I asked a number of tech professionals in varying lengths of carrer, heights of their career (Admins through Upper Management) and areas within the technology industry (Programming, Marketing, Infrastructure, etc…). I did this because I understand that getting started is hard. Either getting out of school or finding opportunities while in helpdesk. So I am sharing this to provide insight for those looking to grow professionally both inside and outside work.
Considering that I opened this questionnaire with what is likely the most cliché question I could ask, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the responses. Question number one is: “How long have you been working in tech, how did you get started and what inspired you?”.
Lets break this down into sections:
- Where were they beforehand?
- Where did they get their start?
- How long have they been working in Tech?
Where were they beforehand?
The common theme here was school and childhood. Most of the reponders mentioned tinkering as a child or in school. I believe this lines up with the fact that some people get inspired early on. They understand its their passion and they pursue it through their studies and into their careers.
Now, not everyone takes that approach or enters into technology with an early understanding that this is what they want. I’ve personally known and helped some people change careers from working outside to working on networking and IT related tech and its amazing to watch them take on new challenges and knock them out.
..after being in retail and a wide variety of other jobs including landscaping, cobbling, bicycle repair, and much more.
-Eric Wright (VMTurbo, Tech Evangelist)
So regardless of where you are coming from, if you feel like you are inspired by technology, and by inspired I mean you honestly just want to know more about how some peice of technology works. Then you should chase after it, especially if that is a reoccuring thing in your life.
The most common inspiration for some people was working on computers and building them. More recently, i’ve seen more interest in programming. Schools are looking to incorporate programming classes into the curriculum, and I completely support that. It builds up peoples abilities to do troubleshooting, while keeping focus on understanding machine code.
The point here is, everyone goes from witnessing a technology for a first time to getting that lightbulb in your head telling you “I could do something cool with this.” What you do and how you do it after that moment will greatly define your growth.
Where did they get their start?
Support and Helpdesk roles make up the foundation of careers in technology. It almost feels like those roles have become a right of passage for people to take on tech careers. Although they might not have thought it then, some people even saw that experience as key to their growth in the long run.
One responder stated that a company called the school, looking for students who were good with computers. I can’t imagine that happens too often today, or at least often enough. But, because of this, they worked on building websites and in support roles, giving them the experience to move on to bigger and better things.
Another response that stuck out to me is more of a recent one. Peter Franz took on an apprenticeship. And why not? Internships and Apprenticeship is an extremely effective way to get experience. They provide a great chance to learn on systems you may not get a chance elsewhere.
I’ve started my apprenticeship 2 1/2 years ago and thats how long I have been in IT. I always had an eye for IT and anything technology related and thus I thought I knew alot about IT. Coming into a company that has a wide area of technology topics opened my eyes and out of nowhere I thought, I actually knew nothing about it until now. I wanted to change this and topics like virtualization, cloud computing, hyperconverged systems and virtual desktop infrastructure grabbed my interest.
-Peter Franz (PROFI AG, Systems Engineer)
By the way, Congrats to him on completing his apprenticeship test! Thats an awesome achievement. Now he is officially a Systems Engineer.
Now, everyone’s responses I felt fell into a few specific groups. So I broke it down and it looks a little like this:
- Retail Job
- A few responders noted having worked in retail jobs for tech companies like CompUSA. These people worked their retail role until they found an interest in some form of tech that introduced them into the enterprise world.
- Internship / Apprenticeship
- A few responders noted having done internships in the past. Some internships were for general IT, others for more specific areas like networking. As someone thats also done internships as a successful method for growth, I was happy to see other users find success there. One responder also mentioned apprenticeship, something typically known outside of the US.
- Support / Helpdesk Job
- Ah yes, the jobs and roles that impressed upon me to write these posts. It seems that these roles are a right of passage for working in tech and although they seem to be more harmful to our growth, the majority of those responders stated that it was one of the keys to their success.
- Courses in School
- This is an interesting one, because I myself had some decent courses in college that lead to my experience. Some responders noted programming and CCNA courses in high school as their starting point. Honestly wish I had those courses available myself. I would have likely been further ahead.
- Armed Forces
- This is a method that I’ve known others to personally take. The Armed forces provide training in multiple areas of tech, which is great for getting started without personally investing in training. They provide a job that has options for growth within different silos and a jumpstart towards a career.
- Building Computers
- The tried and true younger years! The point being that some people tie the beginning of their careers to their initial interest in computers from early childhood. This was fairly common among the responders.
I had to generalize a little, but I think all the ideas were well represented. Some went the normal route of retail and support roles, moving up the ladder, others found opportunities through their schools! Which, by the way, schools these days could do a much better job helping with. But I can’t put all of that on the schools, businesses need to reach out to schools more often and students need to utilize their available resources.
Overall, the gist of this portion is that there are many different ways to get started. Part of what makes your journey and growth through your tech career so great is that you can usually look back just 3 or so years and it could look drastically different. Mind you, you have to put in the effort to do so, but if you do, you won’t regret it. Also, Don’t expect that your support role isn’t helping you out. So many people both that i’ve spoken with and in this pool of responders remarked on how valuable that experience was.
How long have they been working in Tech?
The responses varied in years quite considerably, but it reminded me how long I had been doing this! Which I have to say was kind of a shocker that I could say a decade. The majority of responses were just over a decade, but some came in at a few years, and some, a couple decades. I have to say that it flies by fast, and judging by some responses, they thought so too.
25 years – Holy crap! Started with a great comp science in high school. Loved solving problems 🙂
– Kimberly Delgado (VMware, Staff Solutions Engineer)
The average time each people person associated with working around technology is shown below. I didn’t plan for it to show the majority in the 11-15 year group, it just happened to work out that way. This may have more to do with the group of people coming from twitter than anything else. I added this to show that these people put their years in. They’ve done their jobs and boosted their careers throuh determination over decades of hard work.
Now some people considered their beginnings in highschool, which I won’t discount, because regardless of where they started, it lead to where they are now. Everyone of those “early starters” would consider those early years crucial to their current passion.
But based on the information from the previous sections, I noticed that some people even got started later than most would expect. I mean, late career changes DO happen, and people have found ways to make huge strides in advancing their careers despite their showing up late in the game.
So no matter where you are in your tech career, its going to take a lot of time and commitment to develop it, and when you look back after 10, 20 or even 30 years… you’ll notice that Moore’s Law isn’t just about semiconductors. With enough drive and determination, you could see the same advancements in career.
You might still be in school, working in a low-level support role or just trying to make that next move forward. Regardless of where you start or have started, there are SO MANY options. Let me make sure you understand this. There are THOUSANDS of paths to go down working in technology and you will have so many chances to try something new.
On the idea of getting started or moving forward, it takes drive. No one will remember you for just filling the role. Its sad, but so many people think they can make a career without trying. Its never true and expecting to be apart of that next big project without showing that you are a team player or willing to be comfortably uncomfortable (I love that term!), you’ll never know your full potential.
Lastly, stop counting the hours. I’m not saying get taken advantage of of work 16 hour days, but notice when the business needs the extra time put in, do it. Your boss will appreciate that more than anything else, and it will help you become part of bigger and better things, even within the same company.