111 Industry Experts give their Best IT Career Advice
Breaking into the IT industry today is way more complicated than it used to be. When I started out, you woke up one morning with your shiny new degree or Microsoft certification and breezed into a job. Employers were queued round the block to fight for your services. Job roles were clearly defined and you could specialise in one area. ‘You’re a Windows administrator and you want to learn what the networking team do? Sure buddy, up to you!’
Today, things have changed. The jobs are still out there in abundance, but there’s more people qualified to do them. With the rise of cloud and virtualization, the lines between job roles have blurred and you’re expected to have the full stack skill set across all technologies. You need to raise your game if you want to be ahead of the crowd. But what to do? Wouldn’t it be great if you could ask the top players in the industry for their best IT career advice?
I was recently invited to be a guest on the Packet Pushers Datanauts podcast. This was massive for me because I’ve been following Ethan and Chris for years. We chose to talk about Career Advancement, a topic I’m really passionate about and where I felt I could give the listeners real value.
I wanted to give more than just my opinions though, so I came up with the idea of asking industry experts this question:
“What’s the best piece of advice you could give to someone looking to start an IT career?”
I want to give you the full 360 degree view of the best advice, so I canvassed a large cross-section of the industry’s most trusted experts. If you had a magic wand to hand pick the cream of the crop as your mentors, these are the people you would choose. Their guidance isn’t just for people entering the industry, it’s invaluable no matter what stage you’re at in your career.
An incredible 111 industry gurus gave me their best IT career advice. Over 1500 years of combined experience has gone into making this article.
It’s a monster collection of top advice that you’re going to want to dip into again and again so I recommend you bookmark this page. Or even better, you can sign up below to download this article as a PDF for easy offline viewing AND get my list of the 10 Most In-Demand IT Certifications.
The Main Findings
Seven specific pieces of advice, and two particular technology skills, were repeated again and again from the experts, highlighting just how important these tips are. These are the main things you want to focus on to boost your IT career. You can find out what they are in the Summary section at the bottom of the post.
If you do skip ahead to the summary, I recommend you also browse through the individual entries because there are many unique pieces of advice which are solid gold.
I’ve divided our experts into five main sections:
The Industry Experts. These are the influencers, thought leaders, authors, bloggers and tweeters who have their finger on the pulse of current and future trends. It’s their business to be at the cutting edge.
The Chief Technology Officers. These are the Chief Technology Officers of Fortune 500 companies who are shaping the future of the industry. They know the qualities they need in people to achieve their vision.
The University CIOs. These are the Chief Information Officers from the Time’s list of the world’s top 100 universities. Nobody has a better understanding of the situation facing new graduates as they enter the job market.
The HR Directors and Recruiters. These are the executives from the world’s largest recruitment agencies and Human Resources departments. They know the current state and future trends of the job market, and exactly what employers are looking for in job candidates.
The Flackbox Readers. I also asked my readers for their best advice, with the top three responses making it into the article. A stipulation was that it had to be a great piece of unique advice which had been missed by the other experts. The response was fantastic and I couldn’t narrow it down to three, so the best four are listed.
Ethan Banks | Ed Tittel | Duncan Epping | Jeremy Cioara | Scott Lowe | Todd Lammle | Amy Renee | Rene van den Bedem | Anthony Sequeira | Dwayne Lessner | Scott Morris | Cody Bunch | Ivan Pepelnjak | Eric Shanks | Robin Harris | Brad Hedlund | Gav Brining
Shawn Powers | Alex Papas | Will Robinson | Benjamin Troch | David Marshall | Simon Long | Niels Hagoort | Colin Lynch | Tommy Patterson | Martin Glassborow | Eric Hagstrom | Dan Kusnetzky | Josh Atwell | Luis Ayuso | Paul Grevink | Chris Beckett
Derek Hennessy | Eric Wright | Shabbir Ahmed | Marius Sandbu | Andi Mann | Gerfried Reis | Nigel Hickey | Philip Sellers | Preetam Zare | Ed Grigson | David Owen | Rob Nelson | David Geiger | Andrea Casini | Josh Andrews | R.S. Sundar | Kevin L. Jackson | Martin Casado
James Hamilton | Nathan Byrne | Dave Davis | Dan Frith | Erik Freeland | Ruairi McBride | Bilal Hashmi | Magnus Andersson | Eli the Computer Guy | Nigel Willson | Tony McCandless | Lori MacVittie | Paul Daugherty | Rob James | Dan Hushon | Val Bercovici | Carl Solder | Pieter Schoehuijs
Mike Fratto | Val Matula | Edward Haletky | David S. Linthicum | Joseph Campbell | Adam Greengrass | Amanda Stewart | John Carpenter | Dr. Houssein Hallani | Michael Borbacs | Richard Godsmark | Mike Day | Troy Henley | James Leonard | Nick Leake | Gavin Ian McLachlan
Trevor Woods | Chris Roberts | Rob Moffatt | Giorgio Anastopoulos | Bruce Maas | Grant Clavelle | Darren Alexander | Matt Scolari | Jan Leendertse | Mark Caukill | Kathleen Hogan | Philip Clarke | Kevin Dee | Linda Mundy | Danny Cohen | David Loeser | Paula Verstappen
The Industry Experts
Ethan Banks, packetpushers.net
“Information technology is in a time of transition. Therefore, be prepared to be flexible in your potential roles and responsibilities. Being a generalist will map better to many organization’s needs than being a deep specialist.
Specific transitions include…
- From IT stack separates to converged and hyperconverged stacks.
- From localized “in office” workforces to increasingly mobile and remote workforces.
- From wholly owned infrastructure to a mix of owned and rented infrastructure from the public cloud.
All of these transitions map well to the IT professional who is versed in multiple technologies. Therefore, be a literate generalist in cloud, automation, networking, virtualization, storage, and security, while choosing to have perhaps one of two areas of expert-level specialities that you especially enjoy.”
Ed Tittel, edtittel.com
“The best thing any person just starting out in IT can do for themselves is to conduct a survey to explore the full extent of the profession.
I’d advise looking into membership with either the Association for Computing Machinery (the ACM) or the IEEE Computer Society.
I’d also advise trolling the big job boards such as Indeed, SimplyHired, Dice, and so forth, not necessarily to look for any specific job, but just to get a sense of what jobs are out there.
And finally, I’d urge all of these folks to check out the body of work I’ve put together for Tom’s IT Pro on IT certifications and IT career paths, primarily through the Best IT Certifications landing page.”
Duncan Epping, yellow-bricks.com
“First and foremost: pick an area you are passionate about, and just try to be the best you can be and get outside of your comfort zone.”
Duncan has a great article on how to get your IT career to the next level.
Jeremy Cioara, www.cbtnuggets.com
“Be hungry. Be unstoppable.
I used to think people would develop a passion for technology by gaining the knowledge. I now know that doesn’t always work – we live in a new generation of people. Many operate differently than what I would expect. I’ve poured knowledge into countless individuals who I find out (later) that either don’t care or avoid situations that would help them grow (i.e. “I’m sorry – I’d fix this down system, but I promised my girlfriend dinner…” Huh? I can’t quite comprehend that…is that the new ‘system engineer’?).
So…in the business I’ve built, I now play “hard to get” ;o) – I want to find out who comes after me. Who is asking to create network diagrams after hours for sites. Who is offering to help clean up Active Directory if someone would just show them how.
Again and again.
Even when I blow them off.
Even when I say, “ahhh…we don’t really need that right now.”
Be hungry. Be unstoppable.
