How do I start a career in computers with no experiance?

I’m 35 years old, married and I work full time as a caterer. My 20 years of work experience is solely in the food industry (from dishwasher to business owner). Frankly, I’m tired of it all. I want to get into a new field. The one area that interests is computers and given the way the world works now, I would guess there is a good chance for career longevity.

Here’s the problem. I have no formal traing, obviously. I also don’t know which areas I can realisticly shoot for, given my age and lack of experience. I have been going to community college for a little bit and I’m very close to an associates degree.

So, what's the best way to start? I know it's a large field and not something just anyone can hop into. Should I take some sort of basic computer programming class at the college? Am I better served looking into one of those technical schools that I see in tv? What certifications are most employers looking for?

Thanks for any advice you guys can impart. Feel free to link any relavant sites that may steer me in the right direction.

Pedestrian: How do I get to Carnegie Hall?
Other Pedestrian: Practise!

Taking a programming course would help you determine if you want to go into that area. Not everybody shows aptitude in that field though. Certifications from legitimate technical schools are an effective method of entering the field. But their estimates of income following graduation can be somewhat high. Many related certifications such as ‘Medical Assistant’ include requirements for computers as well. Certifications are on the upswing as a job requirement, often only to be considered for a job, but increasingly as an absolute job requirement.
Computers is a pretty broad skill area, almost like ‘reading’ was in the past. Currently there is high demand for Network and Database administrators. Web designers have been in demand recently also. That is a specific area where you don’t need education or certification to succeed, just experience and a portfolio can get you there. The demand for computer skills in other fields is very high. You may even find jobs that combine your experience in Food Service (a noble profession, but often unprofitable) with computer skills.
Obviously you know how to use a PC, but the real world of computer jobs will usually require a variety of other skills as well. What you’ve learned in the past can be applied, and can be worth showing on your resume. As a business owner you should be able to show general skills that are unproven in newcomers to the job market, as well as indicators like work ethic.

I am a computer guy and to be honest, be real careful about what field you go into. My last two jobs are now sitting in India. When I had my own business, it was great but now all my clients are using the secretary who talks to some guy in India who tells her over the phone what to do.

Yes, there are jobs, but they are getting less and less. Companies are finding it cheap to hire students in college at minimum wage or a buck plus minimum to maintain their sites. And I’m not talking small things.

When I worked for one hotel company they had an MIS person at every hotel. Then they moved to having ONE MIS person for all their Chicago or NY Hotels and they had one guy at each hotel who liked to work on computers handle the day to day computer operations (at no additional pay), and only when there was a big problem did the MIS guy get called in. Even then it could be days.

So before you commit to a computer career ask yourself, could this job be done by a man in India talking to a secretary over the phone in the USA? If so, try another line of computers. As home computers get more advanced, the need for highly specialized computer guys goes down.

Yes, I know about computer security and such and while it’s a great idea, in theory in a recession, it’s not practiced. I’ve dealt with some MAJOR companies where the controller had a password of “1.” Yes the password was the number one. And when I tried to explain it, no one cared why this was stupid.

Companies realize it’s easier to save costs of a high paid computer person and hope for th best. If something goes wrong, they blame a hacker.

So while computers are still a good field, be real careful which part of computers you go into.

What I would suggest, and I know it’s not very ethical, but make up a fake resume, (get a Google Voice Number) and send them out and see who calls you back. That way at least you can see if you get a skill will employers be needing it. Of course you don’t waste time on an interview if you just made up the resume, the idea is to see what the employers want and are willing to accept.

Thanks for responding. The thing that got me started on this idea was a discussion with my wife about the IT department at her office. She said they had been hiring kids barely out of highschool and she hated that most of them had horrible work ethic. It got me thinking, I’ve spent my whole life grinding away at a job I stopped loving years ago and I’ve got good work ethic in spades. I’m not a dumb guy, I was an honors student in highschool. Economic and family concerns lead me to the profession I’m in.

I can’t help but think that if I had the training I could be a valuable asset to a company. I thrive on problem solving in my own business and that strikes me as part of the job description of an IT person.

You’re going to need a slightly more specialized approach than “a career in computers” if you want to get anywhere.

What, specifically, interests you?

You don’t have to be unethical if you just go to ‘jobs’ sites and look at openings advertised. Also, there are local government sources that can give you an indication of what jobs are need where you already live.

I forgot to mention earlier, if you can develop skills in popular PC tools like MS Word and Access, you can get temporary jobs that will get your foot in the door, and help you gain more experience.

Sorry to hear about the outsourcing. I know an Indian immigrant who got a customer service job here in the US, and callers complain because they think they’ve been transferred to an overseas service center.

Anyway, I haven’t noticed any lack of computer related jobs in the past 40 years. But in computer technology the necessary skill set changes rapidly. You have to constantly be learning new things. If your skills are limited to a narrow area you can be ‘obsoleted’ overnight.

Outsourcing is a risk I hadn’t considered. There’s no fear my clients are going to start ordering a lunch spread from Mumbai. Thanks, I’ll do some research into what areas are most affected by that.

So I guess my first step is to see what courses my local community college has to offer.

Yeah, but they cost less to employ. Good IT staff is pricey.

