Help Me Switch Careers... (to the technology field)

I’m tired of the health care field. I don’t like dealing with patients and the job I’m in has no room for advancement or change. I’m interested in switching careers to something in the technology field. I was thinking programming(software development) or something like network admin type stuff.

I’m pretty computer literate. I’ve worked with/messed with all the popular OSes: PC, Mac, Unix, Linux. I’m a little familiar working with scripting just from playing with Linux, PHP and eggdrop bots and am comfortable navigating in a UNIX shell. My original intention was to pursue a physics/philosophy double major at Berkeley, but I couldn’t afford the non-resident tuition and dropped out. So, I have all the transfer stuff neccessary for a physics degree and I figure a lot of the higher math and such would transfer over if I decided to pursue a CS(is that what I’d want?) degree. I’m also familiar with networking basics just from working on it at work and home.

I can’t really drop out of the workforce and pursue a degree during the daytime. I need to be able to work during the transition. Also, I can’t go into a [super]low paying job to start out (some people have suggested starting in tech support, this really doesn’t pay enough to maintain), unless it was very short term. We’ve got bills, ya know? :wink:


What is the best way into the technology field? Does one NEED a CS degree? Can I get what I need to move into something from the JC?(this would be a bonus, as I could take the classes at night). Are any of the non-accredited (I think Cisco has a training course) training programs any good?

What are your experiences in the field? Are you happy in what you are doing? What are you doing? :wink:
Hmm, that’s all I can think of for now. Will you help me?

Well, if you have a familiarity with networking and have worked with UNIX recently, there’s really not a problem with that. Contract rates for network and UNIX admins, even in entry-level, are approaching 35-40$ an hour or 40-50k a year. I know this because that’s what I’m doing (and getting paid).
I’d highly recommend Cisco certifications, especially if you want to do something with networking. The CCNA exam isn’t particularly hard, and there are several good study guides that can be had quite cheaply. Getting a CCNA will let you get your foot in the door and will let you know if you want to do network ops, Sysadmin, network design, or client scripting. Other certificates-you can decide later if they’re worth it.

It’s good that you’re familiar with UNIX and other command-line type interfaces. If you can show this substantively, and show an employer that you really grok what you’re doing, you’ll be worth more to them than paper MCSEs, and awarded appropriately.
Try volunteering and doing some basic network ops, setups and the like. Schools, community centers and religious organizations perpetually need people to help them run networks and keep everything working. Go to some of them, explain the situation, and offer to work for them on either a reduced or volunteer basis. Then you’ll have the hands-on experience employers crave.

A degree of some sort is useful to show learning potential, particularly if it has a post grad component.

However assuming you already have a college degree then I would probably recommend doing the MSCE exams or the Lotus CLP exams as these have minimal costs, are designed to be done outside of a classroom, and will be highly targeted to getting you a job in the area.

The answer really depends on your final choice, whether network admin or software programming. A year ago when things were red hot in high tech, not so much. A B.S. in computer science (or physics or math) would pay pretty substantial dividends in getting you a decent programming job. That’s not to say it isn’t possible to stumble on to something, but most employers like to see some solid computer science classes on your transcript.

At the minimum, you need a couple of programming courses (including C or C++), an operating systems course, software engineering and design classes, and some theory courses.
While not strictly necessary, some computer hardware/logic design classes are useful to gain some perspective.
Finally, you’ll want courses in application areas such as databases and networking.

You could probably get a programming job of some kind just by picking up C++ and/or Java and learn as you go. But your upward mobility might be limited (“No degree? Well, we can’t pay him more than $X/year.”) and your job mobility will be limited, because on the job training typically teaches very specialized skills rather than general ones.

Most of the classes listed above could be taken as night or extension classes. In at least one sense, getting a CS degree is almost infinitely easier than it was 20 years ago because you have a computer at home, so programming assignments are much logistically much easier (you don’t have to hang around the computer center until 5:00 AM running programs).

If you’re looking to get into computer programming, having a CS degree helps a lot. Employers want to be sure you understand basic programming techniques and methodologies and that you have a good grasp of the overall process involve in writing programs. The “sit down and just start coding” approach is fine if all you want to do is a write a quick little utility to get a simple task done, but not so good if you’re building a piece of production software from the ground up. I imagine programming experience would demonstrate your understanding of programming equally well. Beyond that, I can’t really say since I don’t work as a programmer.