It’s the people that KEEP asking that appreciate it when you invest in them. Its those people I promote quickly past the ranks of “idle people” who give up when it gets hard.
If you have these attributes, you will succeed in ANY technology – I no longer tell people what “path to travel” – everything is now so closely integrated as DevOps, SDN, SaaS, “Cloud” and the like turn our skills into one big, fat technical glob…it’s the ones who adapt to change with excitement and an unstoppable attitude that succeed. ”
Scott Lowe, blog.scottlowe.org
“I’d say that you need to be prepared for change. The IT industry is never static: technology doesn’t stand still and so those who wish to work in the technology field must be prepared for constant change.
Second, I’d say you need to cultivate a passion for learning. Since the industry is always changing and always moving, you’re going to need to change and move with it, and that almost always involves learning.”
Todd Lammle, www.lammle.com
“VMware skills are in demand and NSX is a serious contender to surpass other vendor’s offerings in the SDN market.”
Amy Renee, amyengineer.wordpress.com
“The best piece of advice I can think of for new engineers is love to learn and embrace change. IT evolves at such a rapid pace, clinging to what you know today won’t suffice.
Always be studying, always be growing your skills, and always be challenging yourself.
Get connected with the community and others that are looking to grow their IT skills as well.”
You can follow Amy on Twitter at @amyengineer
Rene van den Bedem, vcdx133.com
“You will have the greatest chance of success if you have a genuine passion for continuous learning and enjoy change. Also plan to reinvent yourself every five years.”
Anthony Sequeira, www.cbtnuggets.com
“It is critical that a learner follow their passion instead of chasing what they believe to be the hottest niche in IT.
Their enthusiasm for the subject matter can more than make up for slight variations in pay and demand.”
Dwayne Lessner, itbloodpressure
“Learn how to use/write to an API.
Everything has one these days, if you don’t see a feature the chances are you can create it yourself.”
Scott Morris, smorris.uber-geek.net
“The BEST piece of advice, huh? Well, I don’t think there’s really anything simple about it although it sounds very simple.
Know your area. Whatever things you are going to put down on your resume, be able to back them up with the valuable skills!
Don’t put things down because you think they are the cool buzzwords of the day. You may well be asked to use those skills, and what happens when they aren’t there?
With that part of “know your area” also comes the part about knowing the job you are applying for. If the job lists particular skills or duties, first make sure that you can actually accomplish them.
Second though, make sure they are actually going to be interesting to you! There’s enough different jobs out there that you don’t need to settle for the first thing only to be unhappy in less than a year and looking for the next thing.
Just as much as you hate changing jobs, employers hate interviewing and placing for jobs that the just got done filling! Make sure the fit works both ways!
If you enjoy what you do, work will never seem like work! It’ll be more like someone actually pays you to do what you like!” 🙂
Cody Bunch, vBrownBag.com
“Be humble, learn all you can, and don’t be afraid to contribute.”
Ivan Pepelnjak, ipspace.net
“Become a presenter.
The best way to learn something is to have to explain it to others.
- You want to know what you’re talking about. You don’t want to look like an idiot when you’re on the stage, so you will go into the nooks of this product and explore all the crazy options so you are prepared for the questions you might get.
- If you have to explain things to other people, it forces you to organise how you think about something.
- If you have to explain something to people who have no background or fundamentals, you’re forced to simplify things down or they won’t understand you. This helps give you the bigger picture and understanding of how things fit together.
You wouldn’t believe how much I learned by teaching. The questions you get are pure gold.”
Eric Shanks, theithollow.com
“Coding and the methods around storing and managing code will be central to your daily work activity no matter if you’re a programmer or infrastructure person.
Also your education just starts when you get your first job.”
“My advice is: don’t!
The existing enterprise IT model is badly broken. Personnel costs are extremely high compared to hyper scale services, so you’ll eventually spend all your time babysitting legacy apps, while the leading edge stuff will be largely managed by the cloud vendor. Fewer companies will be able to afford their own IT department, so total US – and in most developed countries – IT employment will drop. What robots are doing to US manufacturing, cloud services will do to enterprise IT.”
Brad Hedlund, bradhedlund.com
“My main piece of advice would be to not underestimate the importance of social and emotional intelligence.
After all, it’s what makes us human, and will become exceedingly more valuable in a world where AI replaces humans for any sort of technical and scientific endeavors.”
Gav Brining, cloudbuzz.net
“Always be willing to learn new things.
The IT landscape moves so fast, when I was starting out it seemed like if you became the best at virtualisation or a storage admin you’d be set for life, but then things like automation come along and if you don’t keep learning new things you become irrelevant.”
Shawn Powers, cbtnuggets.com
“Everyone looking to start an IT career is going to focus on IT stuff. It certainly makes sense. If you’re starting a career though, the best advice I can give is to bolster that IT knowledge with Soft Skills.
Learn to communicate. Learn to empathize. If you’re an IT pro with the ability to bridge the gap between departments and disciplines, you’ll be INVALUABLE to any employer.
Plus, learning Soft Skills (jargon word, I often hate jargon), or simply learning to effectively communicate will be of incredible help during the hiring process. Employers will see your interviewing skills as an example of what they can expect from you once employed.”
Alex Papas, flackbox.com
“I’m not going to tell you to get your skills and certifications up, because anyone can do that, and everyone does.
If you’re planning to start a career in IT, you will most likely start in support. If you want to stand out from most, make sure you have good social skills. Learn to deal with a wide variety of different personality types because even though you are not going to like how some people treat you, you have to make them feel comfortable enough to deal with you again in the future.
Also, always remember this is an extremely thankless line of work. No matter how innovative your solutions are or how good your problem solving is, you won’t hear from anyone until something goes wrong and they want to blame someone for it, even if it’s not your fault. If you have a thin skin, this line of work probably isn’t for you.”
Will Robinson, oznetnerd.com
“Love what you do. The main difference between an average engineer and a top engineer is passion.
With passion comes enthusiasm, eagerness to learn and share knowledge as well the ability to inspire others. Employers and employees alike are attracted to these qualities and you’ll find that you’ll go far in your career simply by doing what you love.”
Also check out Will’s post How to Land your Dream Job
Benjamin Troch, virtualb.eu
“Never burn your bridges.
IT is a small circle of people and you leave on bad terms it can have repercussions later when you apply for another job. People get hired by people so if you want a fruitful career be careful what you say to who.
Another thing is be passionate and help other people out, if you don’t like your job find something you are passionate about because a career is a marathon, not a series of sprints.”
David Marshall, vmblog.com
“If you’re looking to make a move into the world of IT, my advice to you would be… “never settle.”
What I mean by that is simply this: Yes, you will need to have some area of focus in order to get your foot in the door to land your first IT job. But don’t stop there. This year is going to be more of the same from last year — change. Quickly adapt and learn anything and everything you can because what’s popular today may be replaced tomorrow.
In the IT field, you’ll want to be well rounded and at least show others that you have a basic understanding of what’s cutting edge. Do that and you might just leap from that entry level position into something new and interesting… and get paid more to do it!”
Simon Long, simonlong.co.uk
“Find an area of focus that you have the most passion for.
Working in IT can be competitive and will often require you to go above and beyond others to advance.
If you are passionate about something, working hard won’t seem like hard work.”
Niels Hagoort, cloudfix.nl
“In today’s changeable IT landscape be sure to be adaptable to innovative solutions, but try to keep a nice balance with focus on a specific solution or area of expertise.
It happens to me all the time. I tend to move too fast when I see cool new stuff around the corner and by doing that I risk not getting to know a certain solution or product to the fullest.
So in short: be adaptable while maintaining focus.”
