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Getting started in IT

Recently, I researched wireless home internet packages at a local mall and being the IT guy that I am I asked some very technical questions. “Is this running over WiMax?”, “What frequency band is it operating in?”,”Where are your base stations located?”, “Is the signal quality line of sight dependent?”.

He was honest and after two questions admitted he wasn’t technical and referred me to a colleague who happened to be the tech support guy on site. He answered my questions, albeit not too satisfactorily, which prompted me to further ask if they had a setup I could use to experience the service. Once I had access to their workstation I did not even bother to open a webpage. I launched into a sequence of ping tests and tracer routes to all the popular public resources (4.2.2.2 anyone?) as well as to the internet facing VPN concentrator for my remote access.

One of the sales reps took interest in my activities and peered over my shoulder to find out exactly what I was up to and why I wasn’t checking out Facebook or some social media platform to benchmark their service. After observing for a while he asked if I was a network technician of some sort. The word “technician” made me cringe as images of overall-wearing guys running cables and punching them down on patch panels filled my mind (no offense, “structured-cabling” guys) and I thought to myself how much more my work entailed than that.

I replied in the affirmative and explained to him that I was a network engineer. He then told me he was CCNA certified but was in the sales department as that was the role he was offered at the ISP. He expressed his desire to move into the technical department , but said he was hindered by the fact that his employers preferred someone with a Computer Science or IT background while he had a degree in Finance.

This ushered us into an hour long discussion about the benefits of certification, the different Cisco tracks, using GNS3 vs. Cisco Packet Tracer, the importance of knowing and mastering the fundamentals of networking in order to lay a good foundation for further advanced certification and many other topics. It got me thinking. Did one really need a degree in IT to fit into the IT workspace, despite holding key certifications demonstrating knowledge and abilities in the field?

I had graduated in Electrical Engineering and had taken undergraduate courses in Microprocessor Theory, IT and Computer Networking, but didn’t grasp of some of these concepts until I worked towards certifications from Cisco and other vendors. I had studied Dijkstra’s algorithms and solved problems involving shortest path trees, but until I learned OSPF and how it utilized Dijkstra’s algorithm I didn’t really see its application in the real world.

Granted, it gave me a better understanding of the inner workings of the protocol, but then who asks for Dijkstra’s algorithm when conducting interviews for a networking role? In my opinion the most important thing was that one understood OSPF concepts, could configure it according to a validated design, get it up and running, troubleshoot and optimize it!

But in a way the scarcity of good IT jobs and opportunities in these parts and tough economic climate were partly to blame. Some of these requirements were brought in to sift through the huge pool of potential candidates pitching for the same role.

What was my advice to this sales rep? To keep working hard and show his genuine interest in networking. To offer his spare time to volunteer on projects, maintenance windows, and client deployments, and to keep asking the other engineers intelligent questions to demonstrate that he was continuously learning. With time his employers would be convinced about giving him a chance to prove himself in the tech department.

Networking Engineer

This advice goes for many out there who want to take a plunge into the world of IT. There are  success stories locally and the world over of people from diverse and disparate backgrounds making it successfully in IT. I believe all you need is a real passion and the dedication to sit down and study. Use the resources on the internet, like technical documentation and videos,  and if possible, attend a training school. You will be well on your way to becoming an IT Rock star! It’s almost always never too late to begin from somewhere; the journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step, so make that move. It might be the best decision  you make for your career.

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