Which qualifications are worthwhile?

This topic was created by Thomas 4 .

  1. Thomas 4
    IT Angle

    Which qualifications are worthwhile?

    Howdy folks,

    I'm considering a change of career from my current medicinal line of work and stepping into the great grand world of IT. My current plan is starting in helpdesk work and moving up through network admin jobs (i.e. a junior position and working upwards).

    Most of my current IT skills are self taught; it's pretty basic stuff like building a PC, installing hardware and OSes and setting up very basic home networks - pretty much a "gamer's toolbox". I've read a fair number of articles on here saying this qualification is worthless, that degree is worthless....

    So what qualifications *do* IT recruiters look for in a newcomer? A friend of mine suggested that the Comp TIA A+ or Linux might be a good stepping stone but I'm throwing this one out to the more experienced folks out there. How does one actually get started in IT?

    Oh, one small caveat - a degree is out of the question. I can't afford to quit my job and study full time. I'd be looking for a course I can do as an evening class or weekend class. I'm based in London if that helps.

    Thanks in advance!


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

      Thomas, we'll put up a little article next week. Let's see what the commentards think.

      1. Thomas 4

        Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

        Yay! Thank you.

    2. Phil W

      Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

      Since I'm liable to miss the article on this if/when it appears.

      I'd say you consider doing a degree anyway, part time through the OU perhaps?

      I'm a network admin already, but a colleague of mine who works on the helpdesk is looking to work his way up in IT and is doing exactly that.

      Other qualifications worth looking into are the CompTIA A+, which is a relatively basic qualification for PC hardware and software installation and maintenance. It becomes largely irrelevant once you have 12 months of experience in a proper technical role, but looks quite good on paper when you're coming from a non-IT background.

      I did my A+ at college, with taught classes but there's no reason you can't just get an exam cram book and take the tests at a test center near you. It''s all multiple choice, and the hardest part is figuring out how they want you to answer the questions, since some of their answers are actually wrong from a real world perspective.

      Microsoft certifications are worth looking into, as an initial step getting "MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician on Windows 7" might be a good way to go.

      Also getting yourself ITIL Foundation certified would be good, as a lot of IT departments and helpdesk systems either use ITIL or base themselves around it.

      To be honest coming from a none IT role, you're probably looking at going into Helpdesk/Desktop Support and working up (I went from desktop support to network administration). Getting the above would likely get you into interviews for either.

      Once you're into that level, next step would be more Microsoft certs (server related this time, take your pick of the areas you want to learn). It'd probably also be a very good idea to consider doing a CCNA, it's quite a difficult and expensive qualification to get but very worth while. Having a CCNA can open a lot of doors in networking and infrastructure jobs.

      1. Code Monkey

        Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

        Despite a long, long time spent working in the industry, I'm studying an IT degree with the OU at the moment and can recommend it.

        One thing to bear in mind is cost. I'm lucky that I started just before the univeristy fees went up, so can finish my degree at the old rates. In common with traditional universities, the OU has more-or-less tripled its fees - meaning a full degree will now cost you £15k. Help is available, as are student loans so it's worth speaking to them.

        The degree will take several years - though the fact that you're currently studying towards one could be a big boost to your jobhunting.

        Good luck!

        1. Thomas 4
          IT Angle

          An update to the OP

          First off, thanks for all the replies so far, including the ones doubting my sanity.

          To elaborate a little on my interests - I do actually *enjoy* working with computers, especially dealing with the hardware side of things. I get a strange sense of satisfaction in watching a system I've put together or upgraded boot up and run as sweet as a nut. I also enjoy exploring things about computers that I don't know too well. Manually configuring networks, the dustier corners of Control Panel, mucking around with Linux. Learning new things and then being able to apply them in a troubleshooting context - I like stuff like that.

          Of course, I do understand that a large amount of stress comes from computer problems that are not software or hardware related...but then again, I can't imagine it's too different to working with patients. Failing that, there's always the five-pound lump hammer in my IT toolbox as well.

          I have done a Computer Studies A-Level in my dim and distant past but the majority of it was taken up with building a database and front end in Microsoft Access, which bored me to tears. We were also taught Pascal which was much more engaging - during the same period I also taught myself Visual Basic. The latter was not such a good idea; I wasted most of my lessons writing an almost passable game of "21" with a basic level AI opponent and forgot to work on the database.

          Amusing anecdotes aside, ultimately I'd like to go into network administration, through means of support and helpdesk work (hands on if possible), looking after individual computers and building up from there. Linux support also looks very appealling but I was advised that I'd need some basic level Linux experience first before I'd be able to do the Comp TIA Linux+ course. I'm guessing books would be a good starting point, unless anyone knows of any good online resources?

          Once again, I really appreciate the lengths everyone is going to to help me out here. You guys and gals rock.

          1. Phil W

            Re: An update to the OP

            In my experience you may find it hard to locate a job that involves both network administration, and hands on first line support/helpdesk work.

            Generally network administration is considered a high level things and is restricted to 2nd and 3rd line support personnel, while first line is primarily desktop support and helpdesk roles. Of course this arrangement will differ from one organisation to the next.

            With regards to Linux. Qualifications are relatively few and far between, while the CompTIA Linux+ would quite possibly be good to have, experience is the key thing. With Windows based things you can often blag that you know a little more than you do and pick it up later. Linux makes that much harder, and you'd likely get caught out.

            As I said, with Linux there really is no substitute for experience. However that is something you can rectify. I'd suggest take on some hobby projects, like building yourself a Linux based media center.

            Regsiter a domain name, get yourself a Linux VPS, and configure a Web server and Email server. There are plenty of guides and forums to help with projects like that, and they'll give you a good basic knowledge of common services like Apache, MYSQL, Postfix and others. This is how I got my Linux wings long before using it for work purposes.

            1. ADG

              Re: An update to the OP

              "In my experience you may find it hard to locate a job that involves both network administration, and hands on first line support/helpdesk work."

              The exception in my experience is small firms - the kind of place where you can count the total number of IT staff on the fingers of one hand. My last job was as a developer in a company with less than 100 staff in the whole company and 3 in IT. In that kind of environment, you're expected to pitch in and do everything and anything IT-related - the company mostly valued flexibility, attitude and an ability to work with people (which again, as an ex-medic you should be able to manage).

              It was frustrating in some ways and long-term I decided to move on to a larger firm with more infrastructure and resources where I could specialise properly, but as a starter role in professional IT it was great.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: An update to the OP

            To Thomas 4

            "I do actually *enjoy* working with computers"

            Yes, and so did I for the first few years, then slowly but surely I became a user when I walked out of the office. I now don't touch computers out of work other than as a user. I used to get a lot of side jobs fixing computers, the users were eternally gratefully for cleaning up whatever and I was promised anything from cash to nice a single malt for fixing them. Unfortunately, as most were people I knew, I trusted them, I'm still awaiting the first bottle! I digress. It reached a point were there were 4 computers stacked on top of each other waiting for me fix them as 'favours'. Over time I started to increase the repair time, to the point were I wasn't touching the PC for 1-2weeks, but even that didn't defer people. In the end I said, £50 minimum for me to look at it. This then had the desired effect, "PC World is cheaper", "Off you go then" was the reply.

            These days everyone knows a computer 'expert' (I use that term very loosely) therefore the chances of standing out in PC hardware maintenance/1st line support role very difficult.

            One final thought...

            You wouldn't buy a car from Ford and then say, OK, teach me to drive. Why is it acceptable to buy a computer and then expect the seller to teach you?

          3. JaneDoe

            Re: An update to the OP

            If you're interested in learning linux, the best place to start is by running linux as your primary desktop for a while, and troubleshooting whenever you run into issues. For educational purposes Fedora or Debian is best, although other distros (like Mint) are easier for beginners if you get lost with those.

      2. Mayhem

        Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

        Agreed, the only actual qualification required by most people I spoke with in London over the last couple of years was ITIL. ITIL Foundation V3 is basically a formal qualification that you have some basic common sense. Lots of places claim to want it, almost noone actually uses it, but the principles are easily transferable so it is (barely) worth the 3 day course.

        Most Microsoft certs and Cisco certs are worthless to you at this stage - its a lot of money for something that is being done by commodity labour from India. MCP and A+ are basic "I know how to turn it on and what the bits in a box are" qualifications.

        You're looking at entry level roles, so combine ITIL with your existing degree and talk to companies directly.

        Helpdesk and IT support generally is a soul crushing repetitive job that provides a decent amount of satisfaction to a certain kind of person. If that isn't you, look at other options. I'd follow the advice of the guys below and look at IT roles related to the medical market. Testing for example - good testers are always in demand. Or look at Analyst work - a business analyst runs interference between customer and company, a technical analyst between developer and company. Both are required to interpret a customers needs into what a supplier will produce, and you can probably transfer a lot of your accumulated medical knowledge into such a role.

    3. AbelSoul

      Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

      I was in a not entirely different situation to yourself.

      I had a construction degree, had been working in Telecomms sales for over a decade and was a hobbyist, computer tinkerer.

      In the end I *did* give up my job, went back to college, did the MSc. IT conversion course and now develop mobile apps for a local firm. I appreciate this isn't an option for you but it might be worth checking with your local colleges to see what evening courses they offer.

    4. Steady Eddy

      Don't bother

      1. Nobody in the UK has heard of A+. You will never see a job advert saying "must have A+".

      2. Don't bother. There are more than enough people in IT already, and we don't need any n00bs thanks.

      3. A bloke in India already knows more than you and can do it cheaper.

      Harsh but true.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Don't bother

        But it's relatively expensive to fly him from India when the secretary's screen won't come on or you need to plugin that new NAS into the network.

        Until we all work in the cloud from our iGlasses day-day office IT support is likely to be the only thing that actually does have a job future. A bit like how nurses are safe but expert doctors will be replaced by telemedicine.

        1. allegoricus

          Re: Don't bother

          Re. "But it's relatively expensive to fly him from India when the secretary's screen won't come on or you need to plugin that new NAS into the network."

          If the organisation's large enough to have its own helpdesk (in which case where it's located is irrelevant to the discussion), then conducting running repairs on the user's desk makes no sense.

          Hardware problems should be dealt with in the workshop. A man-with-a-van can take care of swapping out on site.

          Keeping users working is a high priority.

    5. Skoorb

      Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

      Just to scare you off a bit before you go jump careers:


      It's worth a read. If you are still interested after reading that and all the links, it *might* be worth going for.

    6. Doofry

      Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

      As a cheap way of getting some IT qualifications on your CV I think doing your A+ is good. At the end of the day you only need to pay the exam fee as you can get A+, Network+ and Security+ training for free if you look around i.e. via YouTube http://www.youtube.com/user/professormesser

      So assuming you pass each exam first time (which is likely with the exam preps around) for 3 exam fees at £150 (I think for CompTIA) you'd be A+, Network+ and Security+ cetified. You might as well do a couple of MCPs too while you're at it as Microsoft/Prometric are doing their second shot deal just now so you get a free resit, plus the MS exams are a bit cheaper.

      It's not going to solve the 'no previous experience' issue but it I was looking for a junior helpdesk/desktop bod and you seemed keen, sensible, had a good manner, A+, Network+, Security+, Windows 7 MCP, etc you'd be in with a decent shout. Then once you've got a years experience under your belt you can look at moving about a bit to progress and get other experience.

      Don't be put off by the negative comments about IT as you'll get that from any person about their own sector if they've been working in it for a while. I'm sure you'd probably say the same to anyone in IT wanting to make the jump into your area of work.

    7. ElGrandoZingy

      Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

      Hi Thomas,

      I’ve worked in IT for the past 10 years now after leaving University with a BSc Degree in Computer Science.

      Firstly I’d like to say that the best thing a Degree will give you is life skills easily transferable to any career you apply them too! This may sound like an oxymoron (always wanted to use that work) but a Degree will teach you how to learn things for yourself, this is meant in a good way though! You can’t just rely on the web to pass a Degree you need reliable trusted sources of information as references for your assignments, this involves learning a little background about who is providing the knowledge too, for example the author of a text book.