Colin Lynch, ucsguru.com
“I think the best advice to someone just starting out would be to embrace the programing and automation aspects of IT.
Learn the API’s and some basic Python, and they will be in great shape and the envy of many a traditional networker with years and years more experience, but having now to learn these concepts too.”
Tommy Patterson, virtuallycloud9.com
“Skill up on data science.
If I had to do it all over again I would go down the machine learning path and skill up on the data analytics side of things.”
Martin Glassborow, storagebod.com
“I think the advice I would give is not to pigeonhole yourself early in your journey.
It is very easy to see yourself as a developer or an infrastructure or a project manager; even within those silos, there are yet further silos.
So my advice for someone early on is to try and look for variety; it is this breadth of understanding that will bring value in the long-term. Also consider working both sides of the fence…spend time working for vendors and end-users.”
Eric Hagstrom, gotdedupe.com
“Learn a development language!”
“Study the business and understand what it needs. Just studying IT is a bit like studying a typewriter. While that course of study might help the student understand the mechanics of the typewriter and how it is used, it wouldn’t provide the necessary understanding of the subject matter where the typewriter is to be applied.
If the business need is financial management, a study of accounting and business management practices are in order. If engineering is the focus of the business, then an in-depth understanding of engineering would be needed.
My clients have commented that some of the IT staff members focus too much on systems, software, networking, storage and the like and never stick their collective heads up out of the data center to understand what is being processed and why.”
Josh Atwell, vtesseract.com
“Focus more energy in understanding the trends with respect to why they are important to the IT organizations and businesses than what you spend from a purely technical standpoint.
The current space is very fluid, but the demands that facilitate these new technologies better stand the test of time and will yield better long term dividends. Make your energy investments accordingly.”
Luis Ayuso, blog.luisayuso.com
“There are two drivers that I consider in Professional Growth:
First) There was a saying I read somewhere (don’t recall where) that said “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable”. For most people, taking the next step or making a move would fall within a comfortable level of change. If you think of your career like a rock wall and you the rock climber, those comfortable steps are easy next footholds and handholds. Small movements equal small rewards. Over time you get tired and you realize you haven’t made it that far yet. Now, if you were to jump for that next handhold, you can make a significant difference in what is left to climb. Coincidentally, you could also see larger reward for your career.
Second) Passion more than knowledge drives growth. I’ve talked and worked with enough managers to see that they look at a person’s potential and their passion almost as much as they do at previous knowledge. Passion for the company, the role and beyond shows you can be a team player, that you are willing to learn beyond your role and grow as an employee. It’s the moment you accept an opportunity to take your passion beyond your role that you see real growth reward.
Ultimately, doing any of this is tough. it means that sometimes you have to think differently, put in the extra hours and it will seem all you got for that effort is headaches and stress beyond comparison, but as you move on it gets easier. Your normal effort will now be what others consider extreme and you’ll look back and be amazed. Just remember, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized” – Sun Tzu.”
Luis has great career advice in the professional growth section of his blog.
Paul Grevink, paulgrevink.wordpress.com
“When you decide to start a career in IT, you embark on a fantastic journey.
I started almost 20 years ago, and back then I could not even imagine the world we live in today with all these opportunities and technology.”
Chris Beckett, blue-clouds.com
“If I was starting any kind of career, regardless of IT, I’d do something you love and are passionate about. This way you stay motivated and are likely to go further faster.
In respect of IT, I’d say don’t consider any piece of tech or vendor as “useless”. Everything has its place – think about the business problem you are trying to solve. Don’t hammer square pegs into round holes.”
Derek Hennessy, vnotions.com
“My advice to someone starting out in IT is two-fold. Firstly, the need to be a developer and be able to code to progress successfully in IT. We’re seeing a massive change with automation and orchestration coming to the fore and coding is a necessity.
Secondly, become part of the community. Attend local MeetUp events, users groups such as VMware VMUG, Cisco Data Center User Groups (DCUG) etc. and network with other professionals. Both of these will provide a solid foundation for a career in IT.”
Eric Wright, turbonomic.com
“Today’s technologists have an incredible opportunity in front of them. It’s both daunting and exciting as we have so much to take in. This is where the value of becoming a member of open IT communities is a key way to open doors because of a few things:
- Learning how others are using technology and products
- Networking with others in the field who are at various levels within an ecosystem
- Sharing your learning journey through communities and online interactions (blogs, social media, presentations, etc.)
By seeking out others in the industry who are already active in an area of the IT ecosystem, you make sure that you can draw from their experiences. Anthony Robbins (the motivational speaker) used to learn from experts to become like them. He had the right idea. In the IT community, we love to share our stories, and there are lots of mentoring opportunities available. It is there for all of us to use and contribute to. Sometimes the best way to learn is to teach others as we go.”
Check out Eric’s great article The Top 3 Skills Every IT Person Needs
Shabbir Ahmed, vmexpo.wordpress.com
“The future is all about SDDC Software Defined Data Center.
It would be great for new IT people to start their career in this field.”
Marius Sandbu, msandbu.wordpress.com
“My best piece of advice for someone looking to start an IT career is first and foremost find an area that interests you!
IT has a broad range of different areas you can focus on – cloud, networking, business intelligence, machine learning and such. Focusing on the area you find most interesting makes it easier keep the passion glowing.
The second thing is to start blogging about it. I never learned as much before I started blogging about different topics, because I needed to really understand a topic myself before I could write about it.”
Andi Mann, pleasediscuss.com/andimann/
“I would say they should prepare themselves for a career of continuous learning and continuous change, rather than expect their Computer Science degree or their first job to define the niche that they will fill for 50 years.
Technology changes so rapidly, and so significantly, that few if any of today’s roles will even exist in 10, 20, 30 years’ time. So be flexible in what you do and where you are headed; look for the roles and skills that will take you forward; be ready to drop older skills and pick up new ones; do not let one job or set of skills define you; be ready to reinvent yourself as new technology happens.
Being willing to learn and change and evolve has been a highlight of my career in technology to date.”
Gerfried Reis, soloprenaut.com
“First, you need to realize that competition is fierce. If you want to have an actual career, and you don’t want to be a number amongst many, you need to find a way to stand out.
Your first option is to become a much better coder or network engineer than most of your colleagues, but continuously staying ahead of everyone else while you’re getting older is hard. A more promising alternative is to develop skills complementing IT. In my experience, communication and presentation skills are paramount.
Great IT project managers can talk to nerdy colleagues just as well as to customers. Great technical trainers understand highly technical systems, but can explain them in very simple sentences. Great technical consultants need to understand technology, and they are also masters of presentation.
Throughout your career, you’ll score points for the results stakeholders see and understand, and you’ll get zero points for great work no one knows about.”
Nigel Hickey; 3x vExpert, 2016 VMware EUC Champion, 2016 Veeam Vanguard, VCP5-DCV, VCP5-DT, nigelhickey.com
“The best advice I could give to anyone looking to start an IT career is to be educated. What I mean is, find that part of IT that is interesting to you and learn about it. If that’s reading, taking a class (online/offline), joining an IT Community (Spiceworks, VMware Technology Network, Meetups, etc.) and make friends!
Also be aware that IT is an ever changing landscape that you must try to stay on top of.
Lastly, try something that is outside of your comfort zone. If you are awesome at Networking, go try Server tech. If you are awesome at Server tech, go try to learn Networking or Storage tech. Be well versed in IT.”
Philip Sellers, techazine.com
“The one piece of advice I’d offer is to learn to code – if you’re an infrastructure person with no coding background – get one.
