Let's say I want to start over and become an IT guy.

I’m getting to that point in life where I’m dissatisfied with my career options and am regretting not going “into computers and stuff” in college instead of getting the BA that I now have. I’m 27 with a BA degree and a ton of practical knowledge of and enthusiasm computer hardware, networking, etc.

Let’s say I want to start over and become an IT guy that could get a well-paying job doing computers and hardware and network support for a business. What do I need to do? And once I do it, what are my chances of actually getting a decent job in that field?

Simple enough. If you find the field interesting and it’s something that you want to do, go for it. IT is somewhat of a feast or famine depending on which area you go into. Personally, I started in general IT, thinking that whichever area looked good was where I would head since I like computing in general. Later in my career I found that information security really interested me and that’s where I’ve concentrated my efforts. I recently got laid off from the company where I worked for the past 10+ years and had immediate interviews and should start a new position right after the new year. So infosec is definitely a growing field and very much in demand, IMHO.

Good luck!

But what do I need? Do I need to go get another Bachelor’s degree, specifically in IT, or do I just need to pick up a bunch of weird certifications at some Devry type place?

It depends on the business. I can’t offer too much help, I’m another loser with a BA. However, my mother’s degrees are both in education, but she now works as a technology coordinator and sysadmin for a school district. Her degrees only ever so superficially have anything to do with her current position. She does, however, have certifications out the hoo-hah. Lots of employers look for those certifications and, for a computer enthusiast, most of them are really easy to obtain. Certainly if my mother can do it, anybody can.

In my experience, in many tech savvy companies, certifications are almost looked at as a negative – I certainly have found the quality of candidates I’ve interviewed to have very little correlation to any certifications they have, and the people who really tout their certs were often trying to cover up for lacking real skills. In some disciplines, there are certifications that are more respected, but I personally don’t recommend them for anyone. I’m also not familiar with many degrees from mainstream schools that would be specifically helpful with IT, but there may be some. Computer Science ain’t it (if you want to be a software engineer, on the other hand, CS is the way to go).

However, my experience is working in big, well-known Internet corporations, and I’ve never worked directly in IT (the closest I’ve come is system administration for production systems several years ago). In most of those companies, the IT positions are among the poorest-paid and most thankless tech-related jobs in the company (my definition of “IT” may be more narrow than yours – I’m talking about helpdesk, internal support, internal systems, etc.). In smaller, less tech-focused companies, it’s probably a different world.

And this is why they’re viewed as having little value by clueful employers. There are, of course, MANY clueless employers who don’t know how to evaluate technical employees, and thus look for certifications. I personally don’t think I’d want to work for such a company (if they don’t know how to evaluate me before they hire me, how accurately are they going to evaluate my performance once I’m working there?), but YMMV.

Oh, and for the record, I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in computer science. I’ve been a sysadmin, systems engineer, security engineer and (currently) software engineer. Real experience counts for a lot more than a degree. You’re probably better off working for a few years in a low level position to get experience than going back to school, if IT is really what you want to do.

Very true. My mother, working in a school district, is, of course, working for a technologically clueless administration. Public school teachers and administration are not allowed to be tech-savvy. It’s some unwritten rule.

While a few certificates aren’t going to land you a job at Oracle, they can help you get your foot in the door at some clueless company long enough to get a little experience to work your way up. As you said, experience is much better than certification.

To add another question: Would an associate’s degree help? An entirely new bachelor’s degree seems rather extreme.

An associates degree probably wouldn’t hurt, but I’m not convinced it’s the best use of time or money if you already have the knowledge. I’ve known lots of people with completely non-technical degrees (english, history, etc.) and no professional experience who have been able to get entry level IT jobs at good companies because they knew their stuff and could convince the employers of that. If you can manage it, I think that’s the best course of action.

Good point. The more I spend outside of Academia, the more I realize how little degree specialization actually matters.

Case in point, my friend whose degree is in Computer Science with a certification in Physics Simulation. His job (and, in fact, the job he had in mind throughout his college career)? Sales and marketing at a school uniform manufacturer.

Be prepared to do helpdesk. Be prepared to have crappy crappy hours and days off.

To be honest, I would avoid most of the Big Tech Companies for the time being, and stick to smaller game.

The BA can only help. Around here, there’s such stiff competition for jobs, that a BA/BS is being required for almost anything - even administrative assistants and receptionists.

As said above, if you’re not quite sure of what direction you want to go, take some jobs at smaller companies - be the “IT Guy’s” assistant - and get the hands-on experience so you can figure out if you like installing and configuring network wiring and equipment, or provisioning user access, or working the front lines at the helpdesk, or keeping databases running, etc…

At large companies, you will be an anonymous tiny cog, and most likely, you’ll be focused on one microscopic aspect of IT.

I think it helped me. When I was about 30, after I’d been doing more and more computer work over the previous few years, I went back to school and got an associate’s degree in computer science from the local community college. I figured that if I wanted to have a career as a programmer, having the degree might get me past some initial screenings. It’s been over a decade since I got the degree and when I’m applying for a job, I stress my practical experience, rather than my academic credentials, but I think having a degree helps and I did learn some rather practical things while I was getting it. I was also spared having to spend time on the front lines working a help desk, but that was because of experience, rather than the degree.

Good luck! I’ve been doing this stuff for a while now and, even though I’m only a VBA hack, I really do enjoy the work!