      On a less positive note, although my degree did open doors for interviews I had the same doors slammed back in my face due to a lack of experience. Be prepared to be discouraged but also know in the end you will get a job if you keep trying! My big break was working for on a rollout project for a company which took me up and down the country and I really enjoyed it, got to meet all sides of a company from supply chain to exec level. There may be scope out there for companies looking for temp staff to assist with migrations to Windows 7 right now.

      Unfortunately Degree’s these days cost big money so you really do have to decide for yourself if they are still worth the money, for the IT industry I'm not too sure….

      In terms of IT skills my advice is that with the current economic climate there has never been a better time than to learn Linux skills and while you’re at it become a Python Programmer too! Python is relatively easy to learn and is used a lot within the Linux world, less so in the world of Windows but don’t let that stop you. You really can achieve great things with little money thanks to the world of Open Source and the great people who make it happen. Please do jump in, the waters warm!

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

      I also did the career change from being a scientist in the NHS pathology labs to IT.

      I have a degree in a profession allied to medicine and that is all I have with regards to tertiary education qualifications.

      I didn't bother pursuing any other formal degree as working in Networking, the vocational qualifications count more than what you actually did in University.

      My post is biased towards networking as that is what I know.

      When I switched careers over 10 years ago, I picked myself a CCNA book and with the help of forums and my own lab, was able to get myself to a first line standard. This was done when I was still working as a scientist. Once I passed the CCNA, I started applying for jobs and it was only after a few months that I got my first interview. I was lucky to get that job but that was the break I needed and I resigned from the NHS there and then.

      If you are interested in networking, it will come down to a choice whether you want to enter telecoms which is where I am at currently or an enteprise environment.

      In my experience, only enterprises with a global presence such as banking, etc, will have a dedicated networking team. Smaller enteprises will be looking for a jack of all trades, therefore a Windows/Linux Sys Admin/ and a Networker.

      If you are interested in networking such as routers, switches, VoIP, etc, then a managed services provider and a telecoms provider come to mind.

      For that, you will need a CCNA as a minimum and you will start from first line as expected. There will be an element of shift work however once you progress to second line, normally, you get changed to days.

      Salary requirements for first line ranges according to employer however you are looking at mid-£20K including shift allowance.

      I progressed through first line to third line, then moved onto designing data and voice networks but that took me roughly 5 years and is dependent on aptitude.

      The salary for a network designer is extremely competitive and from what I have seen on jobserve and the like, normally starts from about £60K. To reach that level, you will need to take more vocational exams such as the CCNP/CCVP and then the CCIE in the relevant track. This is a big investment in time and money so if you are hoping not to study for the next 5 years, then this is not the career track for you. Also, you can't always expect to have training paid for hence why the big investment in books from Cisco Press for passing the exams and practice in labs you might build at home.

      It is a myth that IT is a job that you leave behind when you leave the office. Once you have reached a certain stage in your career, you will find yourself being the point of contact for many issues, even when you have allegedly finished work, so be prepared to work long hours when needed and be available at short notice.

      The main thing is to actually choose the path you want and get qualified in it. You don't have to take any courses but they do help.

      As mentioned, I can't comment on any other field apart from networking but I must admit I didn't take heed of the A+ or N+ when interviewing prospective first line and second line candidates. The only thing I was looking for was a CCNA as a minimum and some aptitude for the job in hand.

      I wish you luck with the switch.

    9. daryltabb

      Re: Which qualifications are worthwhile?

      First I welcome you to computer world.You can do CCNA( Cisco Certified Network Associate).now a days there is a good future in CCNA.If you are CCNA certified then company will direct recurit you.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PhD Theoretical Psychics is always useful.

    1. Phil W

      Along with a National Diploma in Crowbar handling?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      All psychics are theoretical, at least until someone proves you can communicate with the dead.

  3. Mr Young


    It's difficult to guess what sort of salary you're aiming at? An apprenticeship+experience=degree but both take quite some time. Also, any industry that pays well can be quite specialized if you want to earn proper coin - nobody knows everything about electronics today for example.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Probably best to learn some languages spoken in the Indian subcontinent, because that's where the decent IT jobs are going. If you want a trade - take up plumbing.

    /I really love my (sh)IT(e) work at the moment.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Language

      He's not wrong!

      You need to move to India, become unable to understand basic Requests or display any capacity for rational thought or initiative, also refusing to speak to anyone but your direct superior will help tremendously... On the plus side, you don't actually need any of those pesky qualifications, you can just have your company lie about it!

      I really couldn't encourage anyone to move into IT nowadays, although you never know, it may all cycle around again in a few years!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Language

        Your post made me laugh so much I registered just to reply! Very true - get a PRINCE2 or management training course instead; that way you can do bugger all, leech money out of your company at an alarming rate and get promoted to even higher levels of incompetence within a couple of years...

    2. S.G.

      Re: Language

      I am currently working in the Philippines where many IT call centres are located. I was born in France and worked in the UK for 10 years.

      Don't dismiss going abroad to get into IT. It's clearly not for everyone but it's an eye openner and you can see why companies are sending jobs there. There is no benefits if you don't work and health care is all private. Result:in the helpdesk I work in, they all want to work hard, they do overtime if necessairy. They all want the latest shinies and they will work for it even though their pay, relative to the shinies, is much less than in western countries. There is more girls than guys and another huge difference is that everyone is really friendly and if they see someone with more money than them, they are happy for their success.

      You'll need extra languages skills as a foreigner though, they all speak English and only employ foreigners if they can't find the skills locally (I'm lucky I have French).

      I don't have an expat contract but a local one so I get paid a ridiculously low amount by western standard but what matters is what you can buy with it locally. I enjoy a condo with swimming pool and gym.

      It might not be for Thomas, the original poster but It might help someone. This is only my experience, your mileage may vary.

  5. Skrrp


    Having looked over the A+ syllabus it's a useful entry tool for helpdesk. Just don't believe the lying course providers. I looked at the skills taught then asked one what the target earnings were for someone with the qualification. He told me £35k+. Best joke I'd heard all year.

    If you have a little money and intelligence I thoroughly recommend ISTQB Foundation in System Testing. There appear to be a lot of testing jobs around at the moment and good testers are like gold dust. Pay isn't too bad either.

    If you have a lot of money and intelligence the Penetration Testing course is well worth a look. Pen testers are the high paid rock stars of the computing world.

    1. MarcH

      Re: A+

      "If you have a lot of money and intelligence the Penetration Testing course is well worth a look. Pen testers are the high paid rock stars of the computing world."

      I take it you don't work in pen testing then yes?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't bother with qualifications - everything you need to learn is free!

    As someone who's worked their way up from building websites at a local council to writing FX trading algos in New York, I can say that:

    - your qualifications count for NOTHING. Having a degree in any subject is fine. Even some of the banks don't care if you have a degree or not - I'm seeing more and more specs saying "or relevant business experience". I have interviewed people from Oxford and Cambridge who are useless.

    - you NEED to have an outside-work interest in IT. The best developers are those who are passionate about what they do. Read blogs. Download Visual Studio 2012 Express and SQL Server 2012 Express - they are free - and start playing around. Build an app on a mobile phone and show it to the people interviewing you. Build a website using HTML 5 and then put the link in your CV.

    - you also need to be interested. Desire to learn more about IT and pass this to your future employer.

    1. Phil W

      Re: Don't bother with qualifications - everything you need to learn is free!

      While some of the above is true, you're really generalizing too much.

      Qualifications become worthless when you have experience in other IT roles that you can put on your CV.

      The experience is what gets you the interview, the problem is if you don't have experience how do you get it?

      How do you land your first IT roles to get experience?

      Qualifications are what get you the interviews when you're new to IT, at least they do these days.

      Everyone I've ever heard say you don't need qualifications is someone that's worked in IT for a decade or more, and started in an era when IT qualifications were a much less diverse and recognized field.

      Being 26 myself, I know what it's like breaking into IT jobs in the present day particularly with little or no experience.

    2. David Hicks

      Re: Don't bother with qualifications - everything you need to learn is free!

      My degree has been very useful to me. It's opened a lot of doors and more importantly it's given me a good grounding in a wide range of computer *stuff*.

      You can talk your way past the degree requirements at a lot of places and you don't need a degree to be an awesome software engineer, but I've found it very useful for both thing. It's true that some of the best people I've worked with had no degree, but most did.

      Being interested in tech? Hell yes that's a requirement.

      To the OP if you're reading this - try to find some way to leverage your existing knowledge into a few steps up the ladder in IT and skip the helldesk stuff entirely. Find a crossover job where you bring the domain knowledge but you learn the technical ropes from some more experienced tech guys.

      Also (and I'm going to get flamed for this) programming/software engineering is far more interesting than IT and networks!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Don't bother with qualifications - everything you need to learn is free!

      > - your qualifications count for NOTHING.

      They give you the first step on the ladder. After that, employers are expecting to see demonstrable experience.

      That's why it is a good idea to have an outside work interest in IT. Start an open source project doing something that you find interesting or contribute to an existing one. There are projects out there crying out for help in coding and particularly documentation.

      It doesn't have to be something big but it does help if is something that you are passionate about or find a need for in your everyday life. That's how you will get real life experience.

      Most of the people that are successful in computing are out and out nerds. They love IT. You have to live it because it can be so demanding and intense sometimes.

  7. Jon Green
    Thumb Up

    An alternative approach

    You might want to consider offering your services on a try-before-you-buy basis. Go to potential employers, and tell them: "I've got the skills for at least basic helpline and systems configuration support, but no qualifications. So how about I work for you for a month. If you think I'm pulling my weight and doing the job, pay me for the month, and keep me on. If you don't, then tell me so - sooner the better - and we'll part without you having to pay a penny."

    Sometimes a can-do attitude and an entrepreneurial spirit can win, over paper qualifications. After all, if they like your face, you could even get them to pay for your training, whilst they're paying you to work.

    1. DickieBoy

      Re: An alternative approach

      A nice approach but EU law prevents this I am afraid - you are not allowed to work for free. I tried something similar to this once and was told by the firm's legal team that it was a no-go area. We agreed that they would pay me minimum wage for the period.

      1. The Alpha Klutz

        Re: An alternative approach

        Do you have any idea how bad it looks offering to work for free?

        I used to work for free, but then I stopped being 12.

        1. Jon Green
          Thumb Down

          Re: An alternative approach

          Since I've run several businesses, and taken on people who've offered themselves on that try-before-you-buy basis - yes, I know _exactly_ how "bad" it looks. Precisely "not at all".

          You don't do it for every candidate, but if someone looks to have the right skills and attitude, but not the commercial experience or quallies to back them up, it's a great way of giving someone an option they'd otherwise not have, without risk to your company if they turn out unsatisfactory.

      2. Jon Green

        Re: An alternative approach

        You're incorrect. Look up "internship". That's exactly the type of arrangement, and it's almost always unpaid. The difference between a typical internship and what I'm describing is that the candidate gets paid for their time if the company decides to keep them on, which seems only fair to me.

        1. The Alpha Klutz

          Re: An alternative approach

          we've had job applicants saying right in their cover letter "will work for free". and they don't even bother tarting it up with talk of internships or a paid opportunity later. they just say hey bitch i wanna for FOR FREE. so you look at their CV and invariably they graduated from some fake Indian university with a double degree in nuclear chemistry but they can't spell nuclear or chemistry and most of the CV was copied off the example on the front page of today's monster.com

          looks real good, in the bin.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't bother....

    ....if you are working in the medical industry, I'd stay there. I've worked in IT all my life and this golden, plush future with endless pots of cash is crap. At school they made IT sound on par with a Doctor or an Engineer. In reality, we are just the under paid geeks in the corner. We don't sell, we don't manage, so we are a none entity that is sucking profit from the shareholders.