PowerShell, software-defined X and all sorts of other focus in automation is changing the landscape for infrastructure folks and you’ll be really well served if you learn to code, script, etc.
If nothing else, it will help you understand developers and the jobs they do.”
Preetam Zare, vzare.com
“Learn first the Business Architecture. Keep away from technology as it influences your decision making and can easily overshadow requirements. Focus on how the business functions.
The best and brightest example is Uber. It is a simple IT application but addresses both the driver and the passenger.”
Ed Grigson, vexperienced.co.uk
“‘Explore and get out more’
By which I mean don’t get stuck in a siloed role where you’re largely invisible to anyone outside your immediate team. Technical skills are all well and good but the age old adage that it’s who you know still applies, arguably even more so now we’re all connected (if we choose to be) via social media.
Get known across your whole company, or across your industry if blogging/speaking etc appeal. I wouldn’t have the job I do today (working for VMware) if it wasn’t for my social media exposure.
It’s not just about being seen however – exposure to a wider community will take your learning in new directions and keep you on your toes, improving your skills along the way. If you do the equivalent of just ‘shouting loudest’ without adding value you won’t go far.”
David Owen, vmackem.co.uk
“There are 3 things I wish I could go back and tell myself.
Certifications are not the holy grail of career progression. However, you do need some to at least register on recruiter’s radar and thus get an interview.
LEARN TO CODE!! While not needing to learn the syntax inside out you need to understand the architecture and methodologies behind it as the future will be written in code.
While knowing the tech is crucial, what is equally and possibly more important is to learn how to deal with people. Pick up some psychology books (Chimp Paradox is a good one) and some basics like timekeeping books.
But above all if you find you are comfortable in a job or a role it’s a sure sign you are in danger. The pace the market is moving means it’s hard to stay relevant and command those high salaries. Always make sure you are in a role you are challenged in and are learning new things, be it tech or soft skills.”
Rob Nelson, rnelson0.com
Instead of trying to keep up with every technology you can potentially use, focus on the ability to come to grips with a new tool in a short period of time. Once you have that, you will always be able to get on top of the learning curve.
Be the person everyone comes to because they know that if you don’t know it now, you can learn quickly and get them the answers they need.”
David Geiger, careerlevelup.com
“Just start trying to get an IT job already!
Getting in is easier than you think- based more on personality than technical knowledge or credentials.
By all means, learn- but also tell everyone you meet about your plan and boldly apply.“
Andrea Casini, myvirtualife.net
- If you like infrastructure, learn basic scripting/coding.
- If you like programming, learn what infrastructure best practices are.
- In both cases, learn how to use APIs as they are the interface of the future (or present I should say.)
- Don’t fall in love with technology, learn how to apply each to specific use cases because technology is not the point but just a means to get to a point.
- Dig into the differences between legacy applications and cloud native applications from an infrastructure, fruition and cost perspective.
- Don’t let marketing fool you, dig into the matters.
- Be curious.
- Get a list of bloggers and spend time reading all of them every day.
- Build a lab and try things out, flatten and rebuild.
- Rinse and repeat.
- Get used to the fact that this job will suck life out of you in terms of time spent to learn/keep up/deliver, so be passionate about it or move to something else!
Josh Andrews, sostechblog.com
“My advice would be to start a portfolio of your work. Start a blog and make entries for things you learn or problems you solve, make a Github and work on existing projects or start your own.
This has multiple benefits: Creating your own personal knowledge base you can build and continue to reference, networking as you respond to comments and comment to others, and most importantly for those just starting out, this will create a set body of your work you can show to prospective employers.”
R.S. Sundar, sundarcloudarchitect.wordpress.com
- All new IT freshers should choose an IT Domain which aligns with their passion for working. For example: software developer, tester, network technician, systems admin, DevOps, storage tech or cloud technology related. They should choose one specific domain, learn it thoroughly by actually practicing it and make sure they capitalize on that skill and earn.
- Document what you learn every week for a couple of months and check where you stand compared to the industry.
- Keep learning, Get certified to get recognized and acquire new skill sets every year.
- Keep checking new industry trends and make sure you are recruitable.
- Have fun and spend good time with your family and friends.
Kevin L. Jackson, kevinljackson.blogspot.com
“Today’s information technology professional must be adept in delivering IT services, not technologies, which deliver quantifiable value to the organization’s business or mission model.
Using cloud service providers, these services are abstracted from the underlying technology. This typically means a broadening of skill sets to encompass relevant business and economic models.”
Martin Casado, networkheresy.com
“My primary advice would be to realize that IT is expanding far beyond infrastructure for information processing and is now relevant to nearly every major business sector.
This includes automotive, utilities, physical security, farming, mining, etc.
So be open to opportunities in non-traditional and emerging areas as you go.”
James Hamilton, perspectives.mvdirona.com
“Play for the long term. Chose jobs working on technology that will still be relevant a decade hence.
Chose jobs that build on your strengths but significantly stretch beyond them. Always say “yes” to requests to do more or take on more. Each is an opportunity.
Chose jobs working with the best in the industry. Working with the best is the quickest way to learn.
Never let go of the details even as you take on broader roles.
Don’t worry about money, job title, or recognition. It’ll all come and never leave if you get these four goals right. Short term decisions often yield little and what they do offer doesn’t last. Play the long game.”
Nathan Byrne, vmtechy.com
“Diversify – The days of silo skills are gone, it’s important you understand, even if it’s just a high level, all the areas your technology stack touches. It will help you understand and interact with the many teams and people you will need to be successful.
Know IT – IT is more than just a “requirement” of businesses in this age, it is a driver. It pushes businesses forward, and drives agility.
It is important you understand this and you are able to articulate it to your customers, manager etc. This is the difference between an IT deployment and a Business Solution!
Make mistakes – By this I mean have a lab environment, try changes, stop services. If you try an upgrade and it fails, poke around (after all it’s already broken). This separates the book and paper people from those who know the nuts and bolts. Confidence in the technology comes from knowing how things should work, and more importantly knowing where and what to look for when they don’t!
The final piece is something my father has drilled into me for years. No matter how clever your solution, never lose sight that you are in Customer Service!”
Dave Davis, virtualizestuff.com
“Change is constant in IT, always be eager and willing to step out of your comfort zone and learn the latest technology.”
Dan Frith, penguinpunk.net
- Don’t be afraid to try new things and keep learning. The only thing that remains constant in IT is the need to learn new tricks.
- You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t try to be. It’s okay to develop specialized skills and focus on certain areas. We keep banging on about ppl needing to be generalists but sometimes you need to go deeper.
Erik Freeland, packetpushers.net
“The most important thing to learn early in your career is networking. Not the packet type, but the people type of networking.
Every one you meet could be a future coworker or reference. So never burn a bridge.”
Erik has written an excellent series of Job Search articles on the Packet Pushers blog.
Ruairi McBride, ruairimcbride.wordpress.com
“Find something that you love doing; don’t be afraid to take something on because you may fail as it’s the best way to learn.
If in doubt ask, and my personal favourite-
It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Bilal Hashmi, cloud-buddy.com
“IT professionals should make sure they are aligned with the business. They should partner with the business and not have the old mindset of simply supporting IT. This means enabling by innovating and taking proactive measures that allow the business to not only be efficient but gives them access to new opportunities as well.
For technical skills I would say learn at least one of the two leading cloud platforms and figure out how to drive value from it for their organization. There is value there for almost everyone. Whoever figures it out first gets started on the journey of success sooner.”
Magnus Andersson, vcdx56.com
“Today’s technical focused IT jobs lean more and more to automation and orchestration.
