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Careers, Compensation and Your Responsibility

By joe ·
For the last 22 years I have worked in the field of Information Technology. I spent more than 5 years as Microsoft Certified Trainer and have taught classes in Network Engineering, Routing and Protocol Analysis. I can tell you that it has been a fun and financially rewarding career so far. I have had a lot of conversations with students, clients and employers over the years about certifications, education, career and salaries.

Here is some advice from a seasoned IT veteran, the advice is free and you can do what ever you want with it. Some of what follows is intended for people new to the field and some advice will be valuable to those in the middle of their careers.

When you get your Certification and or Degree expect to start at the bottom. I worked for a while on the IT consulting staff of a nationally known CPA firm. Every year the office hired 15 new accounting grads. To even make the interview list a grad had to have a 3.5 gpa and a letter of recommendation from his or her professor. These new accountants were by all measures the top students available. They all began their work for that firm at the bottom doing the lowest tasks and getting decent but low pay. Over the next two years as they gained experience their salary was adjusted. This is the reality of the working world. A salary survey may show that CPA's make $85,000 but when they get out of college they started at $35,000(at that time). You may start at the bottom but it is your responsibility to make sure you do not stay there.

Responsibility Number One: In your career in IT you should seek jobs that will give you solid marketable skills. I have met too many Net administrators that have been just babysitting a network for 5 years and complaining that they can?t get ahead. They have done nothing to improve themselves. It is your responsibility to improve yourself. You must decide to buy the book on routing and read it. You must decide to learn more about how and why active directory works. After all when you do get a job that pays really well it will be you who gets the check. A quick note about Certifications; I have never met a seasoned IT person with a certification that thought it was a waste of time or money. I have met a lot of people that had little or no experience and got certified and told me they couldn?t find work. I do not understand that at all. Were they asking for too much money for their experience? I don?t know. Let?s look at the CPA example again. A CPA firm will only hire people with a 4 year degree. The firm knows that these people have no experience but they also know that because they studied accounting in college they have the foundation skill set to learn how to become a CPA. This is the same in IT. I personally would not hire someone to fill most network administrator jobs that did not have a certification. I would hire a non certified person to repair PC?s if they interviewed well but the possible complexities of a network admin job would require a core set of skills. I know there are always a few network admin jobs out there where all you ever have to do is reset passwords and add an occasional user but that is not what I am talking about here.

Responsibility Number Two: You have to know when to move on at each point in your career. When you first start out you may take a lower paying job just to be in the IT field. If, after a while, you find that there is no room for advancement then it is your responsibility to move on. You will have added that jobs experience to your resume and now you can begin to look for a new position with more money.

Responsibility Number Three: You have to choose when to discuss salary. If you see an ad for a position that closely matches your skills and experience, apply regardless of what the ad says the salary range is. Generally, for some reason, the people that write the ads have little or no input in who gets hired or what they get paid. During the interview process if you are not talking with people that understand IT, for example Human resources, then do not discuss salary. If they bring it up, just move past the salary issue. Wait until you have met with some in charge of IT and wait until you have decided that you would like to work for that company then let the salary issue come up. If your skills and personality are a fit for the job there is a good chance that the money will work out in your favor. To negotiate an IT salary with anyone but someone in IT is a losing battle. What do you do if IT comes back with an offer that is unacceptably low? That takes us to your fourth responsibility.

Responsibility Number Four: It is your responsibility to walk away from job offers that are not in your best interests. If the combination of your experience, education and certifications makes you more valuable then do not sell yourself to the low bidder. You owe it to yourself to walk away. When you stop and think about it taking that job that is underpaying you will only make you resentful and unhappy. It is perfectly acceptable to tell the interviewer ?Thank you for the offer but I can not allow myself to accept it?. There will always be advertisements looking for the IT person that has 10 years experience, is an MCSE and CCNP and knows Visual Basic and is willing to work for $20 an hour. Those ads will never leave us but we have a responsibility not to accept those jobs at that pay rate.

Well those are my thoughts, I am sure you will have your own opinions. Take responsibility for your career and you will not be sorry that you did.

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by compootergeek In reply to Careers, Compensation and ...

from another seasoned IT person...

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Matter of interpretation...

by Maevinn In reply to Careers, Compensation and ...

I have a few concerns over interpretation.

For item 1--I would say that your best bet is to determine who in fact DOES determine wages and have the discussion with them, even if they aren't in IT.

For item four, keep in mind that 'fair wages' are very regional. In some places, it's absurd to expect $20 an hour, while in many other places, $20 is totally underpaid. Take that into account before griping. Does this mean you should accept a position that will be boring? Of course not--but don't expect to get the same wages everywhere!

Finally...Be honest about what you know. This is probably my biggest pet peeve. Do NOT apply for a job the requires knowing VB inside out if all you've done is take an introductory course. You won't help your new employers, you won't help yourself, and you won't help the reputation of IT in general if you oversell a skill you don't have. If you find out during the interview that you will need a skill you lack, make the hard call--can you learn it well enough to do the job right, and will they support you by giving you that time. If the answer to either is no, don't take the job.

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Certification is not necessary.

by jfp In reply to Careers, Compensation and ...