    I expect this post will get flamed, but I know I am looking at getting out of IT. I am currently looking at completely different avenues of employment and training.

    1. K

      Re: Don't bother....

      I won't flame you, everybody is entitled to their opinion.

      You are correct IT does suck profit and consume vast amounts of money, additionally IT rarely make profits for a company.

      But IT is an enabler, without which the business would not exist, people would not have all the shiny gadgets that make their life "easier" and communication would be stuck back in the 1960's.

    2. adifferentbob

      Re: Don't bother....

      You'll not get flamed by me. I'll be changing career once I've turfed the kids out - sadly that is still the best of ten years away. But then ten years is nothing once you get past thirty five.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't bother....

      That's your problem there Anon @ 13:50. The attitude. I'm a little geek at heart, but I think too many plaster themselves with the stereotype.

      However, I must loop your comment to IT in general within the education sector. It's all the same from others I know who work there (not just IT staff, also admin). Schools won't value IT, although they'll sell the pretty picture of it because...

      a) School management (unless they come from an IT background) don't understand it.

      b) School management normally distrust their managers anyway and give IT the biggest goals but smallest budgets.

      c) Their priorities lie with teaching staff and getting results. That's the problem when you have all schools exposed via grade tables and open OFSTED reports.

      I worked in education IT for 5 years. Was lucky that the private school took me on as an apprentice and had a manager that supported my development and fought for a couple of promotions on my behalf. It had a ceiling though and wanted to move on into London. I must agree that it's very easy for IT engineers in education to get stuck and take the easy life it provides. So one bit of advice; try avoid education IT altogether (unless it's a University!).

      I'd personally recommend Cisco qualitifications if you're already building computers and understand OSes from top to bottom. There are plenty of Universities that offer evening courses as an academy (DO NOT USE TRAINING PROVIDERS FOUND ONLINE!) for CCNA (entry level) and can advise well to move onto CCNP or other Cisco qualifications. There's always going to be demand for people who know networks very well and can setup routers/switches/APs competently.

      I'm now working as an Infrastructure Engineer at a medium sized web company (anon for obvious reasons). No degree; just lots of hard work and love web and networking technologies. You just need to sell yourself well and having been in the medical industry, you might not have too many problems with that if you make the switch.

      Good luck!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't bother....

        You've hit the nail on the head. My attitude has slowly got worse, I think years of being told things like 'I know your printer is broken, but you can't have that £30 replacement, print to another printer'. Then add 3 years with no pay increase, despite spiralling living costs, not one training course during the 4+ years I've been here.

        This is part of the reason I want out, I try to stay motivated, keen, eager, but if I said my desktop computer at home hasn't been turned on in nearly 3 years (seriously) - you may understand the levels I've reached. Don't get me wrong, there are good points, but if I knew at school what I know now, computing would have stayed my favourate hobby and I'd have done something completely different.

      2. b166er

        Re: Don't bother....

        Have to agree with that. Although it wasn't IT related, I pulled cable at Heathrow T5 for 18 months and while it was reasonable money, it was also real work (which I enjoyed actually).

        The Cisco lot just breezed in once we'd made the comms rooms ready for them, sat on their arses, earning in excess of twice what we were, for lighting a few ports!

        Bear in mind though, that the CAD technicians were earning at least double again, sat in a warm comfy office on the other side of the apron from the freezing airfield we were working in.

    4. Severian
      Thumb Down

      Re: Don't bother....

      As someone in a similar position who spent the last year applying for entry-level tech support jobs (and hoping to work my way up) I agree, don't bother.

      I'm also self-taught, I do all friends and family tech support including system builds, remote support, spyware removal, the usual stuff. I run the home network which includes a freenas box serving media around the house. I'm comfortable with Linux and Windows. I've sat with my own company IT dept. to get a feel for applications like Active Directory and was staggered to learn that they didn't even know basic keyboard shortcuts for software they'd been using for years. I learned to host my own website and created something in Wordpress (and got to tinker with php). I went on to create a second site to try to demonstrate putting my skills into practice and to try and show my knowledge in my current area of employment. I also started taking online courses to get to grips with javascript and Python basics.

      All of this went into my CV, and I applied for hundreds of jobs during 2012.

      I didn't get one interview. Not. One.

      This was for basic entry-level support I know I could do with my eyes closed, and pay thousands less than I'm on now in office admin. I just wanted a foot in the door and a chance to prove myself (and was willing to take the pay cut). Between the stupidly unrealistic job requirements and the doom and gloom in the press, it seems to me that IT is actually a pretty crap gig to try and get in to right now. If places aren't outsourcing they mostly seem to want to hire people straight out of school/uni who will work for apprentice-level wages.

      I gave up on IT in November and am currently teaching myself more web-based skills as I now hope to get into Digital Media instead.

      1. K

        Re: Don't bother....

        "I'm also self-taught"

        There is most of your problem, I would love to offer you a job but taking you on would be too much of a gamble, I have no idea of your competence level and my manager would kick my ass if you turned out to be a bad call!

        IT is a field that requires skills and the right mentality, if you don't have qualifications or experience, then there is absolutely nothing that shows me you can do the job or even have the aptitude for IT.. My advise is do an apprenticeship or go back college/uni (or do an evening course).

        Good luck with whatever direction you choose :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't bother....

          The guys moaning on here sound like they are sitting on their ass waiting for the pot of gold to land on their lap.

          In 2011 I got a minimal 2% pay rise then in 2012 I got 3%. In December I applied for a job after looking for a few weeks and got a 13% pay rise with my new salary.

          The jobs are out there but you may need to be prepared to move. I am in Aberdeen and do appreciate we are in a bit of a micro bubble (apparently Aberdeen never went into recession) so my views and experience may not be replicated across the country.

          If you have good people stills you can go a long way in IT, at my last job we really struggled to recruit people with the right people skills, you can teach IT skills but not how to deal with people so that was a big thing for us.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't bother....

      One drunken night I sat down and had a chat with a young pal of mine.

      A week later he signed up to Naval College and is now working ships.

      He earns considerably more than me (his old boss...).

      My advice is also "don't bother". It's taken years to get where I am now but those years have been filled with consistent frustration at the skills of the people around me - who more or less don't have a clue about "Computers".

    6. peter collard

      Re: Don't bother....

      "We don't manage, we don't sell" - there's your problem. As someone who made a quarter mill in the year before the millenium as a DBA and then retired to become a plumber, my advice is to change your view. Selling:- work out who your customer is - mine was the development teams, Then work out who their customer is (Traders in my case) and understand their problems. At this point you can 'sell' solutions to your customer and get promoted. Managing:- always have a plan - even if you have to tell your boss to get stuffed while you put a plan together to handle an emergency. Bosses like to know their people are in control. People who know what they are doing get paid more.

    7. Stefing

      Re: Don't bother....

      I'm now on less money than I was 20 years ago and have the same job title I had 30 years ago - even though I have far more skills. There is a ceiling in most UK where you hear "we can't pay you any more or you'll be earning more than some managers!"

      Plus the market is so bad they realise they can cut and cut, regardless of how well the company is doing.

      Managers are readily available and most people could be a mediocre manager with little training - but managers run the world and don't value IT people like they used to.

      1. David Hicks

        Re: Don't bother....

        Folks, your problems are crappy jobs. Get some experience, become a contractor/consultant, rake in the cash and have a new workplace every few months!

        If you just sit in the corner being the underpaid geek, all the while hoping someone's going to hand you a pot of gold, then of course your life's going to seem miserable.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't bother....

          Same for anyone in any industry! If you think your manager/company is going to offer you an automatic pay-rise/new job title every year, forget it. If you're within a co and can see a jump, you have to construct it yourself professionally and let management and the seniors around you do the hard work. No need to go solo, but personally; the option is a very good one if you specialise and understand a lot of stuff under different job roles in the same basket.

        2. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

          Re: Don't bother....

          @David Hicks

          Folks, your problems are crappy jobs. Get some experience, become a contractor/consultant, rake in the cash and have a new workplace every few months!

          Bollocks, I've been contracting for years, and right now I am on the same rate I was on in 1999. In the past 4 1/2 years I have been out of work for nearly a year, wiping out any gains I made contracting.

          @Thomas 4

          Like you, I changed careers after 15 years in one profession, I obtained an IT qualification, and changed to IT in the same company. The biggest problem you will face is that you will be competing with the PFYs from day one, you will be a 35 year old person competing with a 20 year old PFY with a diploma in some aspect of IT who is prepared to work for a lot less that you are.

          As somebody has already posted, any sort of qualification is only to get you on the first rung of the ladder, after that experience counts, but you may still some IT qualifications to get past the initial box-tickers in HR.

          Potential employers are also going to be thinking that you only want got get experience quickly and then move on to a higher paying job, after all, you're older, you may have more commitments than the PFY. And when you are a 55-year old IT worker you will be competing with a 40-year old IT worker with the same level of experience and skills as you do.

          My recommendation to you would be to try and build on your current experience, play to your strengths, not your weaknesses. Is there any aspect of your current job that you could build on and push in the IT direction?

          And forget the helpdesk work, my experience of helpdesks' is that they exist to prevent contact between customers and useful help. I also suspect that a lot of helpdesk performance management is not based on the quality of help given but on the number and duration of calls. Have a clear idea of what you want to do in IT, working on a helpdesk will not get you a job as a programmer or as a hardware technician.

          Sorry if I come across as a hard case and cynic, 20 years in IT will do that to you.

          Cheers and good luck

    8. Art Deco

      Re: Don't bother....

      Anonymous Coward: I'd stay there. I've worked in IT all my life and this golden, plush future with endless pots of cash is crap.

      Well, the 1990's were pretty good. I remember getting big raises and bonuses every year and calls every week from recruiters trying to steal me from my current employer with promises of more interesting work and/or more money. The years leading up to Y2K, management was throwing money at IT like never before. I expected to retire comfortably by the time I was 50.

      Then early 2000 everyone discovered that they had more computer power, storage, and bandwidth than they needed and since we upgraded all the hardware and software preparing for Y2K that there wasn't enough work. Management no longer looked at IT as a resource to invest in but rather an expense to be cut. Most shops fired half of their IT staffs and used the threat of pink slips to get the employees who remained to work harder, longer, and for less money.

      IT was a pretty good ride in the 90's but now the party is over. I managed to stay employed but I haven't had a raise in 10 years and now I'm under so much stress and so overworked that it is straining my family life and ruining my sanity and health.

      I feel thoroughly stuck. I'm too close to retirement to realistically change fields but IT is getting to be such a drag.

      If IT is what you really really want to do than go for it. As I like to say, no mater how crowded the field there is always room at the top. If you want to get into IT for good pay, nice work environment, and a good career/life balance than you are probably barking up the wrong tree.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't bother with an IT degree

    Seriously, steer well clear of anything IT related. Go for a pure science or engineering e.g maths, statistics, physics especially with electronics, chemistry or electronic/mechanical/chemical engineering. The skills you'll pick up won't do you any harm, and the qualification will be far more valuable when you find someone has moved your cheese.

    Why ? Well... I've never come across anything in the workplace as tricky as partial differentials or General Relativity. You might also want to take a minor in history especially ancient, medieval and renaissance as it will help you with the office politics.

    1. Aldous
      Thumb Up

      Re: Don't bother with an IT degree

      Depends if its "IT BSc" or various flavors of comp sci i graduated (first class honors) with a security and networks BSc which combined with the ccna i did between 2nd and 3rd years (paid for myself and studied over the summer) got me an interview to a major tech companies grad scheme.

      i got the job, have got some very strong qualifications in networking (although all my final year project was building a distributed cryptanalysis system) and am nearing the end of a company funded MSc. Most of the big companies grad schemes will take you regardless of age (i was 7 years older then some of the grads) but have to be graduated from uni within 3 years max of applying.

