Software

What should I do: TechRepublic member wants to learn beyond the basics

A TechRepublic member wants to know how to get past just knowing the IT basics when the systems at his company are so stable he doesn't get the troubleshooting experience he needs.

A TechRepublic member wants to know how to get past just knowing the IT basics when the systems at his company are so stable he doesn't get the troubleshooting experience he needs.

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This week's What should I do? entry comes from a TechRepublic member who is feeling a little insecure about his technical skills. He knows the basics of the technology his company uses but doesn't really feel he knows it front to back because it's rare that the systems experience problems. Here's his story:

"I came upon my first IT job 11 years ago with very limited computer experience (didn't own a computer). I learned the hard way, doing tech support at an outsource company for a well-known modem manufacturer, doing installations/configurations over the phone. I eventually learned the basics of PCs and then some (learned how to build one) and became a team lead of a group of techs. After a year, I left the company to pursue a career with a more stable company. I found myself in tech support again, as that was the only experience I had. This time, I was supporting end-user client software that downloaded data via a direct modem connection. I eventually ended up as a senior help desk technician. After four years of what I felt was spinning my wheels and not learning anything, I left to work for my present employer, a community bank.

I started out in the online banking area, doing pretty much what I did at my last job (client software support). After two years, I then made a lateral move to the networking department, which was something that always interested me. Shortly after being in a position where I just slapped Windows 2000 images on PCs across the company, I was nominated to be the e-mail admin after ours quit unexpectedly, and I was the only one to which she'd showed something about the system.

I was given the label of e-mail admin for a system that no one wants to learn (it's not Exchange), but was and still am expected to be on-call for other facets of the network, just like any other admin in our department. I have not been to any formal training for our e-mail system. They signed me up for one a couple years ago without consulting me, and it ended up being more of a sales pitch for the latest release of the e-mail system.

To make this already long story, a little shorter... I still feel like I don't know the e-mail system like I should (I find myself looking online for solutions) and have a blank stare on my face when the topic of ports, mx records, dns, etc., comes up. Granted, I know the basics, but I am used to knowing my stuff (like at my last two jobs), and feel like I don't know it here. I don't know if it's the way I approach this stuff, but I actually read the thick e-mail administration book from beginning to end when I was first appointed the email god. Maybe I don't feel I know it that well because it's rare when we have e-mail problems? Maybe since it's so stable, I don't get the experience I need? The same thing happens in other areas. I learn the basics of a system, but don't know it when problems happen.

Any suggestions, or tips on how people actually sit down to learn these systems would be extremely helpful."

Got a career scenario of your own? E-mail it to us here. We'll post it anonymously, and see what kind of feedback your peers have to offer.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

8 comments
enfield_john
enfield_john

You could volunteer at places that have computer networks. I volunteer to work on the computers at my church. I've run into some really interesting problems too. I'm also going to start going to meetings for a computer club. I don't really need any of the classes they are doing, but I might be able to help some of the members in the classes. Who knows what kinds of problems I'll run across and learn from?

The Igneous Group
The Igneous Group

YOU are responsible for managing your career! Build a business case why you should learn these elements of things you are around. Find classes and training on these elements and demonstrate your passion for learning!

antoine_a_z
antoine_a_z

hello there, actually i have been in a situation like u, needless to say it is very hard to catch up with all the trends in IT because it is a fast booming sector, however the best source to learn is the internet and asking your team work questions, so the bottom line is if u want to learn, u learn byurself from questions u ask and from research u do on the internet. hope this was some help for u! Regards and take it easy.

icalee022000
icalee022000

A lot of companies purchase extra licenses for software and in some rare cases if you have a lab, you don't count those because the lab systems will never touch the corp. network. Find out about the licencing. After that. Do a fresh install on lab computer/s. Next configure the system as if it was on your corp. network. Since you have read the admin manual your half way there. I guarantee that you will ran into a problem are you will have a question. At that point you will either figure out the problem or call tech support. If you use tech support for what i do you will be good. I when I call tech support I ask about every issue surround my problem and take notes, so I will never have to call tech support again about that problem are any other related issue.

ThePoster
ThePoster

I like what kevin suggested - approach the company and ask for more training. And I concur with "G-Man" - this person needs *basic* networking skills. The answer is CompTIA! Start at cementing the PC knowledge with A+ training. Then move to Network+ training. Server+, Security+, etc can be added if/as the person needs and desires. Also, odd as it sounds, it might not hurt to take a course on another mail system, even if it is not exactly the same system as what he currently has. Most mail systems perform the same certain basic functions following the rules of SMTP. It is only details in configuration and implementation that differ. Maybe if he has a bit more exposure to mail systems in general, it may help to solidify knowledge of what his system does (or does not) do. Or at least generate questions on whether his system is capable of doing the same. Further opportunity for growth and knowledge. Please note that I stress CompTIA *training*. Just the certifications alone mean nothing if it is attained by using cheat-sheet, exam answer key materials. This person sounds like he really does want to be more competent in his job. So I say focus on the training, and get in practice applying the training (VMware Server, Virtual PC, etc are good, cheap platforms to practice on). And while it is hoped that the company will support them and pay for training, this person should not use this as an excuse for not seeking training anyway. It is *his* career, not their's. If being competent is important enough, then he should be willing to pay for the training out of pocket, if need be. Lastly, if he has to pay for training out of pocket, then maybe this company is not the right place to be for the long haul.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

ports, mx records, dns Only one of them is actually 'directly related - MX' to the running of an e-mail system even iff all three are needed. Ports & DNS go far beyond just e-mail systems. I think what we are seeing here is a person who has entered a network job without knowing about networking. So rather than taking a course on the e-mail system (I migrated to and now run exchange 2007 without any training on it) take a course on networking and the 'real' workings of the internet - more useful than a product course.

ThatWasUnexpected
ThatWasUnexpected

If you know how it's supposed to work, you can figure out the commands to make it work that way. I'd tend to agree with the G-Man here. CompTIA's certs are a good place to start, then go from there.....worked for me....

kevin
kevin

Well i suppose you have 3 Options 1) Approach your company for some formal training, highlight why you feel the initial training wasnt enough and highlight the business risk to lack of knowledge for a critical system (also say it will save consultancy days) 2) Approach the company yourself and pay for your own training. 3) Self study, get a copy of the software and take it home or put it on a vmware server and go through the system to learn.

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