Doing. The Way to Advance your IT Career.
Depending on your background, education, college major or current work experience, you have developed a way of learning. These methods may include reading, listening, and doing. You have to start somewhere, and reading is usually that place. Through your career, you should seek technical mentorship from senior engineers, so you need to listen well and ask ample questions. In the end, for a successful IT Career, only Doing will get you the experience required.
Let’s take a look at some ways to learn and how they apply to Information Technology careers.
Although I am not one of them, I know people who can pick up a technical book, read from end to end and apply the lessons they learned immediately. Some subjects lend themselves to this type of absorption better than others. Reading is not just about books, or school texts, but also encompasses getting information from the internet.
Even though I’m not someone who reads to learn and apply knowledge, I consistently read books, blogs, and technical articles, because it is necessary not only to the success of my projects but my career growth. It provides one pathway to knowledge. It may spark your interest in a specific subject. Or it could fill in the gaps for something that you “know” how to do, but don’t know why it works or why it was architected.
Listening encompasses several different areas including formal, in-person paid training, online training such as Udemy, and can include free training videos such as YouTube or merely sitting next to a coworker while they explain or demonstrate a skill. I spent many years in my junior position sitting with senior engineers and learning design and architecture from them. I also sat in the boardroom as a Manager then Director and learned management and other soft-skills from the Executive team. One of the best ways I learned was to have someone walk me through a procedure in a test environment, then repeat myself, which is the next section, Doing.
There is no better way to learn IT skills than to do them, and this is the method that worked for me throughout my career as well as almost all of my colleagues. Due to the nature of IT, finicky system configurations, compatibility between multiple versions of software, and other fun surprises, it’s always best to do, try, make mistakes, and learn.
Now I’m not advocating that you learn in a production environment, that is a subject for another lesson, but there are plenty of resources available to use before you test in production. We talked about AWS in previous articles, and that’s an excellent way for you to learn in your own personal “lab.”
Doing on Your Own or College
Admittedly, this is where my opinion about the value of college can be confusing. Many of the college courses I’ve seen and many that I hear about from my mentees or read about online do not provide enough or any hands-on work. The courses that DO provide hands-on work are typically software development/programming classes. However many other courses only offer limited lab work, say on a server operating system or networking device, then teach theory about TCP/IP. Almost every less-experienced person I interview can recite the OSI model, but nearly none of them have any idea how it works in practical application.
As your career is just getting started, it is not always necessary to know the deep-end bits and bytes reasons why a configuration works, but having configured it several times on a Windows system is enough to learn and understand the concept, and can probably get you by in most jobs. Only when you become responsible for systems architecture, and design does the fundamental understanding of technology start to come into play much more. However, I find some of the most passionate individuals don’t do any configuration without reading about and understanding it extensively. Please note, “playing” with Kerberos or other sophisticated technologies are FAR different than assuming what it is and exactly how it works. There is a fine line between learning enough to get the job done and not knowing what you are doing and causing damage (or creating security holes). The best Jr Systems Administrators shine in their ability to recognize their lack of knowledge and ask for help.
Just Do It
You go to school and primarily collect knowledge on theory and some on practical application. You may not apply it for several years. Then you forget that knowledge. Maybe you never even talked about the subject in any class; you never spent a lab session configuring external DNS for a new Microsoft Windows Domain Controller. Configurations such as this are also why I recommend Amazon Web Services as a training tool, because, unlike a University Lab where security protocols on locked-down lab networks will not allow you to configure external, publicly facing resources, you can do it in AWS. You can register a domain in Route 53, turn up a Windows Server in EC2 and point an Elastic/Public IP at port 80 to publish a “Hello World” website. So do it!!
Who is More Valuable
Nothing about Windows Domain or DNS setup is complicated or requires an advanced degree. But even a Masters of Computer Science can’t tell you how to do it unless they’ve done it themselves. They can tell you how DNS is architected, and why it is important but are missing the practical application. When I interview you for a Jr Systems Administrator position, I’m going to discover which one you are. Maybe you know the answer to the DNS question, but I’m going to figure out if you’ve ever configured it anywhere before. This explanation is why the practical application, experience, is far more important than education.
The 97.5% of You
I want to spend a minute talking about my audience, the 99% of you out there – or maybe 97.5% – I didn’t perform a national poll! There are indeed some of you out there questioning my advice and saying, “but what about X…”? “Nick that’s possibly irresponsible advice…” Let me explain my target audience. Most of you DO NOT work for “The Big 4”, never will, and probably never want to. Most of you spend your careers working for the thousands or possibly millions of other business that need some IT support. Indeed, some of you are not “top notch developers.” Some of you are not systems architects with PhDs. Most of you try to figure out how to land a job, go to work from 9-5, learn new skills, get a promotion and earn a better living for yourselves and your families. Or you are the individuals that did not go to school for IT and are trying to figure out if and how you can transition into an IT career at age 30, or 40. I have written these articles for those of you in the 97.5%.
One Last Word
I am sure to end up with many detractors who say my contempt for college and opinion that you don’t need in-depth knowledge for a career in IT. I won’t disagree. In fact, I would point to this as a significant reason we have massive security issues across all industries that rely on IT. The engineers that are implementing systems don’t understand the architecture behind the mouse clicks.
However, the point I’m trying to make is that you can start your career, elevate your career, and eventually look back upon a successful IT career by never knowing the book-taught theory behind the technologies you are using in your every-day IT job.
Get Out there and Do It
As I often do, I’ll repeat some earlier lessons… Get up Now, get out there, and start Doing to advance your IT career!
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