As an IT professional, I get requests for advice from individuals who want to break into the tech industry but who feel intimidated by the prospect. My response is always the same. While it’s true that breaking into tech is no joke, the intersection of technology and everyday life has increased to such an extent that you can take your learning in many directions, and it can still be relevant to something you already enjoy.

What excites me about working in IT is the mix of structure and creativity it provides my personality. IT gives me a clear vision of what needs to be done while having room to innovate and make things better. Here are the top five ways I found to make things better through my IT experience. I hope it helps you on your tech path.

Tip #1: Discover your passion

My first piece of advice is to find an area you’re passionate about. It doesn’t need to be tech-related, either. How do you like to spend your free time? Maybe it’s watching sports, space exploration, cooking, or social media.

Here’s where it becomes tech-related: Every area I mentioned above has free and publicly available resources you can interact with as you learn the building blocks of tech. The more you learn, the easier it will get.

Just like anything else, building expertise takes a lot of practice. You will be stretching your mind in new ways to ramp up, so try to relate it to something you already enjoy. Stick with it. The payoff is worth it.

Tip #2: Be curious

When it comes to keeping up with the constant flow of new technology, I still struggle, but it does get easier as you internalize the fundamentals. One of the key factors that can help you stay ahead of tech changes is to keep learning. It seems obvious, but there is more beneath the surface of that statement.

Be curious about why and how things work. If you hear about new platform or way of doing things, dive in. A great way to do this is to check out Snack Minute by Cisco U. on YouTube. New videos come out each week, featuring an expert sharing an overview of a new technology, application, or process, as well as a demo. It truly doesn’t matter whether you are familiar with what’s covered during the show. Episodes are only 10-15 minutes long, include a demo, and give you a chance to see how you can use these tools yourself.

I’m a big fan of resources you can use for free to get familiar with new things. In addition to Snack Minute episodes, you can sign up for expert-led webinars and watch on-demand training videos for free on the Cisco Learning Network. So, set aside time to explore new technologies each week, and you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn in a year’s time.

#3 Troubleshoot to optimize

When problems occur, they open the door for new solutions to take their place. When I am troubleshooting an IT issue, I am always curious about the root cause so I can prevent the problem from happening again. I am fascinated by the history, economics, and philosophy that have shaped our world, and learning about these areas helps me approach situations with a better framework for problem-solving. For example, throughout history, wars have led to treaties that prevent them from happening again.

Troubleshooting requires an understanding of the technical and business processes behind the situation that caused an outage of technical services. It’s a challenge that will draw on your knowledge and skills. However, if you are driven to optimizing and improve tasks and workflows, you’re a part of the overall solution. This opens the door to innovation, and that’s where things can get really fun.

Tip #4: Networks are about people

My path from beginner to expert was forged out of an insatiable curiosity about improving the quality of life of my network operations team. We were all under stress and pressure to keep the network operational while also trying to improve it.

When I had free time, I watched every network automation conference talk I could find on YouTube and read every book available on DevOps and network automation. Striving to find solutions and optimizing is in our nature as IT professionals—but sometimes we need to remember that networks are about people; everything we do is to empower the world to stay connected.

Remember the big picture. Think of the impact you have on the people using the technologies you work on. It’s easy to become shortsighted, and this can help you build the resilience to see problems through.

Tip #5: Learn by mentoring others

Those who can’t do, teach—because mentoring others helps us master the material. Now, that’s not to say that your instructors are novices. Bear with me: Learning has never been easy for me. The things I now know best are the same topics I struggled with for days or weeks when I started. Helping others in their learning journey is my primary source of inspiration.

My biggest breakthroughs have come when I am in the community—able to teach others what I’m learning, ask questions, and interact with those who are farther down the path than I am. If you’re interested in seeing my teaching style, check out my GitHub or watch the video below.

At one point in my journey, I took a virtual course, an introduction to Python for Network Engineers. I had committed to a work automation project that was outside my capabilities. However, through much trial and error, we eventually got the project working in its most basic form. I started mentoring interns and new hires who had joined the team and learned a ton through leading them in projects solving our operational issues.

All in all, the journey through tech is worth it when you can make it make sense in your life. Make it a goal that’s challenging for you, but not so unreachable that you can’t enjoy it. I mean, isn’t the whole point of technology to make life easier? For example, IT enables a business to grow and reduce the friction involved in daily work activities. I know that if I am doing a good job in IT, it will make everyone else’s jobs easier, which is a clear and attainable goal.

Breaking into the tech industry can be intimidating, but it’s important to remember that everyone starts as a beginner. With time, patience, and a commitment to learning, you can build a strong foundation in the field. There are countless resources available to help you learn the basics of technology. As you expand your knowledge, you may find that the most fulfilling part of working in IT is the opportunity to innovate and make a real difference in people’s lives. Be bold and take the leap and start learning. The journey may be challenging, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

If any of these tips helped you, leave me a comment below and let me know! As always, thanks for reading.

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Jason Belk

Lead Technical Advocate

Learning and Certifications