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 that’s not really a satisfactory answer. Most folks in

their later years don’t 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.

  1. Open

    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.

  2. Within

    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.

  3. Within

    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.

Good luck!

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