I have a 4 year degree in Information Technology, and no certifications, and won't get any. My degree and experience speak for themselves. I am doing just fine in my career and am a Network Manager. It has been my experience that only thing that really matters in IT is experience, Paper certs mean nothing without it, since anyone can study for and pass a multiple choice exam (CCIE's are excluded from any dissenting discussion on certs because hand's on labs are required to pass).

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I do agree with you but....

by joe In reply to Certification is not nece ...

I agree that experience is everything when it comes to a persons career. As you said paper certs mean nothing without it and for that matter the same is true of a 4 year degree. For a senior position in IT you must have experience but I was writing to those who are new to the industry. A 4 year degree and or certification without experience entitle you to start at the bottom in almost any respectable IT organization. I should state that I hold a four year degree and multiple certifications but it is my experience and reputation that get me all the work that I do. We have all seen the paper MCSE that can not propely troublehoot group policy errors or the freshly minted 4 year degree in Computer Science that places a patch cable in the console port of a Cisco 2500 and can't figure out why the network doesn't work. (actually happened with 2 different 4 year degree people) That does not mean these people won't become good IT people. The point I am trying to make is that experience comes ove time. There are no short cuts. I feel confident that you as a network manager have run into the same people I have that feel that they have arrived simply because they have the degree or cert. That is just not the case.

As to the need for certification I have always felt that should be based on an individuals goals, needs and career situation. There are several great companies out there where a 4 year degree and that level of expertise are all that is needed to climb the ladder. There are other situations where an individual may find it more lucrative and interesting to go deeper into areas like network security where a CCSP would be very valuable. If someone desires to become an expert in an area like exchange or SQL then the certification is a way of documenting a skill set. On the other hand I have known some great IT managers that handled 25-30 engineers and they had no certification but they had a 4 year degree and were very good at managing people and projects. That was their job and a certification would not have been a major benefit to them.

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That's not just in IT

by Maevinn In reply to I do agree with you but.. ...

That's true in almost any technical position. That's one of the reasons why so many places have decided that X degree = Y years of experience. A 4 year degree is not the equivalent of 4 years work experience--sometimes it's worth more, sometimes it's worth less! Just depends on the field and the individual and the position.

What I think would be interesting is a move to REQUIRE training or proven experience. Consider a lawyer or doctor--they don't get to claim the title (and pay) until they've completed schooling requirements and passed bars/internships, etc. Justification? The law and medicine deemed complex subjects where failure can have huge economic and social impacts. There are so many IT jobs that meet those same requirements!

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Search for a job

by alsm2000 In reply to That's not just in IT

I'm from Ukraine and live there, want to find job in USA on IT-department or somethink. What I can to do for it? I have the Middle special education (radio-electronic assembler) and have programming expirience (Delphi, PHP/MySQL etc.). Who can help me with advice?

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by vaclav In reply to Search for a job

Dear alsm,
have you any programs on internet?
Maybe I can find out some opportunity for you. I live in Czech Republic.
Sorry but I cannot sent private due to your settings.

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Experience will not expose you to every possibility

by k.p.thottam In reply to Certification is not nece ...

Experience will not expose you to every possibility

I disagree with the line of thinking that experience alone is good enough. I have met up with 20 year old veterans who were limited to the solutions in their current environment. They got themselves titles like architect, but lacked understanding in areas that were foreign to their current company.

A certification on the other hand forces you to dabble and be aware of areas that might not be covered in your current job.

To me certifications and experience must go hand in hand, a certified person without experience, is only eligible for a beginner position on my team , while an experienced hand with certification will always be considered over an experienced person without a certification.

And here is the reason: I normally have a hands on test that tests the candidate?s skills in programming ( BTW: I am a development manager, but I would do the same even if I were a network manager) ,this is a 2 ? 3 hour test. However there are only so many areas that I can cover in my test, on the other hand each certification will force the candidate to prove his / her knowledge in each particular area ( Java, J2EE web , J2EE web services , J2EE EJB etc.).

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by jerome.koch In reply to Experience will not expos ...

That you know how to pass a test. As long as there are boot camps (intense exam preps really), I won't put much emphasis on certs. Certs also serve to filter resumes. An IT shop is foolish to place too much emphasis on certs.

If an IT Pro has 15 years Enterprise exp. with Windows NT/XP/AD, Citrix, DR, messaging, and Data Center, and his current job was administering the Data Center and Enterprise infrastructure - that expirence towers above someone with a 4 year degree and an MCSE boot camp cert with 4 years exp.

The real issue is money. Tha Enterprise Admin will demand a higher paycheck to accompany his skills. Can't have that. Better to find the 26 year old who will work at 30% less pay. The IT Shop can outsource those skills that the 26 year doesn't have, and when the contractor screws up the network the IT Mgr can always blame the 26 year old.

Consulting or contracting is the best route for someone who has built an extensive resume. There is only so far IT Depts will allow him/her to go before their talent gets too "expensive".

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Cert "Johns"

by Too Old For IT In reply to CERTS MEAN ONE THING

There are cert "whores" and cert "Johns"... and you know who you are.

I ran into a "John" recently at a preliminary interview. Expected that a person of my "experience" (read "age") would oast of a Windows NT MCSE, Windows 2000 MCSE, the XP/2003 tests and now be ready for Vista/Longhorn when it arrived. That and "at least" two Cisco certs, and a Sonic Wall cert while I was at it. All on my dime.

Not sure what he wanted to pay, but it would never have been enough to live with that much retentiveness 40 hours a week.

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