      All depends where you want to go, generic "IT" then helldesk route is fine, networks go cisco certs (initially), sysadmin red hat certs etc. Ignore people that tell you certs are worthless, they are if all you do is download pass4sure and collect them but you will be called out on it in an interview. it is the knowledge that you learn along the way that is worth it and not the piece of paper (job wise the knowledge i acquired whilst getting my CCIE is worth way more than the 3 years of things i did at uni). The flipside of this is don't believe the trainers that tell you that "X cert = X money"

      End of the day go with what you want and feel happy piling the hours in to, as long as you are learning that is all that matters.

  10. Robert Helpmann??

    Application Development

    If you have a degree already, there probably is no return in getting another one at this point, so I wouldn't worry about that. I don't know how burned out you are with your current work, and I do not know the state of medical software in the UK, but with those two caveats I suggest you consider programming medical software. If you have dealt with it in the past, you probably have some opinions about what works and what does not. You are probably aware of various rules and regulations that influence the area, too. I hear a lot of complaints from my healthcare providers about the apps they use, so there would seem to be a market for this sort of work at least in the States.

    Good Luck!

    1. Cucumber C Face

      Heathcare sector in the UK

      I do work in UK healthcare IT - and have done for 15 years. I have no formal IT qualifications just clinical ones.

      UK healthcare IT

      1. Is totally dominated by one utterly ignorant, imbecilic and fickle customer - the NHS (or in fact the DoH)

      2. The money is cr@p unless you can get on the increasingly elusive consultancy circuit. Gone are the heady days of Nu Labour and management consultancies throwing zillions at morons.

      However that doesn't mean you shouldn't try this sector given your background.

      Robet Helpman makes an excellent point. Domain knowledge is helpful and even valued by most sensible IT companies.

      Also IT work is not restricted to taking a monkey wrench to hardware and cutting code. Good systems analysts, people who can read and write functional specs and documentation, trainers etc AND have worked in the industry the software is being supplied to are few. If you set out on that path you may find yorself with plenty of choice of work in this sector - but as I said - don't plan on retiring to the Caribbean at 35.

      And don't kid yourself it's an escape from the NHS. If you work for a supplier to the NHS - you'll still be at the sharp end of the Political BS.

  11. IglooDude

    If I was hiring an entry-level tech for my team (which does internal and customer support for cellular networking), I'd look for A+ and Network+ certs, a solid work history in anything, and a knack for troubleshooting. While I understanding that an entry-level anything requires mentoring and OJT experience to get better, they need to come in being able to support themselves from an IT standpoint and have the basics of IP subnetting and such already down pat, else I might as well hire "want to get into IT" people from within our company instead.

    And, good luck to you!

  12. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

    Hrmm. Difficult

    I drifted into IT after not having the werewithal to do things like law post first degree. I started with a first line desktop job and moved into server support and then made the jump to UNIX/Linux from Windows. I did do half of an MsC in Computer Science at Birkbeck (well worth considering). I even use (abuse) some of the stuff I learn't there.

    The vendor specific courses are often good but very expensive and the current climate in companies to pay for training seems to be built round the harsh laugh and FOAD principle - others can disabuse me of this idea.

    One of the troubles is that the industry is in a state of change and the traditional sysadmin role is going to disappear quite soon. In my view anyway.

    I would start with working to expand your knowledge by building different stuff at home. E.G. put linux on an old PC and then try to get samba and ldap working so you can get some knowledge of how these things work. You could also play with things like apache and such like in this way. Of course, this won't let you put x years experience with Linux sysadmin on your CV. Hell desk jobs tend to be poorly paid and not located in London

    Good luck with the career change.

    Beer because you will need it :-)

  13. deadlockvictim

    It all depends, doesn't it?

    It all really depends on what area in IT you'd like to get into. IT is a wide field.

    One quote that comes to mind is that one should everything about something and something about everything.

    It requires time and a modest investment on your part. Most of what you'll need is freely available online or available at a modest cost.

    I always recommend learning SQL and databases to people who want to get into IT. Most companies store their data in a DB, even if it (and often it is) a MS Access or FileMaker Pro DB. Turning data into information is a useful skill. Adding reporting experience with Crystal Reports etc helps further.

    Furthermore, once you know one dialect of SQL, getting into the others isn't that difficult. The server software ranges from free (Postgres, MySQL, MS SQL Server Express, Oracle (I think) to affordable (MS SQL Server Developer Edition is about $150 up to the insanely expensive.

    There are many entry-level books available in good bookshops which walk one through the theory and the practice. There are many helpful sites online, such as http://www.simple-talk.com.

    Finally, many companies offer certification exams which I have personally found to be very useful at application and interview stages.

    If you can, avoid helpdesk jobs. In my experience, the people who work there are overworked and underpaid. It is usually stressful and the remuneration in no way justifies it. People in Helpdesk tend to last no longer than 9 months, with the exception of the lifers, and they usually get little respect. they are at the bottom of the foodchain.

    If you can survive on very little, your time will be better spent practicing at home.

    At the end, though, you have to ask yourself: what do you enjoy doing? what do you do in your spare time? If you are fond of tinkering with networks and seeing what they can and won't do, then networking and systems administration would seem to be the way to go.

  14. KierO

    For the love of all things holy DON'T DO IT!! (Oh go on then....I'm just bitter from over 10 years in IT).

    Essential skills:

    1) Ability to consume vast amounts of junk food and caffeinated drinks, with little ill-effect.

    2) Ability to explain complex technical things to senior managers in the most basic of language (sometimes more difficult then you would think)

    3) Ability to keep something working long after it should have died (Born out of necessity)

    4) An infinite amount of patience.


    I found these actually count for very little in the IT world. What you know means almost nothing compared to what you have actually used and what you have done. But there are a few that help establish a "baseline":

    1) CompTIA A+ (Easy Peesey)

    2) CompTIA Network+ (Almost as easy as the A+)

    3) Maybe an MCP (or whatever they are now called) in Active Directory/Windows Server/Exchange (They are the most general.

    4) Cisco CCNA.

    All the rest tend to be for a specialisation.

    What might help, is if you have an IT department in your current job, see if you can do a bit of shadowing with them. I had a guy in my last job that shadowed me for 6 weeks, and I managed to teach him many of the basics in that time. He then moved up north and got a job with NetApp, where he now works as a storage specialist....he used to be a part time security guard!

  15. Steve Button Silver badge

    Why do you want to get into IT?

    If it's for the money, then you might be wasting your time. If it's because you love tinkering with computers, you *might* get lucky and the money will follow later on.

    Get yourself a linux box and use it to learn scripting, admin and programming (Python, Ruby).

    Go onto the Khan Academy and Code Academy sites and run through some of the tutorials.

    If you are serious about networking, sign up with the Open University and learn all the skills you would need for a CCNA. This will cost you, but you'll get a lot of hand holding / tutorials and at the end of it you should be ready to take the CCNA exam.

    Get a Raspberry Pi, and get it to do something interesting.

    Pick an area that interests you personally. Is it's media players, then install XMBC and Navi-X. If it's programming then learn a bit of Perl and install ImageMagic module and get it to, I dunno, make thumbnails out of hundreds of your photos. Hang around on internet forums and ask loads of questions (after you've searched carefully for the answer already of course!)

    You'll get none of this from studying for a qualification, and most companies are looking for experience and a can-do attitude.

    About your idea of starting with a help desk, I think that's risky as most help desks these days seem to be just about logging calls with very little chance of career progression.

    Good luck! I've been doing IT for 20+ years and I still love it. :-) (actually 30 if you count BASIC programming on the Vic 20)

  16. Joe Drunk

    DON'T DO IT!!!!

    This field is pretty much the same as medicinal. It sucks.

    The only people that I've ever met who actually enjoy working in the field are those who are married with children and can't stand being around them and therefore welcome the long hours / mandatory weekends that are indigenous.

    If you enjoy life, friends (real, not chat room/Facebook friends), the opposite sex, hobbies, outdoor activities and being treated like a human being by your employer this is absolutely not the field for you (or me).

    Turn back while you still can!

  17. LordHighFixer

    Required skills

    Beyond knowing what you are doing the following are requirements where I work.

    CompTIA security+

    Some kind of platform certification for your platform of choice. (Linux is most popular at the moment)

    ITIL Foundations.

    Those three plus some verifiable lies will get you in the door.

  18. mammal

    Hi - I have been in IT (mainly outsourcing in the UK) for about 17 years.

    Its obviously role dependent but in my experience, a degree isn't totally essential for a career in IT. I dont have one and have managed to work my way up from the Service Desk to IT Manager to Head of Division, now saying that I do realise that for me to move into board level position I will have to get a degree as it is pretty much a requirement here in Canada. So it depends how far you want to progress.

    With regards what to focus on to get in the door, I would recommend A+ and Microsoft MCDST (or whatever the modern equivalent is) for a good grounding. You can then choose which direction you want to go from there.

    If your more technical then managerial then the tech cert route is definitely the way to go over a degree. You will gain much usable experience and earn much more cash in the long term in consultancy roles than as a senior manager.

  19. The FunkeyGibbon

    Avoid support

    Support is the easiest part of IT to get into because the bar to entry is so low. Anybody can start as a call logger and then progress to 1st line and then do some stuff like an A+, N+ or some Microsoft bits. The problem is because anybody can do it and many do there is no progression. The only support people who do well are those who focus on a specific product and in general that's very hard to do at most companies who expect you to be a generalist. Support becomes a grind for the vast majority who are fed up of users making the same mistakes and requests day in, day out. It is one of those areas that challenges rarely come along and doesn't allow for any expression of creativity. Realistically your only way out of support is management or project work\management both of which require retraining later down the line (ITIL, Prince2 etc).

    I would consider SQL as a really good skill. It allows you to have flexibility, there will always be people looking for somebody to develop for SQL if that floats your boat and if it doesn't so many applications rely on it that you'll never be short of support options. If you like a particular area of SQL (SharePoint, web back-end to name two) then you can elect to develop along those line when it suits you.

  20. Scuby
    Thumb Up

    Teach yourself at home.

    There's a wide field of stuff to learn. Personally, I wouldn't focus on a particular certification but instead learn as much techie avenues as you can.

    I'd start with virtualisation (VMware, Citrix...) You can then get a small Virtual Server Farm up and running at home with which to build on. From there you can further build your skillset. Microsoft, Linux, Solaris, MAC OS all run happily of virtuals.

    http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-610840.html - teach yourself. Once you get really comfortable, then try and get the basic certs in whichever techs you are interested in.

    VMware, in order to get a cert you have to have attended an approved training course and take the exam. Others it can be as simple as learning the stuff and taking for the exam.

  21. teapot9999


    but I would say do not even consider Microsoft Windows certifications - nobody cares about those.

    VMWare is a good suggestion from Scuby

  22. Spoonsinger

    So what qualifications *do* IT recruiters look for in a newcomer?

    Well generally around about three years of Windows 8 experience, (or whatever the current vogue is). Just a thought mind, why do you want to get into IT? Answering that question should answer all the other questions you have.


    Was in a hospital the other day and radiology is apparently crying out for people at the moment. (So you can do tech and medically type stuff if that's your interest).

  23. scifidale
    IT Angle

    Besides which qualifications to study, the main question surely should be can you "afford" to change careers at this stage of the game. Depends on were you live etc etc but helpdesk wages are very low and generally only good for those skipping out of school/college with no commitments etc. If you have wife/family/car/house any or all then you will need to look at the average salary for helpdesk and desktop support to see if you can survive the 2-3 years on average it takes to rattle through those positions.

    Helpdesk positions generally do not require any certifications, only a certain mindset so dont go thinking that you need a certification before you start looking for helpdesk work if its feasible.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Agree on mind set, I got out of doing helpdesk with a lot of - These people are meant to be smart engineers why do they keep treating PCs, LAN as though it's the same as at home ARGH!! Stupid <blank> users. Went to 2nd / 3rd line and could give helpdesk / support some simple training and never got bothered by 90% of the rubbish again.