My best advice would be to focus on learning scripting and/or programming languages apart from the traditional network, compute and operating system basics.
Learn new things and challenge the way things have been done over the past 15-20 years.”
Eli the Computer Guy, youtube.com/elithecomputerguy
“Find problem… solve… repeat until dead…”
The Chief Technology Officers
Nigel Willson, Global Strategist at Microsoft
“My advice would be – don’t be intimidated and think you don’t have something to offer straight away – we live in a world where longevity and experience are becoming less valuable – and the IT industry like many industries are embracing questioning minds and the fail fast mentality – it’s easy to be overwhelmed when starting your career, but actually an enquiring mind, challenging established ways of working and methodologies and coming up with lots of ideas, good or bad – are as valuable (if not more so) than a lifetime in the industry.
Be creative, be challenging and be confident that you have something to contribute.“
You can follow Nigel on Twitter at @nigewillson
Tony McCandless, CIO EMEA at FIS
“Be flexible about what you do and where you do it. The world is your oyster so don’t limit yourself.”
“I would advise anyone starting an IT career to familiarize themselves with the protocols, tools, and languages used to manipulate APIs.
Whether a career takes you to the cloud or into data center operations or even networking, the ability to communicate with and manage systems via HTTP REST APIs is critical to a successful career.”
Paul Daugherty, CTO at Accenture
“Learn how to learn, and pursue curiosity with a passion.
Tech is moving so fast that what you know today will be obsolete tomorrow – rather than being fearful of this, embrace it and help invent the future.”
Rob James, Group CIO at Adecco
“If you’re not sure what field in IT to start with then always join a great company that is big enough and has the reputation to provide opportunities to learn and grow.
Change is constant in IT – get ahead of it… don’t wait.
It is never about the technology itself but always about execution and ultimately the solution value to the consumer. I have seen breakthrough outcomes achieved with basic simple technology and amazing technology fail even with very smart project managers.”
“1. Learn to code – seems self explanatory, but in the digital world everything is about manipulating information, and you do that thru code.
3. Play with technology – kinda like 2. above but if you aren’t building your own understanding of what works and doesn’t then it’s harder for you to be differentiated, much less, convincing to the business professionals who are looking for guidance.”
Val Bercovici, CTO at SolidFire
“Easiest question ever – become a security specialist 😉
Deep storage specialist value add is gradually diminishing as highly automated systems like SolidFire appear. Infrastructure automation (at compute, memory, networking & storage layers) is the next wave of evolution for those careers. “
Carl Solder, CTO Data Center and Enterprise Switching at Cisco
- While having a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field is not mandatory, it will certainly help position you above the potential pack of candidates that apply for a position. Additional industry related trainings and certifications will also give you an edge that showcase your hunger for the role and gives you some practical experience to draw from to help you hit the ground running.
- Chase internships – quite a few of the candidates we end up hiring often result from bringing them initially on board as an intern. As a potential employer it gives me a chance to evaluate their work ethic, skill sets and how well they adapt to the work environment and company culture. Also prior experience working in a related area also serves the candidate very well during the interview and evaluation process.
- Be prepared to continually learn – the IT industry moves at a very fast pace – those who are willing to continue to push themselves to learn new skills, understand new technologies, and be flexible to adapt to new ways of doing things will have a greater chance of success. My experience over the years is that those who are more self-motivated and push themselves to adapt and learn new skills generally have more career success in the longer run.
- Don’t forget your build your soft skills – Half of the job of an IT professional is working with “tech” so you need to have the skills be proficient in your area – but the other half of an IT job is working with people and that requires a different set of skills – listening is probably one of the most important skills you need when you start working. Listen to your manager and your co-workers to ensure you understand tasks being assigned and advice being given to optimize and streamline your work – other soft skills that one should continually work on include writing, negotiation, being collaborative, and being clear and articulate when communicating to peers and customers 🙂
- Lastly, look to build a good set of industry connections. Connections will help you move onwards and upwards as your career progresses. Once you have a start in a career, don’t be insular. Get to know people outside of your group and department in your company. Join local IT interest groups and try different things like challenging yourself to be a guest speaker on an IT related topic at one of those meet ups. Get active in social media related to your IT discipline. LinkedIn is a great way to start sharing your thoughts and views on posts that other professionals share to build up awareness of you.
Pieter Schoehuijs, SVP & Group CIO at Capgemini
“Do what you like, follow your heart. Increasingly we are (or should be) training young people for jobs that do not even exist today!
How does one do that? Find your passion and go for it.”
Mike Fratto, Research Director at Current Analysis
“IT serves the organization. The organization does not serve IT.
Remember that every day and be able to explain how what you are doing is serving the organization. This will give you sense of perspective of the larger picture and hopefully give you a sense of purpose in your work life. Apply it to your tasks, your projects and your professional development.
This perspective should underpin supporting projects, offering alternatives, or pushing back on projects that are not a good idea.”
Val Matula, CTO, Emerging Products and Technology at Avaya
“Attempt to reinvent yourself every 5 years.
Be a learner, and challenge yourself with new roles periodically.”
“This advice seems conflicting but is not:
1) Concentrate on the system. System engineering is crucial to the success of highly distributed hybrid cloud environments of the future.
2) Understand security. Keep security in the back of your mind, it is crucial for the future of computing. Each of us is responsible for security. The more complex the system, the more we need to understand security and how it impacts the entire system.
Too many people look solely at their small world and think their solution is the only solution. Yet, their solution is part of a larger solution. One such conversation happened recently. The problem was saving disk space. Yet, when you look at the system many ways to save disk space are possible. The other persons solution was to adjust the operating system of his choice. While the larger problem is the mass proliferation of data across the hybrid cloud. Both are important to solve, but one is narrowly focused.
In essence, we need to think outside the box more and more. We need to not only solve the point solution, but the system of problems associated with the hybrid cloud data center of the future. We need to do this all securely. There is an overlap between the business, the system, and security. We need to all live in that overlap.”
You can follow Edward on Twitter at @Texiwill
David S. Linthicum, SVP at Cloud Technology Partners
“Cloud, cloud, and more cloud, but focus on specific skills such as AWS cloud security and Azure database architecture etc. Certifications are easy to get and good foundations to get your first job, you can map a nice path from there.”
Joseph Campbell, CTO and Head of Innovation at T-Systems
“One word and that is “math”. As software eats hardware so will “math” eat software as “math geeks” will inherit the world.
As with the rapid rise of Machine Learning, transactional processing as we know it today will be a thing of the past in a short few years.
Instead IoT will feed the ML engines (which are all math driven) and in turn for the most part us poor carbon based entities will simply be “told” what we should do and how to respond by our element 14 overlords. As the UI will start to become deeply embedded into everyday objects (e.g. Echo in refrigerators and Siri in cars) so the entire topology (known by IT today) will change with it.”
Adam Greengrass, CTO at HCL Technologies
“Pick something you are interested in and stick with it until you are considered by your peers to be a subject matter expert. It’s okay to change your mind or your direction mid-course and go off in another direction, but try to stick with various topics until you know everything there is to know about those topics. They can be specific topics, like “cloud” “automation” “security” “infrastructure”, etc., or they can be diverse like “innovation and emerging technologies” or “service delivery”. But whatever you decide on you should learn all that is learnable in that topic.
There are also a few certifications you should get. I would suggest that everyone take ITIL Foundation which is the introductory course to ITIL, and those that find IT Service Management to be interesting should take as many additional classes as they can.
If you decide to work for a big company, make sure your package includes training. CCIE certifications and other similar ones are good. ITIL and TOGAF (for enterprise architects), PMI certification for Project/Program Managers, etc. That stuff really helps in the long term.
