally asks for the same few things…
1. Windows experience (MCSA, MCSE level)
2. Cisco experience (CCNA, CCNP level)
3. Security (Firewalls, VPNs, P2P Links)
Having those 3 items under your belt helps a lot — and of course nothing can topple experience. Get as much hands on experience as you can — being a paper cert is NOT the same as actual hands on. After a certain amount of years, people start looking more at what you DONE versus what certs you have. Certs help you get your foot in the door but what you’ve been doing and have done helps you get the job!