Monday, November 15, 2010

Career Paths for IT Professionals

Lets face it. It isn’t easy trying to earn an IT professional job. It doesn’t matter if you have just a certification or two, or just a college degree. Nowadays you need to have at least a few certifications and a degree just to remain marketable. If you already have aimage certification, is it current? If you have an MCSE in Windows 2000 it just doesn’t cut it any longer. You need to upgrade and keep your certifications current in addition to keeping up with current technology. I hope to arm you with some important, critical, information about what certification paths to take and how to obtain your goals.
** DISCLAIMER: This article is of my own opinion after 4 years of working in various IT outfits. I am just explaining things as I see it. If you are looking for IT Developer info, this article is not for you. Also, I am not going to talk one bit about IT management or specialized roles such as Exchange administrator or Datacenter Engineer. This article is all about the general stuff. If you are looking to break into an IT support career and continue to move up through the low-end (helpdesk) jobs to a more advanced position, then keep reading.
From what I have seen so far, there are 4 primary support-type positions in IT and 3 different primary professions to choose from.
Technical Support Role #1 – Helpdesk, Service Desk and Desktop Support
Technical Support Role #2 – Network Administration and Engineering
Technical Support Role #3 – Server Administration and Engineering
Technical Support Role #4 – Security Administration and Engineering
Professional Career Track #1 – Network
Professional Career Track #2 – Server
Professional Career Track #3 – Security
Starting with #1, the helpdesk. This is your entry-level, tier 1, position and is a very good place to start your career. Helpdesk people are the ‘lackeys’, or the ones that do most of the grunt work. You learn many things in the helpdesk especially professionalism and customer service skills that are lacking in the IT industry. The cool thing about working on the helpdesk is that you get to dabble in several different areas of IT. Also, a very good thing about working the helpdesk is that you get to see how the business is managed. If you are very good on the helpdesk it is possible to upgrade to Desktop Support, which is a tier 2 position. Beyond Desktop Support, there is not much to move into without more schooling or certification. Helpdesk jobs are a dime a dozen. They are not hard to find. The bad thing about the helpdesk is that it has a very high turnover rate. Count on having at least 3 different helpdesk jobs at 3 different companies within a 5 year period. This will help gain you more experience, help you find a business that you would like to grow with, and help you make a decision on what IT career track you want to take – Network, Server, or Security Administration.
Some popular Certifications with this Technical Support Role:
CompTIA A+
CompTIA Network+
Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician
Some popular advanced certifications with this Technical Support Role:
CompTIA Linux+
Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician
Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician 7
Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Enterprise Desktop Administrator
Number 2, Network Administrator. A network administrator deals strictly with support-type issues related to, you guessed it, networking. This may or may not include working with the helpdesk, supporting and administering network devices, configuring routers and switches, dealing with IP telephony, and so on. There is not much ‘advancing’ in Network Administration. When you become a Netadmin, that is pretty much it. The reason is because most businesses consider Network Administration and Network Engineering the EXACT same thing. And if you have not already figured it out yet, networks don’t really change as dramatically as desktops or servers – that is unless you work for a telecom company. Don’t get me wrong though, Network Administration is a VERY lucrative and VERY profitable career. Just keep in mind that there is not much change with networks. Many netadmins start out on the helpdesk. When working the helpdesk they complete their schooling and get certified, then find some type of networking job. So sometimes there is some job hopping involved. The good news is that there are usually a good amount of Network Administrator jobs out there. The bad thing is that netadmin jobs tend to be short-term (think contract jobs) or have a medium turnover rate. Also, netadmins have to constantly get re-certified in the same technology just to stay current. It doesn’t matter if the technology has not changed, you just need to re-certify because most network certifications expire after 3 years. Becoming a certified network administrator guarantees marketability. If networking is “Your bag, baby!!!” then this is the career for you.
Some popular Certifications with this Technical Support Role:
CompTIA Network+
CompTIA Security +
Cisco Certified Network Associate
Juniper Networks Technical Certification
Project Management Professional
Server Administration and Engineering. Dealing with Servers is a very fun and very challenging task. In order to become a Server admin, experience is the key. You will need to have a huge amount of knowledge on the PC desktop, knowledge on a variety of PC and server hardware, knowledge of vendor specific server applications, virtualization, security, advanced or expert networking skills (possibly more than a Network Administrator would know), and business knowledge. It just is not possible to shoot straight into a Server admin role without proving your skills first. Usually, Server Admins are seasoned veterans of the IT profession and have a great deal of knowledge in almost every aspect of server, desktop, network, and IT security. Server Admins tend to be the ‘go to’ people, which makes them incredibly valuable – albeit expensive as well (which can be a burden on a company’s IT budget). It tends to be difficult to become a Server Admin. Usually you start at the helpdesk, then get promoted to Desktop Support. While in Desktop Support, you will obtain server certifications and continue to train or go back to college to get your B.A while you sit and wait for a Server Admin position to open up, which could take years. So like I said, it is very difficult to become a Server Admin. The only career path above a Server admin is getting into upper IT management. But if this is the career for you, don’t give up! The rewards far outweigh the heartache and pain in getting to this point.
Some popular Certifications with this Technical Support Role:
Microsoft Certified Server Engineer
Microsoft Certified IT Professional in Windows Server 2008
Red Hat Certified Engineer
Citrix Certified Administrator
VMWare Certified Professional
Project Management Professional (PMP)
Security Administrator keeps on flipping back and forth with network administration between the highest, or 2nd highest most sought after IT jobs in the world. I am not going to lie, I do not know much about Security Administration. But I do know that it is VERY high in demand. Count on performing a great deal of auditing and providing reports to management as a Security Administrator or IT Auditor. Sometimes, being having hacking skills help obtain a security-type position. Having a high-level of knowledge of networking or server engineering is not necessarily required to be a security administrator, but you DO need to know how networks and servers can be broken (security-related of course). Many people in the Security Administrator role jumped into these positions right after college, or after working as a Junior Network administrator or Junior Server administrator. Security is still a misunderstood area of IT that businesses tend to fall short on. If you choose this profession, it is possible to skyrocket into IT management very quickly.
Some popular Certifications with this Technical Support Role:
Certified Information Systems Security Professional
Global Information Assurance Certification
More information on the different IT security certifications
So, that is that. I hope this article provides some important information on what you want to do and where you want to go with your IT career. There are many different roads to go down and there are many different options out there. Good luck!