You don’t have to start out knowing for sure where you want to go and you don’t have to learn anything you’re not interested in. In 30 years you’ll be one of the next leaders in the industry if you just stick with whatever your passion is.
For example, I never had a desire to learn how to code. I sucked at Math and almost failed “basic” in college. I just had absolutely no desire to learn programming. So I focused on infrastructure instead and over the years I picked up everything there is to know about infrastructure. Then I started going off a little here and a little there into related fields (things that are connected to Infrastructure), like IPT, remote access, site interconnectivity, managed services, Cloud, Automation, etc. Today I’ve found that my current thing is Security and I’ve gone so far as to start my own company and patent my own product which, with a little help from someone on high, will change the world as we know it.
But that’s just the path I took, someone else will take a different one – bottom line is become a subject matter expert in as many fields within IT as you can and you will find that you will always be in need.”
“Learn to say no, especially to those 5 minute jobs out of hours.”
The University CIOs
John Carpenter, CTO at McDonough School of Business
“From personal experience I have found there are 4 kinds of geeks:
Admin Geeks like me who take charge in an environment where no one wants to be in charge.
Database Geeks who are some of the most detail-oriented anal-retentive people you will ever meet…and they like it that way.
Tech Geeks who are the guys and gals who assembled their first computer in their bedroom when they were 10 and now speak “C” like anyone could understand them.
Web Geeks who are really artists and/or advertising people who happened to have a proclivity for esoteric WWW programming.
Find out what kind of geek you are…Train for it….Expect your job to change, sometimes quickly.”
Dr Houssein Hallani, IT Customer Technology Services Director at the University of New South Wales
“My advice would be to understand that the IT industry is changing significantly.
It’s very important to gain as much experience as possible, keep improving your skills (both personal and technical) and stay up to date with the digital technology.
Build a strong relationship with customers and treat them with respect and appreciation.
Always seek feedback and remember that a constructive feedback is an opportunity to make you better at what you do.”
Michael Borbacs, Director of IT Operations at McDonough School of Business
“The best piece of advice I would tell someone interested in IT who is just starting off in college is to follow a STEM track, it opens the door to a lot of possibilities. I actually followed a science track as an undergrad and worked in semiconductors as a chemist for a number of years prior to transiting into IT. The core classes of math, statistics, and physics allowed me to make the transition.
Post graduation, I would advise someone to follow a regime of continuous learning via certifications, reading tech articles, and attending industry conferences. Our industry is always evolving and falling behind on the latest trends and best practices in security or cloud computing will be a disservice to both you and your company. The field of IT is not one in which you can rest on your laurels.”
Richard Godsmark, Director of Technology at McMaster University
“While technical training is great it is equally if not more important to develop other skills such as communication, management and customer service.
I always advise my people that they should try and find that one or two things that make them feel uncomfortable and then focus on that from a professional development stand point. What IT is often lacking are good communicators and managers that truly understand customer service.
Also, I always say that when a challenge presents itself, it represents an opportunity. While others don’t step forward, or even take a step back, those who embrace challenges and change are often the most successful. The hard things to do are often the right things to take on.”
Mike Day, Chief Information Officer at the University of Sydney
“Be enthusiastic about the purpose of your organisation – pick who you work for with care.
Be engaged, flexible and adaptable – contribute.
Develop a broad skill set – both technical and non-technical – don’t over specialise.”
Troy Henley, Assistant IT Director at the Ohio State University
“Developers and InfoSec, the two areas of never ending growth.
Focus on those two areas with education\certifications\internships.”
James Leonard, Director of IT Customer Services at Emory University
- Follow your passion: It’s tempting to seek proficiency in hot technologies for the purpose of immediate financial gain, but by becoming an expert in the technologies you love, money and happiness will eventually follow in abundance.
- Complete personal projects: Program a dynamic website, build a LAN, architect a database, etc. So much of success in IT is based on one’s ability to do the job. Formal education is important, but practical experience can’t be beat.
- IT is about people: At the other end of every computer is a person. Relentlessly sharpen your customer service skills. Especially if you’re professionally ambitious, your ability to interact with people in all levels of an organization is more important than any technical skill you will ever learn.
“Historically, we have thought of IT in terms of people, processes and technology. Now we are thinking in terms of people, processes, technology and data.
For a great IT career develop your expertise and skills in the area of data management: data laws, data governance, data analysis and manipulation. You will have a career for life.”
“For someone starting a career in IT I would have several pieces of advice. It is a very broad sector, and over time you will want to work in many different areas of IT to become well rounded: Software development, Support, Data Science, Infrastructure etc.
Also, as a first job, I would suggest working at a start-up as they will probably provide you with a much broader range of skills, opportunities and tasks than a larger company where the jobs are generally more specialised.
In terms of areas of IT to choose from, you should look to first break into your IT career in a high demand skill. These include Information Security, FinTech, Educational Tech, Machine Learning and all areas of Data Science. The demand in these areas of IT far outstrips the supply of professionals.”
Trevor Woods, Chief Information Officer at Monash University
“Learn tried and true professional behaviours. Historically these haven’t been as prevalent in IT. Behaviours are just as important as technical skills.
Work in a cause you care about.
Play the long game, your career will be much longer than you think. Don’t make short term decisions.
I recommend the Career Tools free podcasts for new grads.”
Chris Roberts, Head of Infrastructure at London School of Economics
- Always have your next step in mind. Work out what experience or skills you need for your next role, and actively work to bridge the gap.
- Don’t expect that you’ll be doing the same kind of work for your whole career. IT changes too quickly, and you need to change with it to stay relevant.
Rob Moffatt, Chief Information Officer at the University of Queensland
“My advice for aspiring IT professionals is to choose a particular IT discipline and make it their own –the IT world is becoming so diverse and specialised that it is impossible to master in its entirety. Enthusiastically pursue knowledge and experience and establish yourself as a trusted professional in one or two specialised areas.
Move between jobs looking for opportunities, fresh approaches and broad experience in many sectors – there are plenty of opportunities out there and you will become increasingly competitive for new roles.”
Giorgio Anastopoulos, Head of Information Systems Architecture at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
“Really think about what you look for: Do interesting things? Earn a lot? Take risk?
Consider the following general rules:
– when you work in a big organization, industry or government, the main issues you’ll face are very likely to be human; your salary will be higher but the interest of the job you do will probably be lower; if you have the chance to reach an advanced technology team, things could be more challenging.
– when you work in a “start-up” like environment, usually a little company, you (and your colleagues) first work for fun and interest, not money; the environment is much more exciting and most problems are related to IT, what you studied for, and not relational or related to power struggle.
In any case, do not forget to keep prepared to move at any time. Once you become comfortable and you stop to be interested in new things, you technologically “die”, get out of market and you condemn yourself to just wait for the end of the month and the retirement.
IT is moving even faster since the smartphone era: mobile development, cloud computing, IoT, machine learning & big data are revolutionizing the world.”
Bruce Maas, CIO and Vice Provost for Information Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
“Not all IT jobs require deep technical skills. My advice to students is that IT is a team sport, requires significant problem-solving ability, leadership skills, and requires great communications skills.
I would also tell them that heterogeneous teams outperform homogeneous teams, therefore it is in a company’s best interests to create teams with diverse thinking. One obvious reason is that there are fewer blind spots. There are clear opportunities for women, not to mention historically under represented racial/ethnic groups.”
You can follow Bruce on Twitter at @UWMadisonCIO
Grant Clavelle, IT Director at the University of Minnesota
“One thing that I have observed is that there is a much greater prevalence of software solutions in the cloud. SaaS solutions such as Salesforce, Destiny One, and Campus Labs.
