I received an email recently in response to my blog on
ageism asking how one might break into the IT field at a late age, with minimal
experience, and an older IT skill set. Hmm What could I suggest?
I could say, “Go back to school, get/finish that 4-year
degree in IT, and make sure you do plenty of work study to get some IT
experience.” But thats not really a satisfactory answer. Most folks in
their later years dont have the time to get that 4-year degree part-time, and
full-time is usually out of the question. Additionally, they need money now, not tomorrow.
There is a variation of the above strategy that can work
though–certification. Get a
certification in an IT specialty, and you can often get doors opened for you,
even without experience. IT certifications can be completed in anywhere from a
few months to a couple of years depending on the certification you are trying
to receive, how hard you study, and your aptitude for the content.
On top of that, there are many different ways to prepare for
certifications: from boot camps, to self study, to online classes, to corporate
training, or a combination of all of these. Depending on the route you take,
you can spend very little or quite a bit, depending on your style and learning
The next question would be, “What certification/s to go
for?” Without even debating which ones are better than others, the obvious
answer is the hottest ones in the job market, if they meet your interest.
This is where some soul-searching has to come in to play. Are
you willing to make the commitment to learn the material to pass the tests, and
are you willing to go where the jobs are? Because you can be the hottest IT
commodity in town, but if there is no need for that specialization in your town,
you are out of luck.
Given that your answer is yes to both the above questions,
here are my suggestions. Now, not everyone may agree with my rationale for the
following, but I think that these will give you the best chances to get your
foot in the door without having a ton of experience.
Source Software Certifications. Choose a field; networking/OS, or database
and then choose a vendor and get started. Why open source software
certification over the more numerous and popular ones? To make you more of
a rare commodity. If I have to choose from 50 MCSEs and one is freshly
minted and the other 49 are experienced, where do you think I am going to
look first? Exactly. You need to stand out from the crowd. Since the use
of open source tools is growing, climb on board the train earlier rather
than later. You might find yourself one of a handful of certified open
source professionals in your town. The less competition, the better.
the OS category, I would have to recommend Red Hat Certification.
It is the top dog in corporate Linux right now, and you could get some
traction with the certification. If not Red Hat, my second choice is Novell Certified Linux
Engineer. I believe Novell is an up and comer again in the corporate
and government markets and is a good bet.
the open source database arena, my choice is MySQL certification.
MySQL is a leader in the area, and there is a demand for the certified
MySQL dba. My second choice would be PostgreSQL certification, now that
Sun has thrown its weight behind it.
Then there are the more traditional and more popular certifications
from the major vendors of hardware and software. Obviously there is nothing
wrong with pursuing these certifications. However, older, out-of-the-workforce
individuals with dated IT skills who are joining the larger pool of IT
professionals (with the same certifications) are going to be at a disadvantage
due to experience and sheer numbers, thus, the emphasis is on open source.
Now, why is this discussion being held in a government
technology newsletter? Easy. Governments will be the prime employment targets
for these folks. Governments (which includes education) were/are early adopters
of open source tools, and they tend to have smaller budgets which means they
tend to pay less. Therefore, they are more willing than the private sector to
take a chance on a freshly-minted certification-holder.
Lastly, the above advice holds true for anyone, not just the
older worker. It can be a good way to switch careers in midstream or start one
in lieu of college. However, I will always recommend getting a formal four-year
degree if at all possible.
So if you are that person trying to break into the field
again, or tired of your current position, you might give my suggestions a try.
There are no guarantees that come with it. Although, investing in new knowledge
is never a waste of time in my opinion.