  24. Ian Sawyer 1


    If you plan to work on the Helldesk then the first thing you need to do is de-evolve a few thousand years until your knuckles touch the floor. Then you will fit right in with the majority of Helldesk fools...

  25. Dave Ashe

    Qualifications? Maybe. Experience = Must-have

    Ok, sometimes qualifications are important in certain areas and *can* help as always get you a job, i'm not dismissing them but...

    What employers really are looking for is experience, which trumps qualifications which go out of date very quickly anyway in IT most of the time, and certain skills cannot be taught quickly or easliy like problem-solving.. For example .. why the application server crashes randomly and how to create a quick workaround so it doesn't any more so the customers can get on with using the system..

    There is a lot to learn and it will take years and years to learn it, either you pay loads of money to do this or learn it yourself (which is the number 1 skill you must have in IT, be able to teach yourself new skills)

    My advice is to try and get your foot in the door in a company, and have something to show; a project to show your skills, whether done on a course or on your own.

  26. Tempest8008
    Thumb Up

    It's attitude, not qualifications

    First let me just say that if you are looking at getting into the Helpdesk as an entry level support provider, YOU DO NOT NEED ANY QUALIFICATIONS.


    They are looking for a warm body who is semi-literate....because you'll have a script you'll read from, certain trouble-shooting steps that MUST be followed (even when the customer tells you they've already rebooted, did a System Restore, updated their drivers etc etc).and essentially you'll be taking (usually incomplete) notes for the people who will call the customer back and actually try to help them.

    Helpdesk is a good first step, but get the hell out of it as quickly as you can.

    How, you ask?

    By showing that you have CUSTOMER SERVICE SKILLS.

    These are woefully lacking in many IT techs...who are generally socially inept, have poor hygiene, and talk to you like you're a mushroom (in the dark and covered in shit).

    You need an active interest in the technology involved.

    You need to be enthusiastic and engaged.

    You need to be a consummate listener.

    You need to want to help people with their problems.

    You need to follow up with problems and close the issue WHEN IT IS FIXED.

    Because as I always tell my staff, we are in the business of helping PEOPLE.

    We provide the tools they use, and the environment they work within, but without the PEOPLE it all means exactly zero. So even if you are installing additional RAM in a server, rebuilding a RAID array, or establishing new backup procedures, you are, in the end, doing it to support the PEOPLE who are actually making the company money.

    The knowledge of IT, the ability to work with the equipment and software, of how things work together and how to MAKE them work together, that's down to the environment of the company you are working for, and inevitably it's on-the-job learning.

    Get yourself the best attitude before you start looking at qualifications.

    Get in at the ground level somewhere and find out what they need.

    Then begin to read.

    Then make yourself your own test environment (so you don't fuck up theirs).

    Learn it yourself, learn it well, then wait for someone to screw up, step in, fix it, and get noticed.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    don't forget the value of your current skill set

    Before diving blindly into a course - think for a moment where you're looking to end up. IT is a very wide field. You suggest you want to go the support/network admin/techie direction - as opposed to IT sales, programming, management direction. These rolls can be found in many sectors and industries and in many forms.

    Just consider how much time you have to put in the hours and hours of training (read: mucking around and honing skills) that others may have done while growing up or studying full time. These people, and those who are willing to work for incredibly low salaries, are going to form the fat end of the wedge you're going to be competing with for a position. There is a good chance you're simply not going to have the experience and nous (simply due to lack of time) that these people do (if only in some recruiter's eyes).

    However, you have a medicinal background, and no doubt experience in this sector. Combining your IT skills with your current skills is likely to land you with core skill set that is pretty unique, and if sold correctly, very valuable. If you are able to do this effectively, you will be able to compete far better than those with a pure IT background.

    So don't just think about the obvious areas that require the skills you're about to gain - where everyone heads the moment they need a job. Think about those that you already have access too and see if there is a way to leverage them when choosing your course/plan of attack.

  28. randommagic

    I was in the same position 6 years ago. I had to take early retirement at 35 and wanted to start in IT. I got a first line support job with a major computer manufacturer doing hardware support with just the A+ cert.

    From there I moved up the company and added more certs along the way.

    The starting positions are desktop support - Get the Microsoft Windows 7 or 8 exams. If you want to go further start on the server certs. Once you have done 3 of 4 Microsoft exams you will be bored to tears with them but you should be in a better position to make a decision on where you want to go. If you choose to go with the Linux route then most of what you learn will be self taught but Cloud and Virtualisation jobs seem to be showing up a lot in job searches. I am VCP - Vmware Certified which my company paid for and if you can find a company that is willing to invest in you the sky's the limit. When negotiating for a wage always take slightly under what they offer if they are willing to pay for some training that way you help build more marketable skills. There are a LOT of specialisations out there but really you would need at least 12 months doing the basics before you decide what you want to go after next. If you decide on cloud technologies you will need SAN technology experience and will need to go after some Linux skils rather than Windows.

    To make yourself the most marketable in the 12-18 month of your career a couple of Server 2008/2012 with exchange and SQL of some sort will help you apply for an Administrator role but you would need to be pretty dedicated to learn all that on your own with lots of matchsticks and coffee to keep you awake.

    Definitely do ITIL foundations 2011 is the new version its boring but a dawdle to pass.

    Do a networking cert CCNA does seem to be the most popular but there are other Networking courses out there that certification pays better. The Network + exam from Comptia is pretty easy and will give you a grounding in the basics.

    There is no quick solution in your first couple of years but good luck.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Find out what you like, then do it.

    Some years ago, I moved from a medical related job in to IT. I found that I enjoyed making web based applications more than I liked playing with pipettes, and wanted to make a career of it. I already knew what I enjoyed, which was a start, so I set about making a portfolio of my hobby projects. I used this experience to get a volunteer position writing the website for a charity, used this experience to get an evening job doing IT support (while still working my day job), then used this evidence of my skill / commitment to get my first job as a web programmer.

    I'd suggest that you don't worry about certificates, but find out what you enjoy doing. Offer your spare time to a worthy cause to help with their IT, write apps, write websites, do anything to show that you have commitment, initiative and basic skills. Then use this evidence to get your foot in the door with an employer.

    Avoid the commodity jobs of help desk or IT support if you can, look to see if you can use your medicinal experience to your advantage. Medicine is becoming increasingly computerised, someone needs to install, maintain and certify the equipment. Someone with experience in installing OSes, trouble shooting networks who also knows some of the medical technical terms, or who at least has some knowledge of the constraints of a clinical environment, would have a big advantage over anyone with simply an A+ cert.

  30. Stuman8484
    IT Angle

    Don't forget the non technicals...

    Most people here are suggesting technical skills you might want to learn. That is certainly a good start but for your first support role I feel it is more important that you can show your future employer that have all the other qualities that make a good support agent.

    I used to interview for 1st line helpdesk positions and 90% of the time we went for the person who had the better communication and troubleshooting abilities rather than techincal expertise. If you do get an interview, make sure you comunicate clearly and focus on your ability to provide the best possible service to your customers (the user base) and try not to portray yourself purely as a technical specialist.

    1. Spoonsinger

      Re: Don't forget the non technicals...

      Yep, but being a technical site, (supposedly), it might be worth pointing out that 'shit floats'. The original poster should know this from their medical background. Mind if that's they way they want to go, I couldn't blame them. (Mind shame and guilt arn't the way to riches).

  31. Hugh 5
    IT Angle

    Experience. Build (or better still write / code) something

    Virtually any academic qualification is out of date as soon as you get to the field. Being able to demonstrate logical, analytical reasoning to solve a problem backed by some experience in a particular tool will put you in much better stead.

    Better to be able to create something (code) or have an intimate knowledge of the market sector you will be servicing and great communication skills would be good.

    To get on the ladder, network (sic) like mad.

  32. Tezfair
    Thumb Up

    No qualifications but...

    As with most IT people, our career comes from an IT hobby. Mine did. I did go to a 2 year evening class for a HNC but what I was being taught was really out of date and completely irrelevant. in the end I left.

    I have been self employed since 2000 and in all the at time I have only ever had one phone call which asked if I had an MCSA (or something like that).

    Simple fact is its raw experience which counts.

    There is a place for getting qualifications, but that's usually to get the bigger paycheck by specialising in a specific area. Not even Technet can teach us everything

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When recruiting a Junior I'll ignore technical qualifications and the like. They tend to have very little to do with the real world slog of IT, what I look for is general enthusiasm for the subject at hand and basic common sense (you'd be amazed how few people have this.)

    Though I havn't been involved in large companies or helpdesks so most people I work with may be specialists in an area but are also generalists, and so we look for juniors who have the potential to do the same.

    I'll take an college drop out who built his own pc, plays counter strike and, when faced with the desk pod file access question says "I'll ask if the other users have the same problem" a job any day over a Comp Sci grad who constantly answers "I don't know..." with no effort to expand into "But I'd try and find the answer on google/colleagues/books".

  34. SirDigalot

    From what i am reading here, I think I agree

    my career started out in early college, I was doing a btec in aerospace engineering, thought it sucked and played around with computers, that was fun, it was a hobby, I loved it, then as a job I was an A/V tech, that was also awesome! ok, I was paid poopy, it was a small company, but it was so varied and the sense of accomplishment was actually quite warm and fuzzy! I needed more money took a warehouse job at British Airways, it paid great, benefits were good, but like a turd I thought I was destined for IT greatness, so I left that job, (moved to America married a local) and waited.

    My first job was helpdesk, and I thought it was the bees knees, I was in IT OMGWTFBBQSAUCE! I was a computer god all powerful! feel my root account of wrath!

    oh wait... "good morning this is [$name] who can I help you?"

    "I see your aol isn't working, and you cannot access your brokers account I can help with that..."

    "oh and it is my fault and I am a moron for breaking your aol, it worked yesterday.. I see"

    "oh it works now, yes I know I am an idiot and I will not let it happen again thank you"

    so I got some Microsoft certs and a couple of others A+ etc, still happy in the knowledge I will be seen as some day saving superhero, fast women and fat paychecks will be my rewards!

    In reality it was Fat women and fast paychecks...

    Now don't get me wrong, SOME parts of the job are interesting, but, it was a HOBBY then it became a CAREER, now all the passion has gone, there is no sense of accomplishment you fix one thing, and a day later it is broken again, you stop a massive issue that would have brought the company to it's knees, and no one knows, or if they do, they do not care, they only care when their widget app does not work or their email is stuck for 5 minutes, they only care when something bad happens, then you are the evil asswipe with the attitude. It is very hard not to get an attitude too, you are sitting there with console windows open, RDC windows open telnet sessions, you are conversing with the rest of your team trying to figure out why the XYZ platform is in the process of dying and taking the web app with it, and some manager comes up and asks inane questions about how can we stop this? is there anything I can do? why did this happen now? do you know this is affecting customers? Every bad thing that happens looks bad on you, every good thing that happens nobody notices until it breaks.. thankless

    I think Devs might have more fun out of their jobs, they at least produce something and it is noticeable.

    In short get industry certs, the current trendy boys are Cisco Microsoft, and virtualization, Linux is also quite well paid now for good admins, beg copy and steal erm... evaluate all the operating systems you can. If you really are interested in IT and I mean INTERESTED, it consumes your every moment (not gaming, not building home networks but interested in mundane scripting, switch configs firewall rules, updates, automating updates talking to idiots erm frustrated users, making a server or a network hum and buzz with activity, and you do not mind the thankless late night, long day,s weekends and holidays making sure nobody notices the next disaster ( that WILL happen) then you will enjoy it..