These solutions have great configurable abilities but have little or no ability to change the base code set. As such there is a need for IT skills to help define, manage, and change existing processes. This calls for process improvement skills such as Total Quality Management (TQM), Six Sigma and Lean etc.
An IT professional that can help focus on the process side would be a great skill set and one that seems to be scarce today.”
Darren Alexander, Associate Director ICT Infrastructure at Australian National University
“Be enthusiastic, inquisitive and eager to take on new tasks, because opportunity presents itself in many ways. If presented with an opportunity (work task or upcoming project for instance), put your hand up and take it on, even if you are not sure exactly how to do it.
It has amazed me how many times over my career that a small door ajar has turned into a larger opportunity because I actively pursued it, researched & delivered, rather than sitting back waiting for somebody to be asked.”
Matt Scolari, Director IT Solution Delivery at the University of New South Wales
“Learning the business you’re in (industry) is as if not more important than the IT industry. It’s your application and/or use of technology to solve a business problem that is the key to a successful engagement.
I coach people in my current job…
Turn to the “higher education” section of the paper before you turn to the “technology” section.”
Jan Leendertse, IT Project Coordination at the University of Freiburg
“Gather trends curiously like research data management, data driven science and long term identity management, but also look at the day-to-day practices of a scientist being on high pressure to produce knowledge and publish it.
In that regard the academic field seems to lose its long term perspective, which has to be fed back by those serving them with short cycled infrastructure.”
Mark Caukill, Senior Lecturer at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology
My advice would come in two parts: (i) general career advice, and (ii) technically oriented advice.
- The employers that come to NMIT looking for graduates are above all after four basic things: passion for your work, communication skills, problem solving skills and being a team player. So practice these as often as possible. Of course you need to back these up with technical skills too! But if you are a good company fit, the serious technical skills will come with your new territory.
- Many employers are also looking for cross functionality integrators/interpreters. So skill up with a couple of complementary technologies. For example, if you are in to networking, add solid programming skills. If it’s programming you like, then back it up with database skillsets. And one other thing. The current pace of change for technology is exponential, so be prepared for change.
The HR Directors and Recruiters
Kathleen Hogan, EVP Human Resources at Microsoft
“Internships are a key area, and the other thing is networking.
Recently a graduate who’s several years out of college contacted me, I gave them advice and now they’re doing a few steps to get ready for the internship. Networking gave them the advice they needed and they met with the right people to get ready.
So if you don’t get an internship I’d say talk to people in the industry, get advice on what to do and then trust in yourself, don’t give up.”
Philip Clarke, Global Recruiting Director at Serco
“Build your people & commercial skills. There’s lots of very talented techies out there but very few who can influence, lead and translate between business requirements and technical solutions.
Don’t believe technology can do everything – it needs excellent people and service alongside it so build this part of your knowledge & capability.
Keep building your technical skills via development and training but also purposefully invest in people and leadership skills. Do a development secondment as an HR person – it will teach you a lot.”
Kevin Dee, Chairman at Eagle Professional Resources
- If you are choosing a tech career then you already made a great choice. The future will belong to the knowledge worker, and tech will only play a bigger and bigger part in our lives.
- I am often asked about the problem of getting hired without experience… “How do I get experience if no-one will give me a job to get experience?”
Getting that first job is huge… then taking full advantage of it is critical. Once you have a couple of years’ experience you are probably well established on a tech career. So… do all the right things to get the job, and don’t underestimate what it will take to excel at it.
- Be prepared to start at the bottom, be humble and have the right expectations … look to the future!
- Companies want a great attitude even more than they want skills … bring a great attitude and some entry level skill and you improve your chances.
- Get experience wherever you can… volunteer with charities/not for profit organisations, get Summer jobs, take an extra course in “in demand” skills.
- Big companies hire a lot of tech people… banks, oil & gas, retail, telephone companies, big consulting companies (Accenture, Deloitte) etc. If you can find ways “in” to those companies it is a great way to start a career. (Summer jobs there, people you know, people your family knows, people you cultivate etc.)
Linda Mundy, Director of National Consulting Division, Synergie Hunt International
“I’d suggest IT professionals work on certifications (and keep a copy handy) and since a security clearance is required for many IT jobs, stay out of trouble!”
Danny Cohen, Vice President at Computer Futures
“Will your role evolve or be obsolete in 3 years? If obsolete, are you taking the right approach? How could you move to a role and IT position that would make a difference?
If your role will evolve then great – the next question is, is it your strength and passion? Will you enjoy doing it for the foreseeable future? If you’re not sure, investigate.
It’s crucial to work in a growing market to provide more opportunity to you and be more powerful in your decision making.”
David Loeser, SVP of World Wide Human Resources at Unisys
“Go to a company where you can get some ‘broad business perspective’. Working virtually on your first job will be career limiting. Decisions on people growth go to those that leaders get to interact with.
If you are growing and developing and work for a company with quality leadership do not jump at the opportunity for a few bucks. Be strategic about your career.”
Paula Verstappen, General Manager at Undutchables
- Make a selection of the companies you would like to work for, commercial, governmental or others. Then write to them with a good motivation why you want to work with and for them, and what you have to offer.
- If you find that difficult then search for specialized IT agencies that can help you find a job with one of their clients. Agencies have a lot of contact with their clients and it can be easier to find a job through an agency.
Antonin Jadoul, Managing Director at Modis
“My best piece of advice for someone looking to start an IT career would be that you have to be “memorable”.
Being strong technically is not enough today, people have to know who you are as a person.”
Karyn Elkington, Human Resources Director at ADP
“Understand Agility! Be flexible and create a persona that makes others want to be around you and learn. Think quickly and embrace change. Leave attitude at home. It’s about collaboration and functioning as a team.”
Greg Penney, Vice President and Managing Partner at David Aplin Group
We are seeing an increase in demand for security specialists, and only anticipate this need growing as we experience more cyber threats. Personally, if I was going to start an IT career right now, this is the path I would take.
Alternatively, I would consider a career that focused on IoT. This space is going to be huge.
Morley Surcon, VP & General Manager, Western Canada at Eagle Professional Resources
“Old Chinese (I think) proverb… Q: When is the best time to plant a tree? A: 10 years ago. Q1: When is the second best time? A2: Today.
The IT industry is going to be going through an “experience crunch” as baby boomers retire over the next decade… the people with the knowledge capital will be leaving and there won’t be others with enough experience to step in behind them. This is going to cause some strife for organizations… especially the ones that haven’t migrated to newer technologies.
There are industries out there that are still heavily reliant on mainframes and systems built on old code (like Cobol)… and there aren’t new people training on this old technology. For example, there are many in the banking industry suggesting that their mainframe infrastructure is going to have to carry them for another 10 to 20 more years… they are looking at alternative staffing strategies in the attempt to acquire and train new employees to help bridge that gap.
There may be a “contrarian opportunity” for younger IT professionals to build skills in some older technologies… even if they combine this with some newer capabilities so as not to put all their eggs in a dying basket.
… or if they want to stay “mainstream” then choose to study technology relating to mobile, web based technologies and/or security as they are “hot” and likely will be for a time… or focus in on embedded programming or any of the building blocks of IoT as that appears to be the direction of things if you can believe the rhetoric.”
Check out Eagle’s Talent Development Center for helpful information for IT job seekers.
Ed Percival, Managing Director at Charity People
“The charity sector has a huge requirement for skilled IT people.
