How to Choose an Area of IT

 In TCM Post

There are many endless areas of Information Technology to pursue. Honestly, it’s what makes IT a rewarding and challenging career. So how do you pick one?

Start With an Open Mind and a Wide Perspective
Is your current view of the IT field a very limited perspective of all of the potential that exists in an IT career? Yes, it is. How do I know this? I know that my view of IT is limited, even now, after 20 years working in the IT Industry because I learn of and read about new types of jobs every day. It’s the nature of our industry; continually changing and growing. But it goes further than that.

More Than The Job Title
Don’t think about the title or job description or what your friends told you a “job” is, or even what your hands on the keyboard are doing. For example, don’t think you are just a “Systems Administrator.” What is that anyway? Think about your contribution to the company/team/product/mission. Think about your physical location. Think about the purpose of your team and your company.

For example, doing database maintenance for a dog food company may not be as impressive as performing data analysis on a U.S. Presidential Election. Or vice versa. It depends on you and your interests. Maybe you wanted to be a veterinarian, but medical school was not a good fit. So find a job supporting a company’s canine nutrition mission through your work in IT, and it will be rewarding. Find an interest or even better, a passion, then find a way to support it with your IT career.

Choose Your Own Adventure
Many people end up in jobs because of a series of events, but by luck rather than a result of planning. For example, one person’s school choice leads them to a work-study job, which leads to a position at Financial Aid Office which leads to an internship at a financial institution, which leads to cybersecurity, then you’re a CISO. Did you ever think that after ten years you would be the chief of anything let alone cybersecurity, and for a financial institution? Did you recognize that as a possible career route? Did you even plan your route? Or at least think about how you will navigate to your end goal?

I’ve only met one person in my career who had their entire career mapped out when they were in high school, and they were actively checking boxes on that plan last I checked. The rest of us seem to float wherever the wind blows. You need to find a middle ground. When you drift, fear and doubt can creep into your perspective. When you spend time planning your career, it is much easier to manage the fear and uncertainty. Hope is not a strategy.

Understand Yourself and Your Options
So, as always, start with a notebook. List as many areas of interest that you have. Not IT topics but general areas of interest, or proficiency, or experience. Be sure to include areas that don’t actively participate in, but maybe you keep thinking, “one day I want to try that.” I almost went to culinary school before I chose my IT path. I still like to cook. The Food Network has computers! There’s a neat company called Open Table that relies on technology to operate.

Next, jump over to Google and see what it has to say about “areas of IT” or “technology fields” or “careers in technology.” These resources are not all comprehensive, so find multiple sources. Develop your own set of data. Wikipedia is another good starting point:

Information science
Information and Computer Science

As Easy as Apple Pie
My wife and I took the family to North Georgia to pick apples in the orchards. We returned home with enough for several pies. I love to cook. I never bake. So, my son and I sat down, and we found five different apple pie recipes online. We wrote down all of the ingredients in a spreadsheet, comparing and contrasting each component and reading about how each might affect the final product whether it be taste or texture. Then we created a sixth column, our own unique apple pie recipe. We chose all of our ingredients based off of our comparisons and personal preferences. Then we got messy! (…and it turned out great!)

Add Detail and Data
Are my apple pie baking habits obsessive!? Sure, I’ll give you that, but you can see how research and use of tools (Excel) can help you make decisions. So grab your notes and start crossing your areas of interest with Areas of IT. See if there are any direct matches between IT Job Roles and your Areas of Interest. Pretty much all business today relies on IT, so think hard. Maybe you like to build things with your hands because you can see the results. Software development is a pretty decent choice, but so is systems architect.

Systems architect may be a better choice because a lot of times you are physically building servers or SANs or networks, or whole data centers versus intangible applications. You’d get to open gear with box cutters and plug devices into generators or backup batteries. Now, what about doing that in a Hospital where equipment is a life or death mission? More intriguing, right?

Think About Location and Mission
How about being a systems architect in a hospital, in a war zone? See how “Systems Administrator” turns into a fulfilling day to day job supporting a not-so-boring team mission? This idea is one fundamental area that I was never told by my guidance counselor or any professors and bears repeating… We all have our pre-conceived idea of what you would be doing in a specific job role, and most of the time that’s just the picture of ourselves staring at a screen while typing on a keyboard. In your day-dream, replace the cubicle wall with that interest or passion you have to create a more fulfilling picture of your future in IT. Another example might be a systems-installer for a fast-food chain. Somebody has to travel around and set up all of those Point of Sale systems that are backed by servers and networks. Do you fear sitting behind a desk the rest of your IT life?… You don’t have to! Somebody has to install cell towers and run fiber optic cable in remote locations.

Local and Regional Considerations
When I talked about location, I meant the physical place where you’d be sitting in a chair and the office building location, or workspace – which may not always be an office. So what about which city, or region? Again, do your research. If you are open to moving, you may have more options. If you are unwilling or unable to relocate, then research specialties around your current location. The Washington DC region focuses on the US Federal Government. New York City and Chicago are financial centers. Atlanta and Pittsburgh have a significant healthcare presence. You get the point. So if you already have some background in financial or healthcare organizations, and you are open to moving, focus your search and opportunities in those cities. This concept is not limited to big cities. Small towns across the globe each have their unique specializations. Find them, and it can help you figure out which direction to take.

Without Experience, You Need a Plan
Another common question that I get is how do I get a job in Data Analytics when I don’t have any experience in Data Analytics? You need to map out your journey. You need to find a company that does Data Analytics, then get a job at that company doing systems analysis or administration. Work harder than everyone else and get promoted into the Data Analytics position that you wanted in the first place. You may be “smart” enough to do my job as a CIO, but with no experience, you will never get the job. You have to work your way into the position.

Ignore Vendors, Brands, and Technologies
I’ve found that most of the traditional technologies are universal. Most organizations use pretty much the same stack of operating systems, networking equipment, storage and disaster recovery solutions. While there is ample opportunity to focus on one of those products, I spent most of this article discussing how to focus on the job, the mission, and your passions. So don’t think about, “should I be a VMware person,” or “I’ll get my MCSA and be a server admin.” Brands and “Hot Niches” will change over time and you will naturally keep up with the trends. Getting caught up in these brands and trends is how we find ourselves in the mundane boredom of our jobs. VMware and Microsoft Server admin will most likely be a PART of your skillset but don’t solely focus on them as you search for your place in IT.

The Bottom Line

  • Think about yourself, your hobbies and interests.
  • Plan your path from one step to the next.
  • Research all attributes of your path and steps.
  • Execute your plan.

What if you’re still not sure? You listed 10 “areas of IT,” and five seem cool, how do you know?  How do you commit?

Stay tuned. That’s the next article: Try IT Out!…

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