    Otherwise go to college the OU or whatever get an BA in business or an MBA and find work as an executive manager CEO etc, it will be more rewarding ( just remember us poor IT weenies when you are :D)

  35. SirDigalot

    From what i am reading here, I think I agree

    my career started out in early college, I was doing a btec in aerospace engineering, thought it sucked and played around with computers, that was fun, it was a hobby, I loved it, then as a job I was an A/V tech, that was also awesome! ok, I was paid poopy, it was a small company, but it was so varied and the sense of accomplishment was actually quite warm and fuzzy! I needed more money took a warehouse job at British Airways, it paid great, benefits were good, but like a turd I thought I was destined for IT greatness, so I left that job, (moved to America married a local) and waited.

    My first job was helpdesk, and I thought it was the bees knees, I was in IT OMGWTFBBQSAUCE! I was a computer god all powerful! feel my root account of wrath!

    oh wait... "good morning this is [$name] who can I help you?"

    "I see your aol isn't working, and you cannot access your brokers account I can help with that..."

    "oh and it is my fault and I am a moron for breaking your aol, it worked yesterday.. I see"

    "oh it works now, yes I know I am an idiot and I will not let it happen again thank you"

    so I got some Microsoft certs and a couple of others A+ etc, still happy in the knowledge I will be seen as some day saving superhero, fast women and fat paychecks will be my rewards!

    In reality it was Fat women and fast paychecks...

    Now don't get me wrong, SOME parts of the job are interesting, but, it was a HOBBY then it became a CAREER, now all the passion has gone, there is no sense of accomplishment you fix one thing, and a day later it is broken again, you stop a massive issue that would have brought the company to it's knees, and no one knows, or if they do, they do not care, they only care when their widget app does not work or their email is stuck for 5 minutes, they only care when something bad happens, then you are the evil asswipe with the attitude. It is very hard not to get an attitude too, you are sitting there with console windows open, RDC windows open telnet sessions, you are conversing with the rest of your team trying to figure out why the XYZ platform is in the process of dying and taking the web app with it, and some manager comes up and asks inane questions about how can we stop this? is there anything I can do? why did this happen now? do you know this is affecting customers? Every bad thing that happens looks bad on you, every good thing that happens nobody notices until it breaks.. thankless

    I think Devs might have more fun out of their jobs, they at least produce something and it is noticeable.

    In short get industry certs, the current trendy boys are Cisco Microsoft, and virtualization, Linux is also quite well paid now for good admins, beg copy and steal erm... evaluate all the operating systems you can. If you really are interested in IT and I mean INTERESTED, it consumes your every moment (not gaming, not building home networks but interested in mundane scripting, switch configs firewall rules, updates, automating updates talking to idiots erm frustrated users, making a server or a network hum and buzz with activity, and you do not mind the thankless late night, long day,s weekends and holidays making sure nobody notices the next disaster ( that WILL happen) then you will enjoy it..

    Otherwise go to college the OU or whatever get an BA in business or an MBA and find work as an executive manager CEO etc, it will be more rewarding ( just remember us poor IT weenies when you are :D)

  36. Ben Rose


    Do you know what MSCDEX is? Can you get a Soundblaster card working in Windows 3 without using QEMM?

    If not, I wouldn't bother.

    1. Sooty

      Re: MSCDEX

      meh... Soundblasters were easy, if you really want a challenge you want a 'soundblaster compatible' card! A high end model like a BluePoint card :)

      In all seriousness though, there are some other admin areas which underlay pretty much all companies out there. A passing knowledge of MQ admin wouldn't steer you wrong for a lot of places, although teh IBM courses and certifications are definitely in the "my company is paying for it" price range.

      It's not sexy, but almost every company has some sort of messaging infrastructure holding everything together and it needs administration. It's also pretty platform independent too, distributed MQ skills are pretty transferable.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: MSCDEX

      Yes, I remember those days. Even before that in fact, Pagemaker with the runtime Windows included. The earliest DOS installer I saw was 1.25 and remember dblspace mess and dr-dos fiasco with Win 3.1 error.

    3. s10

      Re: MSCDEX

      Kid's stuff. How about WfWG 3.11 creating a share / sending messages to/from a dual 5.25" floppy 8088 4MHz and not a lot of RAM.

  37. Velv

    Depends on your aspirations, but consider a course that teaches you how to conduct research, especially research using the Internet. Support roles are typically about finding the problem, then applying a fix, so skills in applying a logical diagnosis are key (and this is applicable to life, not just technology).

    There are very few technical course out there where the knowledge is not available via google, bing, yahoo, etc, IF you know how to look, and HOW TO SIFT the useful answers from the rubbish answers (this is the important bit).

    After a couple of years in IT, if you've been any good you'll get your next job because of your last or current one. It really is that nepotistic. Qualifications go out of date very quickly, unless you're prepared to invest in continued re-certification (and in my experience, people with too many certificates are usually useless at most of it)

    Getting that initial job might be difficult, so you should only rely on the words of a recruiter to tell you what you need. Find a friendly agency or two to phone and ask them what skills they are recruiting now.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    My first advice is don't do it.

    IT is not the glamorous well paid job that some people think it is. It is often tedious, stressful and constantly changing. (You know how to set up an Exchange 2000 server? Well bully for you, because we're moving to an Outlook fog/cloud.)

    You'll be stuck in an office for the rest of your days. Might be nice on rainy winter days, but most of the time you'll be wondering what that strange glowing orb outside is.

    If you insist on doing it, figure out what it is you want to focus on. You mention networking - get yourself a CCNA. You can practice using a Linux box and dynamips. Heck, even set up a few Olives for a Juniper qualification.

    Want DB administrator roles? Get yourself a few Oracle courses (NB. these also change all over the place).

    Some places ask for degrees, but some don't. We've interviewed a university dropout before, and have an ex-factory worker who is one of the most knowledgeable people in the place. Look at the job adverts for the type of roles you would apply for, and what they are asking for. A lot of the time your CV just needs the buzzwords to get past the HR drones, before the techies can really quiz you to see if you know your stuff.

  39. cheveron

    You can do a degree in London at night at Birkbeck


    Also if you're considering a change of career I'd recommend professional career counseling.

  40. DaLo


    One thing to consider - however good you are at building a home PC working in a corporate environment is very different. Helpdesk requires remote troubleshooting without being sat at the PC and dealing with users who are scared to even tell you what the full error message is. It isn't fun and it isn't glamorous, however it is the first step on a rung of a ladder (usually to second line support).

    With the amount of graduates who are looking for IT jobs who have got a computer degree and are willing to work for minimum wage the market is tough out there. I would agree that for an experienced candidate a degree is little more than icing on the cake and doesn't stand for much in real terms.

    So your first step is to decide whether you want to be a specialist or a generalist. Then look at the job boards for jobs you might be interested in. Keep a spread sheet of every qualification they state is either essential or desirable. Mark them down as such.

    After looking through 50 jobs in your area you should be able to see which qualifications are deemed the most sought after (or even the minimum) you need for your role.

    Then check out the length of time it takes to do the course (and availability in your area and your timetable), the costs and any extras you need (like time in industry or software or reading materials).

    Your spreadsheet should now show you the best qualifications V cost V time to complete. This should give you a good idea of which course is the best to invest in.

    Entry level jobs could be either helpdesk or a support technician. A technician is a bit more hands on and usually works for smaller companies. It is (IMHO) more interesting and allows you to quickly build up a skillset. A helpdesk can be a bit monotonous and could be specialised to a certain sector or package and so it isn't so valuable.

    If you are lucky enough to get a job then keep pushing for promotions every 12~18 moths or look elsewhere. You will gain the most experience if you move around a bit and don't get stuck in your ways picking up bad habits from one company. Also try to extol the benefits of your employer paying you to train on the job.

    In reality getting your first job will be your hardest at this stage and so you really do need a spot on CV (don't waste much time on your home build PC work it's not very relevant, work more on your logic problem solving, people skills text), a great interview technique and an instant likeable personality.

    Good luck.

    1. Matthew

      Re: Tricky...

      DaLo is spot on here. As a manger in a corporate environment, I expect anyone looking for a career in IT to spend a fair amount of time playing with tech at home. It shows that you are interested in the subject, however, a corporate environment is no place for someone to be playing.

      Environments are protected by change control and desktop images are standardised for a reason. I would not hire someone who could not see their way past downloading and installing a piece of freeware to solve a users problem. (You've invalidated the standardisation, now no-one else can support this user. Chances are this application is not backed up nor encrypted. You've added a new application to the Service Catalogue that the rest of the team will have to support, and chances are you've pissed off the Security Director who is going to get his bum kicked by the auditors.)

      I know lots of really good desktop support guys with Network or Server qualifications, all trying to get their big break and make it into SysAdmin teams. They are really good but it's tough to get the Desktop Support label removed.

      Certifications are only useful to prove that you are not bluffing when you are trying to get your foot in the door, so despite lots of other respondents saying they do fine without them, remember they already have an IT job.

      I'd go for the real value-adding jobs - network admin, SQL DBA, web developer, programmer. Support is unfortunately just seen as a commodity.

      Use your medical experience. Follow the charity route. Maybe even a medical charity. Good luck, in the right role, IT can be a really rewarding and fulfilling job.

  41. Arrrggghh-otron


    I would also say don't bother with IT support - unless you are lucky or know the right people, you will end up as the digital janitor. And it isn't fun.

    But if you are determined then I would say don't work for a small company in a support role. Unless you are lucky and pick a start-up that becomes successful or that gets bought out, you will get stuck with little prospects and little income to train your way out of that rut. A large company will likely offer paths for progression and training.

    Also avoid on-line training companies. The material is usually very poor and quite often wrong. That said not all on-line training is bad. I have taken a couple of free on-line courses from Stanford University and they have been very good though don't come with recognised qualifications.

    As for what qualifications *do* IT recruiters look for in a newcomer? Probably about 3 to 5 years experience in the thing that you are only likely to get experience on if you have been working at a large corporation for 10 years...

  42. ukgnome

    It depends

    What industry and what role are you planning to do/

    I have never bothered with a qualification and make about 36k for a technician support role. Of course, I am quite lucky, and have proven time and time again that a degree or course does not make you a better candidate. However if I was a fresh faced noob the I would probably go for ITIL and a few of MS courses to start with.

  43. TheUglyAmerican


    As others have suggested, if you can't do a degree, get some type of certification. You'll never get in the door for an interview without some sort of credentials.

  44. weevil

    IT is a nasty business, we all know it.

    Get some niche training on niche products that have high value. Things like the top end VM ones are highly sought after, same goes for specialist security software like the enterprise security such as CSP

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Customer Service Skills

    I moved into IT in 2001 with no qualifications inc GSCE's and from a catering background (would you like fries with your password reset?) and have built a successful career over the last 10 years and have recently moved into a senior Business IT demand role from a Service Delivery Role with just a foundation v2 ITIL qually to my name.

    So I would say to begin with all you need is good customer Service Skills the rest you learn on the job and keep the knowledge with you.....If you need to do functional qualifications for your chosen career path as you progress, then this cannot hurt.

    just my two pennies worth

  46. discontented
    IT Angle

    The networking track...

    There are so many routes you can take in IT (or IS) it's like a mine field. Like so many others who have posted before me, I too work in IT and I love my job (career)!

    My first IT cert was A+. Don't bother, waste of time / money. Look at MCP (microsoft Certified Professional) exams. They cost £100 a pop which is quite cheap compared to many other exams (CCNA I think around £250, Redhat sys admin £400) and you can build on them (one for MCP, 3 MCSA, 5 MCSE). They are 'current' as well. If you want to go down the linux track look at Comptia Linux+ / LPI 1. Quite a broad range and you will learn about linux but it probably won't make your CV stand out.

    You say your more interested in hardware and in particular, networking. Then, my friend, Cisco is the only path you should really consider here. Don't think though, just because you studied for and passed your CCNA you will get a job, it doesn't work that way. You need to be able to show you can apply your skills in the 'real world'. Get on a CCNA course - look at commsupport.co.uk and ask the trainer to endorse you at the end, it's the small things on a CV that can make the difference.