As for network and system admin positions, most admins do start off as email, phone, and desktop support technicians (that’s how I started off). Desktop support positions can actually pay reasonably well, depending on the company and the position (email and phone support positions generally don’t pay very well). All that’s really required to secure a desktop support position is an ability to show that you have basic troubleshooting skills in the environment of choice (Windows, Unix, whatever). Very few admins I know of start off right at an admin level, since even as a systems or network admin, you never entirely can remove yourself from the daily desktop support issues.

Most IT managers don’t expect their admins to know it all; if you’re able to demonstrate that you have the ability to pick up knowledge quickly and have basic knowledge of how computers work, then that’s usually good enough. IT certs (Microsoft’s MCSE, Cisco’s CCNA, CCNP, CCIE, etc…) are very useful as resume material and for securing a higher starting wage. Novell Netware isn’t as popular as it used to be. I’ve generally found that you don’t learn much useful information when studying for these certifications, though. For that reason, I usually can’t justify the expense of paying for training classes; I typically just buy a book and learn on my own. The best admins I know are usually the ones that have spent years in their line of work; they’re good simply because they’ve encountered all the typical problems in their careers already and so they know exactly how to fix the issue at hand.

Am I happy at my job? Well, I’m an IT contractor at the moment working for a smallish (50-60 techs/engineers) IT contracting/consulting firm, and it has it’s good and bad days, like every other job. IT support in general is a thankless job, though. No one comes to see you when their computer/server/whatever is working, after all, only when it’s broken and they’re frustrated/annoyed/downright angry that their machine isn’t working. A lot of low level IT work involves making the users feel good about the work you did so that they can feel confident the situation is resolved and problems won’t crop up again.

I have no degree (officially, I’m one of those “one more paper” people) and am doing just fine. But I have been in the industry for about 15 years (server side networking).

A couple years ago it was easy to switch having “messed around with OSs.” Now people with degrees in the field are off hitting the pavement looking for jobs. Cisco is laying off, and their people are getting snapped up, so who is going to hire a new CCNA when you can get someone who was working for Cisco last week?

Unless you are willing to start at the bottom and work up (and sometimes you can get lucky and find someone to meet your salary requirements)…

But there are a lot of questions…what part of the country are you in? What are your salary requirements? What sort of work do you like to do. Networking (i.e. routers, switches and stuff) is very different than coding and both are very different from server side networking. And all of this is very different from doing it at home (at home your pager doesn’t go off at 3am).

Demo, you might want to check into the University Of Phoenix here in the Bay Area. They pretty much exist to allow business folks such as yourself to get degrees while still working their existing jobs. More than a few of the people that I work with have degrees from this school.

Thanks, everyone, for all the helpful info. I really appreciate it. You’ve given me a lot of the kind of insight that I will need already.

Dangerosa, I live in Northern California, about an hour north of San Francisco. The city I live in (Santa Rosa) has just recently been booming with tech industry, so I think it’s as good a time as ever to switch. Salary requirements: Hmm, good question. Right now, my salary translates into about $30/hr. I’m sure we could tighten the belt a little for a while if I were to drop down to $20/hr or so. As long as I had the opportunity for getting back up there (and hopefully higher) in the future. what work do I like to do? Well, I have enjoyed the creative nature and the…hmm, this is weird, but the translation (it’s almost like speaking another language) of the small amount of scripting that I’ve done, but I’ve also enjoyed the physical set up, software configuration and troubleshooting of the network hardware, etc. that’s why I decided on those two areas. I don’t know what server side networking is though.
One last thing, since we are in MPSIMS, and I can get glurgey. I just wanted to say thank you to Finagle, who has exemplified the perfect SDMB attitude here. A week ago we were at each other’s throats in the Pit, and now here he is giving me advice on a life-changing career move. I really appreciate it. You win this week’s SDMB Award for Class. :wink:

Again, thanks everyone else who has contributed!

Damn Dopefests…

Sorry Snooooopy.

