This one goes out to all the students

This is just my opinion based on my experiences and having watched others go through the same program(s) that I did. Take it as you  like, but I hope it helps some of the students out there getting ready to hit that “requires X experience wall” in the job market.

A week or so ago I attended a Program Advisory Committee meeting at the local ITT Tech school. They handed out some folders with the programs that relating to my field of work. In this case thats Information Technology. There were others there representing IT ranging from Government Security to IT Consulting. Overall the experience was pleasant, but showed that there are areas still for improvement. Which of course, was why each of us were there.

They asked a few questions that stood out among the rest. I’ll list the questions below as well as some questions and discussions that I wish we had time for.

What skills do you feel are most beneficial for students to learn while in school before heading out into the workforce?:

There are a couple things that I learned in school and some in my jobs that really stand out. In school, I got a foundational knowledge in programming. In the grand scheme of things, that is a powerful skill because automation within this field is extremely important. Do I use it now? Unfortunately not, but its been extremely useful for helping me develop my methods for troubleshooting an issue. Especially when it came to Object-Oriented Programming. No longer was my troubleshooting focused on one section of a program, but the design of my program.

The second important thing is troubleshooting. I feel that schools never really help students develop troubleshooting skills. Their focus is on knowing about the technology, but something that you really develop in the workplace is how to troubleshoot and find the root cause of an issue. Nothing is more insane than looking for the issue thats causing an outage. Those heart-pumping moments where time is running at 2.5 times normal speed and you are spending half of it keeping people updated while trying to also concentrate on what and where the issue actually is. No one can really teach you that completely, but everyone develops this. @mwpreston‘s (Mike Preston) recent post on Pebble + Ravello had a statement that really stood out for me:

…I really like to break things.  Why?  That’s how I learn best, breaking things, fixing them, then writing them down.

I feel like this really explains one of my favorite methods to learn. Not that I would be stupid enough to break a production system to learn, but a lab? Oh heck yeah! Find a way to play with a technology, and break it (not physically of course!).

What certifications do you feel are beneficial or students to pursue?:

People tend to follow the typical few Security and Networking certs that most shops would call standard. You know them, A+, Net+, Security +, CCNA (Multiple tracks) and a few other major vendor certs. But you know what I DIDN’T hear? No one in that room talked about other certs that relate to modern Data Centers. Things like VMware’s VCP, Red Hat’s RHCA & RHCE or even other networking certs from vendors like Juniper. I think the real problem there is that schools are still preparing students for a help desk job or an outdated idea of the IT landscape. IT has evolved to look more like a data center and less like a troubleshooting shop. Yes, obviously the students will have to do the typical grunt work, but by the time they are getting into this program, they honestly should have a good grasp on some of this in some of the earlier classes.

What would you recommend to a student interviewing for a technical job?

Tip #1: Don’t put certifications or skills on a resume that have not been achieved yet. That’s is called lying.
I’m not sure when this became a thing to do, but I’ve seen it a lot in interviews at my current company. I don’t know who told these people that it was a good idea, but the second you hit the technical portion of the interview, we will ask you questions relating to that skill. If you listed CCNA on your resume, when you get to the background portion of the interview, they will ask you about it. No one wants to hear “Well, i’m currently working on it!” Well, as it turns out, I am also working on certs myself!! But I don’t get to put that nifty badge on any material until after I pass it, so I don’t recommend putting it on your resume either.

What I recommend instead: When they ask about the certifications or bring up the things that you have or are working on, talk about what you are currently doing to study for a certification that you plan to take. This shows that you are taking initiative on your own to achieve that cert and that you aren’t just sitting on your hands.

Tip #2: Do your homework and Ask Questions…
I completely understand that nervous feeling when applying for a job. Palms sweaty, mind racing, constantly checking to make sure you look presentable. But, do your homework on the company, the position and the expectations of the job you are looking to take on.Its one thing to go in and just answer questions about yourself but its something completely different when a person comes in and starts talking about the culture, the experience and attempts to build a human connection during that short period of time. No one is looking for the perfect robot to answer the questions correctly, they are looking for a human being that cares to do this job and homework shows the caring, asking questions is just the icing on the cake that shows you are actually interested in more than just a paycheck.

Questions and Discussions I wished I could have had with ITT:

What recommendations do you have for students looking for Internships?:

Ask. Honestly, seek out the companies around you and just ask. Let me share a story with you. after finishing Junior year of High School, I was looking at a career in Radio & Television because I had experience in large multi-camera setups and was already doing freelance wedding videography. I wanted to try a bit more before I got into college so I emailed every General Manager of a Local Television Station within a 10-20 mile range asking if they could just give me small amount of time to talk about the industry or potentially job shadow. Now, the majority of replies were “Have you even been in a TV station before?” or “Maybe you should come on a trip with your school first”, but what stood out was a man named Henry Maldonado who at the time was the GM for WKMG – Local 6. He replied “Luis, give me the specifics and when you want to do this, and I’ll try to set it up for you.” The worst is that someone can say no and even then, its not really that bad but you have to ASK. You might be low on the totem pole in your eyes, but Managers, Directors, VPs and C-Level’s are just people. Learn to make a human connection with then and it can go a LONG way. By the way, I worked with then for 6 years after an internship. Although as a contract engineer and webcast coordinator (live streaming), it helped pave the way for what I do now. I’ve learned a lot of new skills thanks to that email.

How can cornerstone projects be altered to really prepare students for real world work?:

I remember my cornerstone project very well, because it was the most frustrating part of my entire school experience. It wasn’t that the project was particularly hard or challenging, its because the guidelines were unrealistic to how someone would handle the project in the real world. I had to built a full solution for a customer that consisted of a Website, POS system, Inventory/Asset tracking, Project management solution. The unrealistic guideline was that we had to program the whole thing from scratch. I think the main focus of a Cornerstone Project should be treated much like the architecture level of vendor certifications are done. Design, document and thoroughly think through all areas and aspects of the project. In this case, who needs to reinvent the wheel right? I wanted to use Odoo to handle the website, assets and POS, but unfortunately I had to write that. As a consultant, I would likely go with Odoo in real life, because its developed by a team, supported by a company and provides a better solution than trying to build a custom/”in-house” type of result, which will cost you more in the long run.

What industry trends do you think students should be aware of and what technologies would benefit them best?:

Okay, I’m going to be a little biased on this one, but seriously… Data Center Virtualization! For getting a degree in Information Systems Technology, they really didn’t cover Hypervisor virtualization practically at all. The idea that VirtualBox is enough to get an idea on virtualization is just not good enough. As IT becomes more and more like data centers, this is something that should really be focused on in schools. The best thing about it is that companies like VMware have resources like Hands-On-Labs to help people get their hands on technology without actually investing in the hardware. School should leverage this in their classrooms to help students get some time on VMware’s many different technologies.

 

I do hope that schools do better to prepare students and I hope students look to take initiative outside of the classroom, seek out opportunities and try to build a career they will enjoy.

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