    I myself am a network / security engineer but it didn't happen for me over night and I was very lucky too. I started out on a help desk many moons ago and built up my skills and qualifications over time. Experience counts for a lot. Certs at a junior level may get you a interview but your personality and experience will get you the job. As someone has already said, I wouldn't look at technical competency when employing a help desk tech, I'd look for potential...

    Current IT Engineering Trends are

    Virtualisation - VMWare, Hyper-V and KVM

    Server tech - WIndows Serevr 2k8 / 2012 and Redhat

    Security - Cisco CCNA Sec, Cisco ASA, Checkpoint and to a lesser extent Juniper

    VoIP / IPT / collaborative comms - CCNA Voice, Microsft Lync

    Current IT Mgmt Trends:

    Security Auditing - CISSP, ISO 27001,

    Service Mgmt - ITIL

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The networking track...

      My CCNA exam was 100 quid or so, though that was a few years ago.

      Picked up the training material myself (online flashcards / second hand book and the dynamips emulator).

      Made little difference in terms of career progression or pay, as a large blue corporation soon took over and judged career progress by how many emails you send.

      I now work in healthcare IT, where the CCNA is useless, but the issues are interesting enough.

  47. jcuk
    Thumb Up

    1. Be Interested to learn something you don't understand.

    2. Be patient enough to understand it.

    3. Be able to sell that interest at an interview by displaying your knowledge in an enthusiastic manner.

    The Nix Route - Decent wages.

    - Throw a few VM's together (read up on distribution differences)

    - Start by installing servs or pick up a decent red hat book and work through it. Learn the basics, then how to host services, then things like load balancing and multi pathing.

    - Take a shot at recompiling a linux kernel with your own chosen modules built in.

    - Finally try to install gentoo linux (took me a few days but it teaches you a lot)

    - Go get a Linux support role job and work your way up the ladder from there.

    The MS Route - Not so decent wages.

    - Throw a few VM's together with Windows Server and Windows 7 Clients

    - Play around with setting up services, domains, active directory, dhcp etc etc. (good Windows book would help here)

    - Go get a 1st line support role and work your way up from there.

    The Database Route - Pretty Damn Good Wages

    - If it's oracle you're after, prepare to end your life for the next three years, you'll need a lot of money and time and you should aim for an OCP Cert.

    - Anything else, learn SQL first, try to combine knowledge from windows and linux and setup your own little java application from sourceforge, whether it be a workflow server or a CMS. Write custom SQL scripts to add backend functionality. Configure it all to run on a LAMP setup and even add load balancing to complicate matters.

    - Go ahead from here and learn database admin skills, again buy the book, but most importantly you should understand the general architecture of a DBMS.

    Finally, to backup your knowledge in these areas you will need networking experience (go for CCNA books), understanding of backups and DR situations (CompTIA A+ Stuff, again buy the books) and security (patched on at the end, I know, but CCNA will introduce this, follow it up with Cisco Security and best practises).

    But yes, whilst you're working on all of that, try to get on to a 1st line role somewhere. Gets your foot in the door and pays bills while you spend your free time learning.

    VMware is good but it's not so great unless you can work with multiple platforms and applications.

    Experience in things like security, big data, HPC clusters, cloud-related-gash and other stuff should come in time.

    Expect a lot of competition, what sets you out is presentation, interest and the ability to seriously oversell everything.

    Good Luck!

  48. Fur_Q

    ITIL qualifications are an easy starter - especially for a Helpdesk job. Relatively cheap to do, easy to pass and set you above any other non-technical people applying for a Service Desk role. I'd recommend ITIL Service Management Foundation and ITIL Intermediate Service Operations. Develop your technical skills once you get into an organization.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You don't have to give up work to take a degree

    People are right - you don't need qualifications to get on in IT. I don't have any and the only problem I have as a contractor is that I am over 60...

    If you really feel the need for a degree my son is following this path (he has a full time job):


    And he intends to follow it up with this:


    All via distance learning.

  50. Spoonsinger

    Ok answer the question correctly. What's the easy answer to this client....

    Q) Why is my computer so slow?

    A) Multiple:-

    1) You are a cheap skate retard who thought buying something from PC World/Comet at you thought was a bargain was a good idea. I don't want f**king anything else to do with you or anyone you know, you are an idiot.

    2) Ok, lets try and download all the service releases, hotfix's to the operating system, updates to the 'preloaded' anti-virus software and see where we go. Ok this is going to take a bit of time. Nope I don't know because of the limited bandwidth your ADSL product is giving me. No I don't mind sitting here most of the night for the little automated bar to move across the screen.


    In one of these scenarios you get to have a life. The other you get to have really bad coffee and people standing over you saying 'what's it doing?'

  51. Disintegrationnotallowed


    I guess as another voice, the only opinion I havent seen here is one which asks what are you willing to do? Where would you work? What kind of thing do you love doing? How much money do you want to earn?

    I am looking for a new role at the moment, in my area, project management, most of the the big money is in Financial services (for example FX trading, derivatives), in the centre of London, or in software development. If I was you and money/location was no object I wouldn't look at helpdesk roles, I have seen a number of apprentice type roles around at the moment doing networks or hardware. Try and get into those rather than helpdesk, the best helpdesk professionals I know were not techies, they had enough IT savvy to clear the idiot questions, and knew their limits.

    I only know one person who converted from helldesk to technical, and to be honest he was already running the site IT when he moved into proper IT, he quickly got picked up to work in networking when a role became available.

    Fundamentally try and get the lowest paid/most menial technical job, actually doing something. If you are willing to work anywhere in the country all the better (note if it is away from your home, work out if you could afford to live in B&B, etc). You may need to sacrifice for a couple of years to get the experience you need.

    I would also say that as an IT person nowadays you need to be right on the forefront of whatever is in vogue, or you need to have legacy skills. Anything in the middle is now considered to be "off the shelf" and will have either been outsourced (for example Win Server/DB) to India/Asia/South Africa, or will be about to be in any medium sized company. You cannot compete with a tecchie in India who earns 1/7 th of what you do (in fact project mgt is going that way, where it is cheaper to employ 5 crap PMs, and hope one gets it right, than one in the UK).

    Be prepared for a life of working long hours, with no recognition, where your skills and experience need to be kept up to date. BE willing to move around for your first 5-10 years, and get experience in lots of places. However it can be a rewarding career with lots of great people, and you wlaways feel llike youre in it together (a sense of embattlement is usual in IT).

  52. SuperHoopMango
    IT Angle

    Lost in a field of chaff

    Hope you can read through all the chaff, and find the wheat that you're after!

    Anyway....My 2 pence!

    Around 5 years ago, I found myself disallusioned with the work I was doing. So, after chatting to someone in IT, they advised doing the A+. I took an online course WHILST I worked and found this to be really straight-forward. I had been like you and had built home systems. I thought this would stand me in good stead! When I moved house, I tried to move job. I got VERY lucky and was offered a 3 month temp contract at a local college. They weren't actually interested in my qual, they just saw the enthusiasm.

    That contract got extended, and then extended, and then made permanent! 5 years on, and I have moved again. I'm not IT manager for a small company. From little acorns....

    Don't let the doommongers and cynical old gits put you off. If you have a passion for IT, then go for it.

    Good luck!

    1. SuperHoopMango
      Thumb Up

      Re: Lost in a field of chaff

      That should, of course, read "I'm NOW IT manager!"

      Also, building home systems has little relevance to either public or private sector....in my experience.

      One thing I would suggest, is that if this is an area you want to go into.....Bone up on Deployment services, as this is where all the system builds come in. There is no REAL hardware building....but OS deployment is critical, and understanding it could be enough to get your foot through a door.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Word of advice...

    ... Before taking the leap, find someone you know who's worked in IT that enjoys it.

    If you manage to succeed in this impossible task, you'll at least have a rose-tinted view of the pitfalls of working in IT (job satisfaction and pay aren't that high).

    Another tip, don't stay in one place ... Rinse everything you can experience-wise out of a place and move on, it's the only real way of moving forward in an IT career.

    I started off 15 years ago on a Helpdesk, before moving to front-line support, to second-line, to Sys-Admin, then self-employed for a couple of years before moving into an IT Architect role.

    I know people I worked with 5-10 years ago who haven't moved on or received a pay-rise since I left them there ...

    I hate my job, but at least it pays well enough now ... I'm one of the lucky few!

    Anon ... Because my boss probably reads this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Word of advice...

      Oh yes, I have an unrelated degree and zero IT qualifications ...

  54. Mark 153


    I'm assuming (possibly incorrectly) that you work for the NHS. It's a bit organisation.

    Is the IT outsourced? Even if it is, the outsourcing contract will suck and there'll be a man who does all your local IT on the side.

    Talk to your manager, tell him your aspiration and see if you can get a secondment. See if you can make it a end-of-year deliverable.

    Even if you can only get a day a week shadowing the local techie. It won't cost him anything (not his personnel budget) and he'll appreciate the help.

    It'll all add up and you'll get plenty of experience working with users working in a high pressure environment.

    Best foot on the ladder there is. After all a year, one day a week, is still a year. After that, you can blag it.

  55. WhoTheWhatNow

    don't do it

    Keep it as a hobby. It will drain the good out of you. Working in IT is a bit like chocolate, great once in a while, but if you’re doing it all day every day you’ll end up in some state.

    If you must, get a degree if you don’t have one already, doesn't matter in what, then get an IT postgrad dip. If you want to start out at the help desk just get a job in a call centre, you’ll only be reading from a script so it’s all the same. Without the degree though you’ll be setting a point whereby you won’t be able to get past, unless you’re a stellar performer. No offence, but your probably not. If you were you’d know better than to get into IT.

  56. TekGuruPA


    Unless the UK IT industry is completely different from here in the U.S., my advice is don't go into IT. There are countless people who are "good with computers" always trying to get into the industry, resulting in entry-level, non-degreed employees being treated as disposable, cheap labor. Sorry, labour.

    On the personal, non-economic side of things, I would say the same as respondents would if you posted this on slashdot. "My advice, after over a decade of experience in the industry: Run. As fast as you can. And don't look back." Making an enjoyable hobby into your career often doesn't work out the way people anticipate it will. E.g., I have a Core i7, 16GB RAM beast of a PC at home. I haven't fired it up in six months. The LAST thing I want to do when I get home is touch a computer.

    Also, on the more personal side, you have to understand the visceral loathing that many IT pros have for n00bs. And that loathing is rarely pure arrogance. Many IT pros do NOT hate working with n00bs because of all the things that they don't know. IT people hate it because n00bs don't even know how much they don't know, which makes n00bs incredibly dangerous and indescribably irritating.

    Not what you want to hear, I'm sure, but that's how I see it.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do your own work?

    Look at jobs, someplace like 'indeed'. Make up a list of requirements certs & skills to match. Seems easy enough.

  58. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    An alternative suggestion

    Think small business. The IT sector serves us quite badly. Vendors don't love us, because we're not rich, and don't buy in bulk. But we've got all the IT problems of bigger firms, so you can learn lots of skills at once.

    Do you know a plumber? He's probably out all day, needs email on the go nowadays, may even do proper invoices, his books and pay his taxes. If so, he needs a laptop, accounting software, backups and to get his email on his mobile. You can do all this in a few hours, recommend iPhone/Android, set him up with Gmail/Office 365/Outlook.com whatever. Then configure the phone, and laptop, set him up with one of the online accounting packages, set up a backup scheme and get paid. You can do this all in the evenings after work, and get paid for on the job training. If you don't fancy working for someone else there's good money for working for us small companies. You could easily set up on your own and just do that, or use it as training. If you've enough clients to sell some MS software, then you can get on their re-seller program really easily (so I'm told) and get all the free MS stuff for yourself to learn on, use for the company.