Charities are under the spotlight at the moment and have to demonstrate that they are operating efficiently and protecting data relating to donors and service users.
The returns may not be as high as in the private sector, but many find a greater satisfaction working for a cause that they feel passionately about.
However, lots of people are keen to move into the sector so volunteering is a great way to show you have a genuine interest- particularly skilled volunteering opportunities.”
Andy Chesters, Recruitment Director at Orchard
1 – Network.
Go to industry events. Talk about them with your tech friends on social media. Share your knowledge on platforms like Github or Codepen If you’re feeling really courageous, have a go at the speaker circuit, there are loads of ‘lightning talks’ events that are open to people new to speaking. Giving back and showing the world you have a passion in this way brings you to the people who matter much better than slinging a CV.
In summary – Make connections, be visible in order to… make more connections, be more visible… and repeat.
2 – Ongoing Learning
Show your commitment to ongoing learning. In the world of tech I would say that this is an absolute must, but you need to actually do it, and show it publicly (again, github / codepen / blogs / talks), not just say you do only to risk getting caught out by the people who could hold the key to your future. Doing so demonstrates drive, motivation, and interest – all desirable characteristics that employers look for. After all, smart employers hire on attitude before skills.
3 – Research.
Don’t wait for the opportunities to come to you. They may, but that’s not the approach of a go-getter. Figure out what matters to you, what kind of place you’d like to work, think subject, projects, practices and environment, then go looking for the places that can offer you this. Rummage round in their website, read their blogs, look for news articles, use LinkedIn to find employees who work there and reach out for their insight, “what is it like to work there?” etc. Then pull together a hit list, and contact each one explaining why you’re interested in them, specifically them, and what you can bring to the table. And if a role does come to you, lets say via a recruiter, recommendation, or an advert – do exactly the same before you get in touch or before the interview (and if you’re interviewing, research the people you’re meeting).
4 – Working with recruiters
Recruiters can be invaluable if you can identify the good ones – get recommendations from people in the industry. Good recruiters will take the time to meet with you face to face, find out what matters to you and be your ear to the ground.
Give feedback on jobs they approach you with and interviews you attend through them. They’ll not get it right every time, but the more info you give the better they’ll learn. A good recruiter relationship can last for many many years and pay dividends down the line.
Finally, if they do contact you about a job, two things to note:
A) The agency is legally obliged to tell you who the company is by name – make sure they do.
B) If you give permission for them to send your CV, don’t allow another recruiter to send your CV as well as it can lead to confusion over who is representing you. This never reflects well on anyone. Commit to one recruiter per role – keep it simple!
Áine Brolly, CEO at CPL Northern Ireland and Director at Ardlinn
“The first couple of years in any career can often determine how the following years of your career will develop so it’s crucial for candidates to think seriously about that first job opportunity and tease out what is really important to them whether it be in-house training opportunities, the culture, sector, company brand or location.
In terms of starting a career in IT specifically whether that be technical or commercial, the best advice I can give is to ensure you start off with either a well-established IT company or a start-up that has a sophisticated training programme in place for new starts.
The ability to see how those first critical years are mapped out in terms of learning and development is essential and the ability to gain a broad range of skills early will help you to determine what areas you enjoy and are competent in which helps you to make more focused choices as your career progresses.
It is also really important that you choose a work environment that is challenging and competitive and work within an area of technology that you personally find interesting or exciting.”
“My advice for talent working in Digital is to be highly adaptive.
I would suggest working in contract roles for at least a period of time in your career, which would offer you diversity in projects and the ability to develop your skills and gain exposure to the newest technologies.
Clients in the Digital space find talent that offer a variety of skills and can work in agile project roles much more appealing, and thus more employable.”
The Flackbox Readers
Chris Menezes, Technology Specialist
I’ve had a long career being a Senior Citizen and I’m still working!
My advice is:
- Get wide ranging skills so that you are more useful to your company. The more skills you have, the more a company feels that you are an asset to them.
- Don’t burn your bridges. We live in an incestuous industry. You never know whose goodwill or assistance you will need in the future. This is more important as you get older.
- Embrace change and be positive. Look at the big picture. The career that you start in may not be your last career so one may need to reinvent oneself as time goes by.
I started life in a power station as an Electrical Engineer, moved to Mainframe Computer Hardware, retrained in Networks and now also do a lot of work with evaluating energy efficiency of network and IT equipment. My career has come full circle.
Stuart Wallace, Technical Consultant
“For people starting in IT, I’d say most definitely focus on what the learning and development opportunities an employer has to offer, over and above what they might want to pay you. Don’t worry too much about what they’re going to pay you…. the money will (eventually) sort itself out.
It’s also not all about what an employer can do for you, in terms of what training / development opportunities they might provide you with. Make sure they know you’ve got your own lab and you can teach yourself stuff in your own time. Show employers that you take responsibility for your own development.
Many years ago, I worked for a reseller who put us on loads of training courses, gave us training materials if we needed them, paid for our certification tests, etc. Work patterns dictated that at certain times of the year we really had no option but to do certification tests on a Saturday morning. Some people (me included) went along with that, there were some people who didn’t like that idea and chose not to do certification tests… guess which group of employees were allowed to do pretty much any courses they chose to? You’ve got to play the game!”
Mike Gruen, IT Project Manager
- Don’t try to reinvent things, it’s smarter to search for a solution that others have found for the issue you’re trying to solve than it is to do all the research yourself. Our collective knowledge and skills are far greater than our individual knowledge.
- Mentors don’t have to work for the same organization you do, if you find someone who’s skills or “style” you’d like to emulate, ask them how they got there and if they can help you with the journey. Most of us, despite typically being introverts, are happy to assist by sharing the knowledge we have.
- If you know you’re going to be doing something more than once, figure out how to automate it the second time you do it. Take good notes (with screenshots if necessary) and figure out if there is a way to avoid using a GUI to perform tasks you’ll be repeating over and over.
- Learn something new every day. The world of IT changes every hour, and if you want to be relevant, you have to be aware on some level of what’s new even if it’s not relevant to your current environment.
- Document how to do everything you do, so you can take a vacation, attend training, or move on without guilt or calls. Make sure your teammates know where the documentation is.
Jason S., U.S. Army
“Education is the key to beginning a career in IT, but you must take the basics of IT seriously.
Many people gloss over the basics and go straight to the popular current material, but this is a major mistake.
You need to truly understand the OSI model and how the basic protocols work in order to troubleshoot issues or do well on any IT interview.”
So now you’ve read through all the advice I’m sure you noticed some patterns repeating. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone had collated the recurring themes so you could see the most important, solid gold advice at a glance? I got your back.
Seven particular pieces of advice were repeated again and again, highlighting just how important they are. All seven received roughly the same number of mentions. Here they are in descending order:
Two specific skills are projected to be in high demand this year and into the future. Coding and APIs was the clear winner here, with security also expected to be a hot skill.
So there you have it, the best IT career advice. I want to say a heartfelt thank you to everybody who contributed. I’ve been blown away by the generosity of everybody who helped put this together.
Join the Debate
Have an opinion on the expert’s views? Or some killer advice they missed? Join the debate by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below.
Get in touch
If you’re starting out on your IT career and need help or guidance with anything then please get in touch. I reply to each and every email I receive, it’s a genuine pleasure to help people achieve their goals.
25 years ago I’d left school and was working in a burger joint with no qualifications and little prospects. The ease of entry to an IT career, along with a little hard work, mean I now get to live the life I want. If you’re starting out on a similar road, whether as an unqualified 15 year old or a PhD graduate, it would mean the world to me to help you along that path.
You can reach me through my Contact Me page.