Is there such a thing as an entry-leve IT job? What would it be like?

This is the story. I’ve been in the same trade for 15 years, the same job for 8. I’m getting bored and stagnant. Doing the same thing every day, having mastered all the challenges there are. I’ve been thinking about whether I want to do this anymore or make a major change.

So I love noodling around with computers, and I’m pretty good at it. I would say I have a feel for them, and I enjoy puttering around on them.

At my age, going back for a 4-year degree wouldn’t make sense. But is there some other way of entering the field? I’m not averse to starting at square 1 again–I’ve done it five times already in my life, and new challenges and learning new things is energizing and exciting for me. But I can’t tell if such a thing exists in IT. I’m not looking to make zillions of dollars, just enough to keep me going.

So all you IT guys out there, am I just pipe dreaming or is there somewhere I could go with this?

What do you want to do, specifically. “Computers” is an enormous field.

There are these IT jobs where you work a help desk and/or remotely log into servers or desktops to maintain them. You are the equivalent to a “data plumber”, and it’s dirty, boring work. Well, I guess the only dirt you get on you is cheeto dust but it’s boring.

There are higher up ones where you actually decide how the servers connect together, configure the software the first time, etc. The people doing this usually have degrees.

Then there are higher still ones where people actually write the software that does stuff. These people usually have degrees and frequently make the 6 figures.

Then there are even higher up positions with PhDs where people pontificate all day on how to make software better. They don’t make much more money, though…

Then, there’s what I personally have started doing recently. The “computer” is usually a single chip on a small circuit board. I write the code for it (there’s no OS, so the computer is running only my code and libraries), and test it with oscilloscopes and output statements and test routines. Recently I have started actually designing the circuit boards themselves, with help from a consultant for the layout part (the part where you choose where the copper traces go), because my clients keep giving me circuit board with major flaws or a microcontroller not adequate to the task. I do have a 4 year degree in computer engineering…

What you probably want to do is attend a coding academy. As it turns out, a 4 year degree is pretty wasteful - you only learn the relevant stuff you need in just a few courses, and these courses are often full of theory not used in the real world. Also, a 4 year degree will have many courses that cover how to derive and solve the math, when there are readily available tools that do this for you now.

Coding academies are much shorter, and they may take you without a degree. (the good ones are picky and may require you demonstrate talent on a test)

In my experience, entry level in IT is help desk. This is pretty much where everyone I know started out that didn’t have a degree, and even many that do too. It could be stuff as simple as resetting passwords, setting up computers, and installing software, or it could be somewhat more complex like server maintenance, patching, and some more complex trouble calls. Ultimately, without a degree or any certifications, you’re going to have a hard time interviewing for anything above first tier support. Companies will want you to have experience or be able to prove you are knowledgeable, noodling around with computers doesn’t count for much on it’s own.

That said, if you do go that route and either show them you’re quick to pick things up or get some sort of certification or whatever, you can probably work your way up to higher tiers of support, to system, network, or security engineering, or programming. But if you’ve been in the same industry for 15 years and consider yourself too old to go back to school, your age with lack of experience could hurt you in IT. It really does tend to be somewhat ageist, and may not be the best approach for someone that’s at least in his 30s.

You don’t say what you’ve been doing, but if you’re bored, maybe something as simple as just changing jobs in the same field can make it interesting again. Or if you’re interested in computers, maybe you can find a way to instill some of your computer interest into the job. I can’t really make any other suggestions.

What kind of job do you imagine having? There’s plenty of opportunity to be the guy at work who keeps stuff working the way it’s supposed to. There are plenty of people with computers that don’t work correctly that need help straightening things out. That’s the real bottom of the food chain, freelance “computer guy”. You don’t need a degree or credentials, but you do need customer skills and business skills, and you need to hustle for clients.

Support desk is the traditional entry-level position in the IT field. From there with additional training you might get into hardware maintenance and installation, network operations, IP telephony, data center work, etc. Be prepared to pay your dues.

I am someone who has been applying for entry level IT jobs for a while. I am doing it to break into the field, for I have the education, but not the experience. I tell you, it ain’t easy:

  1. There are entry level Help Desk positions. Many, many, many of these are contract positions. I am not happy about leaving a full time permanent position for a contract job, even if it is 12 months (the longest contract).
  2. Where I live, it’s an employer’s market. They ask for insane stuff: five years of experience in this, 60 months’ experience in that, and they pay very little. And like I said they are contract.
  3. A lot of companies now combine this job. That is to say, they have higher level employees just take on portions of the help desk/entry level positions, and have cut out such positions.
  4. They expect way more hours on the job than 40 or even 50. Often they expect you to be on call all the time.

All that being said, I still believe I will get a job, it just takes time. I stopped looking for a while and took a promotion at work. I believe the promotion will (eventually) help me find another job, as it shows motivation. But it’s not so easy as just to step into it, at least not around here.

Good luck! I really mean it. Just please take it slow and consider deeply the positions offered. I would start by looking at IT positions available in your area.

