Fell into IT Job - Need Guidance

Hi guys - looking for some guidance in the IT field. I was hired a few months ago as an assistant for a small company (two owners + me). Once they discovered I was tech savvy and could do some graphic design, my role morphed into something like an IT manager/graphic designer. Keep in mind that I only work a few hours a week from home - we have no office. They pay me a very small salary because it’s still in start-up territory. They’ve just launched a product on the market, will be launching another soon, and may be acquiring another small company.

Anyway, I’m in charge of the website, setting up their eCommerce, any graphic design projects, choosing a CRM and managing that, and generally helping with whatever tech issues come up. When I started, they weren’t even using spreadsheets, and had no real electronic filing system. Got them going with those.

They’re promising me more responsibility and raises as the company grows, but I don’t have any formal IT training. I have a B.A. in communication, studied graphic design for a year in school, worked for Apple for 5 years, have tinkered with HTML and CSS, and grew up messing around with computers. As they add more products to the business, I can see the need for moving to a more sophisticated website (they use Squarespace now), I’ll need to learn more about eCommerce, I’ve got to get a handle on this CRM stuff so I can teach them, and I can see the need for knowing some programming. They also need to build an app for one of their products, and I’m wondering if I should learn Swift and Java for that. They’ve outsourced an app before and paid a team $50,000 to do it, but they’re reluctant to do it again because it was such a hassle - and expensive to constantly do updates, etc. Maybe I can earn some extra dough by offering to do it in-house?

Anyway, I have no idea if the company will be successful in the end or not. It depends on how many products they sell. This could be a profitable opportunity for me since I’m on the ground floor of this, or it could be a dud. However, I’m a little overwhelmed by the amount of tech I’d have to learn to keep up. Any guidance on how I should approach a self-education in IT? This is something that just “happened.” I never had any intention of working in this field, even though I’ve got some experience in it. I’m more inclined towards the creative disciplines (I have another job as a writer). I thought I’d just go with the flow and see where I end up.

I guess the first question is if you even want a job in IT. If not, then it sounds like all this stuff is a bunch of techie bullshit you are wasting your time with.

If you do, then I would take the opportunity to learn as much as possible while you are in an environment where your bosses don’t know shit, and then parlay that knowledge into a job where you might actually get some real knowledge and experience.

I know that I would probably only do it in this particular circumstance. Information technology isn’t something that I would actively pursue otherwise. I have done some freelance tech consulting over the years and have a semi-regular client in that regard. The thing is that I like self-employment and freelancing, which is what I do. Even though I’m a salaried employee of this company, they treat me like a freelancer/consultant. Also, I’ve know one of the owners for a few years, so I have more than just a working relationship with her.

I’m willing to learn more to earn more with them…but the earning potential is down the road. By no means do I intend to make this my only job. I have other pursuits and want multiple streams of income. If this gig ever turned into a 9-5 office job, I would honestly hate it. The good news is that they’re not the office type either (they’re both personal trainers by profession). I’m just wondering if you think it would be helpful to study programming, or if you know of some other area that might be helpful from an IT persecutive in this situation.

What work did you do at Apple Computer? Was it in marketing/advertising/marketing communications or was it technical? What did you exactly do there?

While you claim you don’t know much you certainly have a handle on what needs to be done for the company’s benefit. Just wondering if you’ve spent most of your time preparing yourself for this kind of job or you simply have a natural ability to do project management and technical work.

I don’t consider time being spent learning anything to be a waste of time. Doesn’t matter if you become a pure IT person or not.

I worked at one of their stores as a Genius and then moved to a trainer position, teaching the technology all day. Between that and the graphic design stuff, I can take a computer/mobile devices apart, repair software/hardware, and have a basic understanding of technology. My grasp of programming, eCommerce, and the business software stuff is lacking. I haven’t specifically trained for a tech career - but I do have a knack for technical stuff. I used to be a professional pyrotechnician which required circuit designs and a lot of electrical wiring to be done. I really like doing that kind of stuff.

