It’s true: not everyone who works in IT started out that way. There are plenty of different paths that can lead to an information-technology career. But what do business leaders want when it comes to credentials and what kind of experience do you need to bring to the computer center when you arrive as a mid-career crossover?
Whether you’re a pharmacist or a retail manager, if IT is your goal, here are some key tips to get your foot in the door:
Credentials: Breadth and Depth
One question mid-career transfers often have is whether online and digital curriculum training programs such as IT University Online, The Cisco Learning Network, and Microsoft IT Academy provide the right kinds of credentials to make the change? These are just some of the examples, and familiar ones, but do leaders in the IT industry take them seriously?
The answer isn't always clear cut. First, a candidate’s certification is most attractive when it’s not product specific. It should provide a basis of familiarity with the industry’s technology in any environment.
Beyond that, says Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, a company that builds cloud computing solutions, the credentials you’ll get from these kinds of programs should be considered part of a larger package.
“A lot of these courses, really, in my mind, enhance the experience that the individual has,” Falcon says. “I know people who’ve gone out and actually gotten certified as a Microsoft-certified systems engineer, but they’ve never actually set up a server. They did the coursework, they did the studying, but they’ve never actually run a server for a business in a computer room.”
So, as a new trainee, you’ll want to steer clear of courses that certify you in just one kind of system, and then you’ll want to acquire some practical hands-on experience. How do you do that, you might ask? Let's look at two options.
Getting the Experience (to Get Hired)
Say you’re a pharmacist who wants to change to a career in IT. And say you get certified via an online digital program that helps make you a candidate for a first job. How do you get an edge if you haven’t done a great deal of onsite work-study and co-op programs through a traditional technical program?
One answer, according to Falcon, is to go with what you know. “If you’re going from one industry into IT, I would look for opportunities with IT companies that work in the vertical I’m coming from,” he says, considering the pharmacist example.
“Step in with subject-matter expertise," he says. "So, you might work with particular pharmacy-management applications and tools, or computer systems. Someone’s going to look and say, ‘you understand what it takes to run a pharmacy, we’re going to need your subject-matter expertise and we’ll teach you the technology.’”
Unless, of course, the impulse is to move into IT and make a complete break with the industry you're leaving. In that case, hands-on experience is best acquired by ensuring that your program can place you in work studies and co-op opportunities. From there, you can hit the pavement running with all the other IT graduates who’ve got the full portfolio.
So says Tom Henricksen, who’s done both and also blogs about the IT career. “Certifications are helpful in launching an IT career but real-world experience is what can really open doors,” Henricksen notes. “When I started in IT over 10 years ago, I got a certification that never opened any doors. Getting an internship at a few companies gave me the experience I needed to build my career."