My cousin did this National STEM Consortium program at our local community college (I think…or he did something similar…) when he was about 2 or 3 years out of high school. The program he was in took like 6 months to complete and I know he ended up with a Cisco cert and maybe a few others. Now he makes $25 an hour as a higher-tier tech supporting lower-tier techs who are installing networks in retail locations across the country. He had zero experience before this.

Granted, he had some raw talent and was able to deal with the accelerated class and I think he also lucked in to qualifying for it. But he says the other people he went to school with and the people he works with aren’t nearly as tuned-in as he is. And they got jobs (probably not $25/hour but they got jobs!)

Anyway, 4-year programs for lower-level IT is bunk. Don’t even get in to that mindset! Check out your community colleges and see what they have to offer. Not only will they have fast-track classes to certifications and whatnot, they will probably be better equipped to find you a job than you would find on your own.

Sure there are. Some colleges/universities and state agencies call this position “Information Technologist I” so googling that will give you a rough idea of what an entry-level IT position entails.

Go to and see if the Geek Squad is hiring in your area.

Don’t forget project management. Professional nerd wranglers can earn up to six figures over time. Depending on your background, typically the quickest way is to get a PMP or Agile certification.

I started out as a “tape ape.” Swapping out reel-to-reel storage tapes all night long.

Gradually, they put more responsibilities on me, until I ended up as the systems administrator and database admin.

(Now I’m out of work again, as the company picked up and moved to another city. Sigh! Anybody need a tape ape?)

If you have a good driving record, look into becoming a field POS or telecom technician. You drive around and repair electronics all day, and get to learn about a lot of different systems. I started my career fixing point of sale systems.

The tech companies complain that they cannot find qualified people. But then they turn around and won’t hire anybody who doesn’t fit their “profile”.

My son-in-law left his job as an editor when he was asked to choose which 4 of his subeditors to “lay off” so their jobs could be outsourced to India. He then got a certificate in web design. He is bright and I don’t doubt he would good at it. But every job he applied for required a CS degree, which he didn’t have. There was one for the NY public library he would have been perfect for, given his editing background, but they have automated software that eliminated him for want of that degree. One thing is that most companies have seriously degraded their HR departments and depend on the automated software.

So it is a mugs game out there. Lots of demand and lots of supply, but no match.

You’re getting such a wide range of answers because you need to define what noodling around on computers means to you. Do you play with the hardware? Do you do some coding for stuff that’s interesting to you? Do you install drivers?

When I taught CS 101 it was heavy level PL/1 programming. When my daughter took CS 101 it was ftp, some html writing, and a tiny bit of fill-in-the-blanks Javascript.

Do jobs like “tape ape” (or anything similar) even still exist? Does the career path you describe here still exist anywhere?

I started out (in my first “serious” job) as a Digital Computer Operator (DCO), which meant running large-scale mainframe computers. Do mainframe computer centers still exist? Do they still have computer operators? (I see occasional job postings for “computer operator” these days, but it always seems to mean “low-level data entry grunt work”.)

Where I worked, there were several dozen DCOs, and several of them were retired military types, working a retirement job.

I wouldn’t mind getting back into that line of work, if I could find a part-time position at it.

For the most part, the big mainframes are primarily at big banks. We have small armies of mainframe and z/OS engineers, techs and operators keeping our big iron running.

There are probably still four or five positions for tape apes left in the US. Most of our tapes are in automated silos, but if someone needs an archived file from 1998, someone has to fetch the cartridge from the library and pop it into a silo.

There are tons of opportunities for system administrators and database administrators. You need to put thought into what kind of system or db you want to work with first as the core concepts and skillsets are similar but there are enough differences between SQL vs Oracle or Windows vs some flavor of Unix or Linux that it’s challenging to be any good at both at the same time.

IT helpdesk is where you can start out. We even use students to handle some of the jobs as part of their work study program.

No shit Voyager. Script languages are for farmers. Current curriculums begs the question, “Is Computer, science?”.

Sorry for not being clearer about what noodling around means.

What I know is that I have a natural aptitude with software. Just for an example, when I got my Nook, I went to Gutenberg and downloaded some books. I could see just looking at them that the coding had to suck. So I downloaded Sigil and went to town. I already knew some HTML from doing a website back in the 90s, so that helped, but I learned Sigil in about a day and was able to do some pretty nice coding, figure out css’s, do Regex searches, link footnotes, and just generally make the coding as simple and elegant as it should have been.

I’ve always been that way with software–I might need to ask the help file a few questions, but basically it comes naturally to me.

As for hardware, I’ve never done much except install cards and just generally get things put together. But I have no doubt I could learn to do it without a problem.

As far as my current job, I’ve gone as far as I’m ever going to go in this field. So even if I went to another job, I’d still be in a dead-end in the sense of not having much of a challenge.

A problem no one has addressed is that you seem to think that working in IT will help you escape “Doing the same thing every day.” My position is heavy on aspects that are a lot like the one you’re looking for - software support rather than hardware oriented - and on the helping users front 90% of the issues I need to resolve for users revolve around just three things - “I need to reset my password”, “this document isn’t opening for me/isn’t the one I need,” and “I’m having trouble getting video X to play” - so it’s not exactly a new adventure every day. If I only did that sort of thing instead of the other half of my job, I’d probably lose my mind.