As others said, you have to narrow down your scope; IT is a huge field. If you do decide to go into the field, you have to be prepared for a lifestyle of constant learning to stay ahead of the curve. And the occasional 2AM emergency phone call; computers tend not to respect your sleep schedule. IT careers can be both financially and intellectually rewarding but like all careers, there are specific downsides.

Have you wanted to get in to technology for a long time, or is this a recent thing?

I’ve gotten as far as deciding I would like to explore IT. I’m curious about what they do at my wife’s office, which is mainly solving computer issues for the loan officers and making sure the networks are operating correctly. Still a bit vague I know, but what area of study should I look into with that in mind.

Do you want to program, or work in networking? My degree is in programming, but my career is in networking (WANs specifically).

I guess it depends on what your interests are more than anything. I liked programming at first, but got tired of it quickly. An opportunity opened for me to get into networking about 15 years ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since and still enjoy it.

Pick up a “networking for dummies” book or something similar, and see if it interests you. If it does, get the basics down, and then I’d say find a major manufacturer (Cisco, Juniper, etc.) and go for one of their certifications (CCIE, JNCIA, etc.). Companies are always hiring people with Cisco certs.

Also, network security is a hot spot right now, and it’s a pretty interesting field to get into.

Good luck!

We have over 1,000 employees in our IT department and it seems grossly understaffed - they can never get anything done. 22 months for data migration… killing me.

I can say with confidence that the people that were doing their Masters in Info Science at my school had real nice job opportunities at graduation. (I was doing an MBA and we took some classes together - I thought giving them some business knowledge was a pretty good idea). Anyway, they weren’t necessarily the hardcore programmer types, but having the solid work ethic and creative thinking would seem to go pretty far in the higher level IT roles - i.e. IT consulting and internal IT consulting / IT project management.

Going from your comment about the IT at your wife’s office, the area of study you’re looking for is Network Administration.

Shark Sandwich’s post gives a good high-level overview of getting started in Network Administration. Cisco certifications were gold 8-10 years ago … they’re not as rare as they used to be (back then, more were going for A+ certs or Oracle) but network admin skills are still in demand.

What Darth Panda wrote about second-level IT professions (consulting & project management) is good to consider, as well. Sounds like you’ve already got some developed management skills, so you should have a leg up. There are also project-management (not necessarily IT related) certifications available.

Have you considered specializing in restaurant IT management, and striking out on your own? As you know, restaurants and catering companies have lots of computer components to them - POS, phone systems, web sites, desktops, laptops, accounting software, printers, networking, Blackberries, 2ways, GPS.

Maybe you could look in to working with a company that sells POS systems for restaurants. They are often national companies with local techs. That way you can lean on your existing resume as good enough experience to get in the door.

I’m watching salaries & available jobs drop day by day.

The days of the college recruitment matchbook cover saying “Learn to program! Meet Girls!” (and it being true) are gone.

Harder field this day… there’s still jobs out there, don’t get me wrong, but my company has a number of “offshore resources” and their numbers are growing. My job these days is, in part, developing methods, scripts, and processes so “low skill” people (ie: cheaper people) can do what I do while I officially stay up here on the mountain and develop strategies and do more architectural things.

In other words, I’m automating my job so somebody low paid can wait for the light to blink, press a button, receive a banana pellet, and then wait for the next blink. Meanwhile, we “architects” have automated half of ourselves out of our previous jobs.

I may be a bit jaded, though.

Step 1: Get a spell checker.

The best job security comes from highly specialized and/or highly technical positions. Software engineers, people with programming skills + a high level of physics and math, AI expertise, science background (such as computational biologists) will be in demand.

Unfortunately these fields require an extensive educational background.

As other have mentioned security and network specialists are also in demand and certifications can get you places, but you have to feel the waters as it where, in terms of where the job will be in 10 years. The answer might be India (or most likely China).

Based on what you have relayed, I would suggest starting in a first tier workstation support type of role. These are the guys that walk around to user’s desks to troubleshoot day-to-day problems. A lot of this can be done remotely these days, which can lend itself to outsourcing, so not all companies have tier one guys on site any more.

Having said all that, it’s widely considered a good way to get your “foot in the door.” If you have strong PC skills and good troubleshooting skills, you should be able to handle it just fine, especially if you’re a fast learner.

Are you good at dealing with ignorant, irrationally angry people? You will face a lot of that in the tech support world. Also just plain stupid people who think everything that happened to their computer over the past six months is relevant to the problem they are having now. “Well first Windows said it needed to be updated and than this other Reader thing said the same thing so I clicked yes and then I downloaded some mp3s from a Russian website and I think I’ve got a virus and I can’t get into Hotmail anymore.”

FWIW (and I am not in the industry, I only fix friend computers as a hobby) I’d say get into hardware (computers are super easy to put together, especially modern ones) and learn the Windows install process (again easier with every new version). That way you can have people drop their computers off at your convenience. Then they will go away and leave you in peace so you can work (not the case in a corporate environment where they pay is possibly better but you have to put up with non-technical people breathing down your neck as you work) and you get to take your time backing up their data and reinstalling Windows while charging them a shop rate of $30-60/hour. Easy money.

Thanks for all of the replies. I’ve been swamped at work. I’ll carefully consider your responses and come back in the evening. You’ve all been great!