The above post was mine.

Given that I’ve been having similar thoughts, that post – and this thread for that matter – may as well have been mine.

Demo, when you say you’re familiar with this stuff, do you mean that you’ve played with it on your own, or can you point at job experience? If you can claim that you’ve done some sys admin stuff on an occasional basis even if for free, I would throw together a resume, inflating the experience as far as you’re comfortable and push it out.

Even in these times, there are jobs out there, and even entry level tech support could meet your needs salary wise.

You may want to look for a job fair, and go talk to all the companies there to get a feel for what they’re looking for. Brass Ring has one coming up in San Fran on Sep 11, 12. They have them in the Bay Area typically once per month.

If you’re interested in IT, but not necessarily development or administration, there are a whole host of fields that require intelligence and an ability to learn but not necessarily an IT background or qualifications. IT auditing can fit this bill (but what you’ll need to know depends on what local requirements are), for example – I have a background in project support and system testing, but not coding or administration, and I didn’t have a problem getting in. Testing can also be quite straightforward to get into, but I found it requires a lot more patience and getting used to boredom.

Agreed. I don’t know what your salary needs are, but here in rural Polk County, Florida, Tech Support jobs pay in the $30’s, generally–more with experience and a wide skillset. Bigger cities, like Orlando and Tampa pay a lot more. However, be aware that many, many companies are requiring A+ certification for Tech Support positions.

Bill, I don’t have any job experience with those things, I’ve only played around with them at home and done physical cabling/network card installation and such for a network at one job that I held. Thanks about the job fair info. I’ll be looking into that.

TroubleAgain, what is A+ certification?

Based on the training manuals I’ve looked through (and someone who has A+ certification should correct this if necessary), A+ certification just means that you know your way around a computer and are able to fix some basic problems. If you’ve done sysadmin-type stuff, getting your A+ shouldn’t be too hard.

The company I work for has offices in San Jose - though I’m out in Minnesota.

So you are looking for a minimum of $40k a year, preferrably $60k a year, in the Bay Area? I would think the $40k a year would be pretty do-able, with chances of the $60 being not too bad. From what I’ve heard about salaries from my co-workers this seems pretty realistic. Don’t take too little, it will take time to get from $40k to $60k - several years if you are lucky. On the other hand, with the dot com implosion, there are a lot of folks out there with experience right now (a year ago, no problem - know how to turn on a PC? Great, you can be the webmaster for my startup dot com)

Crusoe is right, in addition to auditing, there is project managment (which pays pretty darn well) or process management/development.

In my part of the country, a MCSE is pretty useless - too easy to get. I enjoy the challenges on what I do, which is a little of everything except programming (which I can’t stand - too focused for me, I’m more of a “flitter”).

A+ is things like basic PC repair, basic help desk. Try or Either should have sample tests for all sorts of certifications - A+, MCSE< CCNA, CNE, I think there are even some Unix tests out there. A google search should come up with dozens of these kinds of sites. These will not only let you know if you have what it takes to certify, they will give you an idea of how much exposure your hobbyist (and I don’t mean that in a duragatory sense) experience has given you.

Lots of good advice here. Here’s my perspective, as someone who started out to be an English professor, and who has managed support and QA departments, as well as having been a product manager and a VP of a software company.

Don’t overlook QA (Quality Assurance) and testing as routes into a technology career. Along with support, it’s probably the best way to get in the door without a great deal of prior experience, and it can lead to a variety of other positions in a tech company (programming, training, product management, etc.). In particular, consider looking at software/hardware companies that create products for the health care industry. This promises to be a fairly downturn-proof segment of the business, and it would allow you to leverage skills and experience you already have. As a QA and support manager, I loved finding someone with sufficient technical aptitude and some subject-matter knowledge and experience that was relevant to our products. While the picture’s a bit different than a year ago, it’s still difficult to find and retain good support and QA people, and one of the prime means for doing so is to invest in additional training and education for good people, so that you could well be able to get the training and education on the clock and on your employer’s nickel. As for opportunity for advancement, the biggest obstacle in support or QA, if you’re good, is simply that you’re too valuable where you are. QA and support people typically get to know how their products really work better than anyone else in the company – how much that’s appreciated is a function of the company culture and a host of other factors.