However, I find things like math difficult. Even though I’ve dabbled in website development with HTML and CSS, I found some concepts really hard to grasp. If I have trouble with freaking CSS, I can only imagine my confusion when I get into things like C, Java, or even Swift. I’m not sure my brain is wired to think like that. I also find business in general to be dull, so working with CRM software and spreadsheets a lot isn’t all that appealing. I just don’t know enough about the IT world to know what things specifically I should focus on learning, what would be helpful, and what might not be relevant. Anyone who has experience doing IT for a small company especially would have a lot more knowledge than me about the best things to learn.

I don’t want to sound like a shill but Shopify may be what you’re looking for. From their web site, the software and hosting provide a full internet presence. Other components do inventory tracking, ordering, shipping, payments and a bunch more. Check it out. They have a free trial too.

I think your time at Apple served you well. Not only the technical part but dealing with customers who may have no technical knowledge at all.

I’m an IT professional. Don’t let the math part scare you because while the Computer Science programs still load the major up with math, it really isn’t necessary for doing software development. Unless you are specifically doing computer programming which requires an understanding of higher level math. In my many years of experience as a software engineer, I don’t recall math being important. What was important was understanding logic, which has more to do with the way you think about things and have a good approach.

HTML isn’t a programming language, it is a formatting language. CSS is helps with more control of the display of websites. Those are the main purposes of HTML and CSS. If you wanted to be a front-end developer than HTML and CSS would be more important to you. But if you wanted to be a software engineer working in C, Java, etc., those real programming language have a much more mature history and there is plenty of help to understand them. CSS doesn’t follow what you would expect in a programming language and neither does HTML. For starters, none of those things generate any error messages if there is a mistake in programming code it just gives no results or sometimes odd unexpected results. I wouldn’t let a lack of mastering HTML and CSS at the moment stop you. Nor would I let math stop you either.

What you should do, is look for user groups in your area so you could attend them and network with others who know more than you. User groups can be amazingly supportive of its members, because it is all about learning.

One of the things which is very good about IT, is it can get you into a position in a company which pays well and you can transition to other aspects of the company which having a knowledge of IT is important, but isn’t the whole job.

Suggest an arrangement with them beneficial to both: you get training so that next time, instead of spending $50,000 on developing an application, you can do part of it in-house and only hire experts for a small part, and much less hassle for them.

The split is that they pay for the training (tuition & books) and you provide your time in attending (unpaid). Such tuition-reimbursement plans are common at big employers; they often make even more sense for small companies. If they ask, it’s reasonable for you to sign an agreement that requires you to pay them back if you resign within 6 months or so.

Such a strategy could work well for both you & the employer. Even if you decide you don’t want to get into the technical IT development, your additional understanding of the field should make it much easier to work with a consultant to get an application done that works well with much less hassle. You might also be able to do the maintenance & updates yourself after it’s installed, thus saving future expense (and making yourself much more essential to your employer).

The reason it cost $50,000 is because it was $50,000 worth of work. Unless you can find a shell that already is the App they want, that’s a years full-time work for you.

And if you’re building this App from scratch, remember that the last 20% takes 80% of the effort: you’ll be tied to this albatross long after you’re sick of it.
If it’s only an Android app, it might be worth seeing if you can get a source code licence from the people who build it, so that you can do things like update the icons and text. If it’s an iPhone App, even that is something to outsource, to someone who has an Apple developer ID.

Unless you /want/ to be an App developer (for love, not money, there isn’t a lot of money in it any more).

There are other jobs in “IT” besides programming computers. In fact, because much of the programming is now outsourced these days, much of IT involves program and project managers, business analysts, management types and consultants, most of which don’t really know anything about programming. Not to mention the various marketing, sales and other support tied to technology firms and departments. For creative types, there are jobs as art directors, graphic and UX design as well.
Really nearly all companies are “tech companies” now and pretty much the only ones that aren’t are backward ones waiting for their industry to be disrupted.