T Nation

Computer Career?

I’ve been stuck in the military since 18. I’m 22 with 3 more years left and now I’m barely trying to start college. But anyways, I’m looking towards getting a career which involves computers. I’m most interested in Computer electronics engineering, which I’m guessing is being like a techie. I’m also interested in Network Security. I’m just hoping on some feedback from people with personal experience- Is your pay well, time consuming, satisfying? Any other computer careers that you’d think I might be interested in? Any feedback at all is very much appreciated.

-Youngin’

The “techie” side is in high demand, but I don’t know about the career path and pay for that.

However, if you get into things like security, network security, networking and infrastructure, systems administration and so on, those become recognized career paths with some running room.

Take a look through online job ads, on the major sites, and see what types of job titles have the pay and the responsibilities that you want to grow into.

Don’t worry about the qualifications at this point, that’s what you’ll go to college for anyway, but it may certainly sway your decisions on where to enroll or what to take.

You should also be able to ask around and see where people suggest you go for various career paths. Usually different schools are known for turning out good candidates in certain fields.

I’ve been in IT since 94, starting out as a self-employed high-school computer geek, I mean tech, then briefly did help desk, then went on to become a network engineer around 98, finally getting into network security in 2004. My personal feedback: find another career path, which is what I’m doing right now. Here’s why:

  1. Long hours: you’ll be expected to work off-hours for maintenance, etc. It’s not that bad if you’re single and are a computer geek with no life, but when you get married and want to actually do stuff, it gets to be a pain in the ass. Not to mention the 2:00AM phone calls you’ll be getting because something isn’t working. I just left a company last year who expected me to work two full-time jobs, putting in 80 or more hours a week, for only one salary. Of course they didn’t tell me that as I was interviewing; things like that are starting to become the norm for the industry.

  2. Virutalization. There is another trend in the IT world to “virtualize” servers. That’s when software like VMWare is used to create multiple virtual servers on one piece of hardware (usually a blade server or two attached to a SAN). It makes great business sense for a company to do so; it can lower their costs dramatically. Just keep in mind that your salary will be part of those lowered costs; fewer hardware servers will mean fewer requirements for system admins, network engineers, etc.

It is also leading vendors to begin offering server hosting services, which means consolidating multiple companies’ servers onto even fewer boxes. Companies that take advantage of this won’t have much of a need for your services. You could work for the vendor, but again keep in mind that working for a vendor like this is STRESSFUL. I’m already getting grey hair, and I’m only 30!. (See the above point regarding long hours).

  1. India/China. Despite the programming, engineering, and phone support jobs that have already moved over, I think the virtualization trend will only accelerate the outsourcing trend (at least in the IT industry). It only makes sense for a lot of companies to do so.

  2. Training. Companies expect you to maintain a laundry list of certifications, depending on what you’re doing. However, getting a company to pay for training to obtain or maintain a cert is often like pulling teeth. Most certifications have to be renewed every 3 years, so you’re going to spend a LOT of time with your nose in a book. My personal experience has been that I’ve basically had to renew myself about every 5 years. If you don’t do this, your skill set will be obsolete, and you’ll have a REALLY hard time finding work.

  3. Pay. An IT guy bitching about pay??!! I’ve been able to do OK lately due to my experience, a network of past co-workers who have helped me stay employed, and a LOT of studying (see #4); but keep in mind that no matter what field you choose, your salary will always be dictated by the laws of supply and demand. Training companies like Microsk1lls are graduating armies of Windows admins; all of them thinking they’re going to get a piece of paper that will instantly make them rich. It doesn’t work that way; even though it sounds good in the commercials, a lot of these “graduates” run into a harsh reality of help desk jobs with low pay. (Like most industries, you have to pay your dues).

Right now there’s a glut of people at the bottom who are stuck working, in my opinion (and many of them agree with me), shit jobs for very little pay. They all want to work their way up (I’ve lost count of how many people have asked me to help them get experience so they can get out of their help desk jobs), but in reality it’s difficult to make it to where you’re looking at going. Everyone wants experience, but VERY few companies will actually give it to you. The training company commercials sound good for a reason: these people are trying to sell you something.

If you couldn’t tell by my rants, I’m completely burned out from my chosen field, and have been for quite some time. Once you get into a field, it’s tough to get into something else, which I’m currently finding out the hard way. If after reading this you still want to get in, PM me and I’ll be happy to give you some guidance. Besides, I have a lot of old certification books I need to sell. ;^)

[quote]regrahc wrote:
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Very interesting read, and sadly confirms my impression of the field. I can’t think of a field which has higher competition.

Yeah, as said above, the IT field was blazing hot before 2K, but has faced issues since then.

It’s not impossible, but you want a serious education to compete, something more than certifications.

I’d also agree that you don’t really want to get into help desk or computer repair work. It’s really hard to move to programming or something else from there.

Anyway, it’s hard to say how long the glut will last, since as the pay drops and the competition (local or overseas) drives people out, and people stop going for the career path, things should normalize.

However, on a different note, there are plenty of companies that won’t work you to death with long hours. Once upon a time when I was in charge of a team, everyone wore the pager for a week at a time, which gave everyone a majority of time to relax and have normal working hours.

The real problem, during my stint, was that most people didn’t understand the issues involved, or the complexities you’d run into, so they would not understand that you could work very hard, get things done, and still not have something to show for it.

It was very frustrating to be at the end of the chain when other groups wasted a lot of time and then threw a big project in front of you with a stupid deadline. There’s always a push when deadlines come up, but you can’t just destroy all your staff by not even trying to set them reasonably.

Man, it’s easy to rant… :wink:

My two cents:

One thing that’s common with the previous posts is that they sound like they were supporting systems. This is what most companies are looking for, someone to keep things running. And when in support/service you will end up putting in the hours for little credit. However there are multiple career paths for the person who’s interested in other directions.

If you’re a systems builder, for example, or a systems integrator, you’ll find that while the hours do mount up, it comes in waves as a project deadline nears. You will also be compensated for that time, as integration and consulting companies don’t like to lose people during crunch time.

If you’re a genius programmer, or at least someone who loves dicking around with software, that’s a career path too. Development, while also prone to long hours, is at least driven towards completing something and is somewhat rewarding as well.

The industry has seen a lot of its basic parts turned into commodities, and as such, they are done by the lowest bidder. However, people are still making filthy amounts of cash and leading normal lives by either being sufficiently up the food chain, or being the local/resident expert in their chosen subject area. If something excites you about computers, sink into it.

Regarding certs and qualifications, etc., most of the people I worked with were really into the latest and greatest and we tended to run ahead of the “certification curve”. That is; we’d already programmed a given area or package, achieved a decent level of knowledge and moved on again before companies realised that they needed “certified people”. At the end of the day, a certificate is a promise from one company that probably another person knows a subject to a decent level. You should be able to go around them.

So, the bottom line is: can you sit in front of a computer for upwards of 8 hours a day and be happy?

And a HUGE DISCLAIMER for my previous post:

I am leaving the field, because it no longer excites me. Not because of hours, not because of conditions, and not because of pressure. I’ve spent a lot of time in front of a PC and now there are other things I would like to do; software not being one of them.

I look at PC work like I look at barwork - if you do happen to get working in the field for a while, it’s hugely enriching for modern life, and I’d rather hire somebody with the experience than without. You will not be setting yourself back understanding more about technology.