In particular, your interest in scripting would stand you in good stead in a QA position; nearly every QA team uses scripting and automated testing tools to some degree, and facility in this area will take you a long way. If you think scripting and automated testing is an area that would interest you, you’d be well served by taking a general introduction to programming course, as well as one or two courses each in scripting (e.g., PERL) and in a particular programming language (C++, unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise). These need not be accredited university Computer Science courses; junior college or continuing education courses would serve, since the goal is really just to ensure that you understand general programming concepts and have a familiarity with accepted practices in scripting and programming. Most automated test tools use either a PERL-like or C+±like syntax and structure, so this exposure will directly benefit you there, even though the vocabulary and details will be somewhat different. Having this general knowledge will also help you communicate with, and win and maintain the respect of, the programming staff, which can be crucial in designing effective test suites.

It’s not uncommon for successful QA engineers to be transferred to the programming staff, if they’ve shown an aptitude for it. The downside to this is that there’s no secret about it, and both QA and programming managers can be somewhat suspicious of QA engineers who’re too eager to become programmers – especially QA managers, who don’t want to invest a lot of money and time in training staff only to have the programming staff reap the benefits. It’s also not uncommon for successful QA engineers to move into other areas of the business, such as product mangement, if they develop a solid grasp of the business.

The downside of QA is that there’s frequently less respect for QA people than for any other department in the company, with the exception in some cases of the support department. The programmers dislike that you’re always finding the problems in their code; the product managers and marketing staff dislike that the product can’t ship yet because of all these problems you keep finding, etc. In a poorly run company, it’s easy for one or both of these groups to run roughshod over the QA team. QA frequently gets the releases from development late, with insufficient time to perform even a subset of the testing that ought to be done. Frequently, the requirements for the product are incomplete, out of date, or missing completely, and without good requirements you have nothing (other than instinct, insight, and experience with analogous products) to base your testing on. It’s frustrating in the extreme to keep reporting the same problems in version after version and have them dismissed as minor issues until the product manager encounters the problem during a demo to a customer, at which point it becomes an all-hands-on-deck emergency.

If you think you’re interested in exploring QA, I’d suggest taking a look at the web site for Software Testing & Quality Engineering magazine, at . In particular, I’d recommend an article by Bret Pettichord that details the differences in mindset that distinguish good software testers from good software developers; it may help you decide where your talents and interests lie. The first few chapters of Testing Computer Software by Cem Kaner, Jack Falk, and Hung Nguyen give a very good overview of the testing process.

Demo, for our area, $32 (or so) / hour in IT is basically a junior level systems admin or network admin position (1-3 years experience). Entry-level systems admins get paid somewhat less, usually in the $28 / hour range. A quality desktop support job would pay less than that an entry level systems admin position (say $23-$25 / hour or so). There’s some overlap in the pay rates between high level desktop support techs and low level system admins. These are all rough estimates. I’m just throwing out numbers that I’ve seen, but they give a general ballpark salary estimate. $20 / hour is too low an IT wage for the S.F. Bay Area unless it’s a position at a startup/.COM or a very small business.

Employers are starting to value IT certifications less and less as time goes on, but certs still help you by giving you a bargaining chip to get a higher wage. As long as you can demonstrate that you’re competant at your job, certs are still worthwhile. For instance, at my company, one of the criteria for a promotion is how many relevant certifications you have. Of course job performance over the past year matters the most, but the certs do help. People with some of the uncommon certifications (like Cisco’s CCIE) are still highly sought after.

A+ isn’t a useful cert IMO, but you should still get it anyway. It’s an easy test if you have any exposure to computers at all, it’s one more thing to slap on the resume, and hey, it’s more letters that you can tack onto the end of your name in business emails. Besides, A+ certifications are for life, so you never have to retest (at least, they were when I took them).

Another thing with salaries - pay attention. Sometimes you hear about an entry level guy making $30+ an hour, but maybe its contract - no benefits, no security.

Contracting can be a good place to start - since there is low risk to the contract house, all they do is stick your resume out in front of their clients and take a cut. But some people don’t like the risks.