    We've got 2 broken laptops that need fixing (beyond me - and I'm all we've got for IT), we need to look at moving our Exchange server from our current vendor to our own office (or the cloud), also beyond me. Get a junk-mail scanner set up (I've no time at the moment), get some new phones and configure them (I'll do that - but would pay someone if we had someone). Nothing huge, but there'd be something from us every few months if we used someone regularly, and I've been asked by 3 companies recently to recommend someone. If you're good you'll get recommended, and remember the customers pay you because they don't understand it, so working = good.

    One of those was the company we rent the office from. I wish I could recommend someone decent to them, as then I wouldn't have to keep fixing their network for them...

    Most work can be done in the evenings, so you can start while doing your current job, then either use it as experience to learn and prove you can do it, or set up on your own. That's a way to get paid reasonably for helpdesk. Could work if you've got a varied circle of friends/acquaintances. My brother joined a rugby club when he ran his own printing company, because he got so much work from the cricket club and people saying 'a mate from cricket can help you...'

    Good luck.

  59. Jonathan Samuels

    First get qualified in what you are currently working in unless you think its highly specialised and don't want to stay in that area.

    Then you a choice between getting qualified in what you would like to work with in the future and getting qualified in what might get you promoted in your current position (they may be different). Do you want to be be programmer or work with infrastructure

    Qualifications do count, they don't prove you actually know anything but generally you won't get a foot through the door no matter how much of a guru you are in real life

    Microsoft qualifications are useful and relatively cheap (as in £90 per exam + books)

    ESX is very nice too but thats a £1500 course + exams

    Cisco stuff is good but its somewhat of a speciality

  60. walatam

    Do things that show initiative

    IMHO candidates who can talk knowledgeably about their subject and show a willingness to learn are better than those who have the qualifications and no passion for the job. You have taught yourself some useful stuff so use that to demonstrate your competence in an interview.

    Look at where you want to work and figure out what you need to get a job there. Different company's will require different levels of qualification.

    Look at MOOC's (openlearning.com, coursera.org and so on) and see what you can find in the field of computing. Read books to extend your knowledge. Build a network at home (not just a Windows one, either).

    I'd be less worried about getting courses under your belt and more about working somewhere that you can claim real life experience.

  61. The Vociferous Time Waster

    Choose your pathway

    If you are not interested in development then you are really looking at network or server. Sysadmins need to have a pretty wide versing in the basics of networking plus all the higher level stuff like DNS, DHCP, SMTP and the vendor specific stuff like the contents of MS or Linux courses.

    If you plan to do any sort of management you'll want to look at ITIL although not if you want to work for an international company, it's a UK thing and a lot of yanks have never heard of it.

    If you want to take the network route then you really need to nut up and get a CCNA to start with as it teaches you enough to know your way around most of the other vendors and know what words to look for in their GUI to achieve what you would with a few commands via SSH on a cisco box. There is a big leap from the 'gamer's toolkit' to working with enterprise systems but if you start out in a reseller they'll never know the difference and you should be able to blag your way to getting some good experience and then it's up to you if you manage to learn from your mistakes.

    I started life in a reseller and now work in the enterprise network engineering team at a company you have definitely heard of.

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here are my views to add/support/counter the above.

    First degrees. I would love to say they are not needed, but I have worked at two places where they were required even for entry level, however on both occasions the type of degree did not matter.

    Second CompTIA. It's a good job I've not had to look at CVs for about 6 years now as I had never heard of scheme/company. The reality is most qualifications are now worth little. Don't do any you have to pay for because chances are they are of no value - what does not help is the fact that a lot of techies are coming out of the Indian sub-continent having just done courses and got their certifications without any work experience. Even before this very few were considered of note. now less.

    ITIL - if you want 3 days of boredom for the foundation and can do it for free, then maybe, but very few jobs need it and most that do are management level.

    Experience - one thing already covered by many is self builds. This you can detail on your CV to show experience. These days linux is probably the way to go, plus cheap, but don't knock a windows server farm. Build a box, do something interesting with it, maybe try three or four different linux distributions then go back to one - allowing you to mention it on your CV though you need to think of a reason behind your final choice - note most Linux servers I've seen have been Redhat, so if you decide to go the linux route you're better mastering that one something like SUSE or Debian.

    Job situation in the UK is not good, actually it stinks. Too many companies either have or are going off-shore for their IT as it's a lot cheaper - we're talking in the realm of 70-80% cheaper per person. Support jobs also can be mind numbing and spirit breaking, you really want to get in another way. For the ability to move across areas you're really looking at a bigger company or and out-sourcer/consultancy as they often have internal movement mechanisms in place, the theory being that it's cheaper to move someone across and retrain to a new tech than bring some one fresh in and teach them the company ways (aside from the cost of hiring as well, which is not cheap). Note internal transfers does not guarantee salary levels, these can go down if you move to a more junior role. Still one friend of mine has now done four separate roles at the bank where he works (UNIX, Desktop, Mainframe, Project Management).

    Now the down side and the reason I'm posting this anonymously.

    Would I advise someone to work in the IT industry in the UK. Back in the halcyon days before the dot-com crash I would have said yes. in the last 10 years I would say no. Many jobs are going, if not gone. Pay is poor unless you've already got to the more senior levels. Red tape is ever increasing, leading to more and more frustration. Personally I'd have left the industry 5 years ago if I could have afforded the pay cut and not been in a senior enough position to part protect myself from off-shoring (or to get a suitable role if I do get caught).

    The main issue is IT is seen as an unavoidable cost by the bean counters, so any cheaper alternative is considered, the main one being off-shore. The quality of many Indians IT worked may be poor (there are some very very good ones as well), but it does not matter if they take twice as long if they are under quarter the cost.

    Having said all that, if you're not put off by what myself and others have said, then you're actually probably best looking for small companies looking for low end IT workers - use self build experience on your CV to get yoru foot in the door. Pay tends to be less, but they are more likely to help you out in your carear. You also may be able to pick up lots of side techie skills by helping colelagues, and this can all count later on when you're looking for your second or third post.

    Good luck which ever way you go.

  63. FreeTard

    Do a BSc at night

    I'm currently doing a BSc in IS & IT - management, project management, databases, coding along with the usual sciencey bits. Even though I have another degree, and many multiples of industry certs, I have found what I have learned so far to be of great help is my job - in IT.

    One year to go for the finals and then I'll likely do an MSc in something, or another degree in yet another field (for a laugh). Sure it gets me out of the house!

    If you want to advance in IT then it is a great start. Plus employers will take you more seriously.

  64. ewozza


    I don't have any IT qualifications, and have never felt any need to get them.

    I was hired by a bank when I was 20 on the basis of an aptitude test - they were having trouble finding the right people, so they widened the net. Since then I've worked freelance for governments, merchant banks, power companies, Microsoft Corporation - none of them even asked about my qualifications.

    I currently build phone apps for a living, working from home. Give it a try - its much more fun than being a suit.

  65. James Gosling

    My thoughts....

    I think the important thing to realize is that IT is now very much a profession. The number one thing you need is experience, but relevant technical qualifications are also important and will become more so as you progress in whatever route you take through it (certainly if you want to maximize earnings). No IT is not the pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow, not sure it ever really was, there have been brief moments of opportunity over the years where money has been thrown about but on the whole what you will get paid will reflect how good and rare your skills are versus the demand for them - what is in demand this year may not be next year. Change is the one constant in IT, if you cannot handle change then stay well clear of IT. Most IT knowledge has a short shelf-life, to work in IT you need a commitment to lifelong learning and self-development. These days companies will rarely pay for any serious IT training, preferring to bring in consultants or contractors with the qualifications already. At some point in your career in IT you will probably want to be a contractor or consultant, it's how you will pay for all those expensive technical qualifications you've earned. But all this is longer term. Actually getting into IT is going to be very difficult. As Network Administrator I had a regular supply of volunteers ready and willing to work free of charge just to gain experience, even then I had to turn most of them down because showing someone else how to do a job takes you away from your own work and as with most teams in IT these days we were a small team managing a large infrastructure. I think the advice given by some to go for an ITIL qualification is sound, as is taking a non technical approach to getting your foot into the IT department. Frankly a geek who plays with computers in his bedroom and cannot communicate well is of little use in todays IT world, enthusiasm is good of course. There's not much point in shouting about coding/programming skills for a helpdesk job. And on the subject of helpdesks its important to realize there is not necessarily a natural path of progression from helpdesk to a technical career in IT, its a different skill set and only very few will ever make the cross over. A degree is pretty much useless in IT. If you feel uncomfortable about not having a degree on your CV then enrol on an Open University course, once your foot is in the door its entirely up to you if you follow through on that course of study. Initially you will not want to try and specialize too soon, you need to be flexible and simply seize any opportunities, later it will pay to carve out more specialist skills so you can reep better financial rewards, and find interesting work! Unfortunately aside from the latest in vogue technical skills the jobs which pay the most in IT are the ones no one else wants to do because they are so damn boring! Above all Good luck!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: My thoughts....

      James, have a look at your keyboard, right-hand edge, about half way up there is an enter key. You can use this to create something called a paragraph.

      It's useful when you wish to be legible.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hobby to Career

    Building PCs may be an interesting hobby, but as a career IT can be mindnumbing. As others have said, the equipment is usually bulk bought with a service contract, so most of your work will be software.

    To paraphrase Frankie Boyle:

    "I got into IT because I enjoyed building PCs. I later learnt that this is like enjoying burgers and deciding to become a cow."

  67. TonyHoyle

    Support is the wrong place to start

    If you start at entry level support you're a receptionist. The reason the bar to entry is so low is you're not expected to know any IT and you won't have any chance to learn any either.

    Agreed with much of the above - if the reason you want to get into IT is for the pay etc. then you've picked the wrong career. That ship has sailed.. I earn only 60% of what I did 5 years ago and my job is harder. And that's normal. The days of 20%+ annual pay rises are long gone.

    OTOH if you're doing it because you like working with computers then it may be worth doing, but start at entry level programming not support... and you're going to have to get whatever qualifications are 'trendy' at the moment to get your foot in the door* (haven't heard of any of the ones mentioned above.. when I did it it was HND at a minimum), then be treated like shit for at least 5 years before you have the experience to work your way up the ladder. That much hasn't changed.

    * The qualifications won't actually tell you anything - if you've got any interest in computing at all you already know everything (and more, probably) they're likely to teach - but without them your CV will be straight in the bin.

    ** Thinking about it, we have no formal qualification - it's all experience, and we don't read CVs until late in the recruitment process, if at all.. but as a small company we can get away with that. Larger companies often use recruitment companies - who basically strip your CV for keywords then match with requirements and send everyone to interview who appears to match. Hence having a CV with lots of relevant qualifications/buzzwords on it is essential.

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Qualifications Worthwhile?

    To make it in the IT industry you have to know a number of technologies.

    J2EE/Oracle - Large Corporations.

    ASP.NET.SQL Server - Small/Mid Size Businesses

    PHP/MySQL - Very Cheap Visualized (Shared) Internet Hosting

    You could learn SQL from a database neutral point. This would allow your DB code to run with little change across all the Database Management Systems. To improve speed you would then have to rewrite a little with DB specific code. Knowing what is ANSI SQL and DB specific code is huge advantage. Eg Oracle has many functions which help with manipulating dates/times which the other DB's require more lines of SQL to achieve.

    Of the Web server technologies Visual ASP.NET is the easiest to learn. This does mean you dont fully know what is happening underneath but you could later top up skills by learning more about asp.net code. Furthermore asp.net is used by businesses and shared virtualized internet hosting. With J2EE you would mainly be restricted to working for large corporations and with PHP mainly cheap internet hosting providers.

    Having said all the above I used to work for a IT consultancy and development staff are not regard highly. You are constantly reminded that there are armies of Indian software developers and how you are easily dispensable. It is these organizations that pay nearly 50% more to non computer science educated employees who do noting more than produce worthless specification documents in English. If they at least knew UML and described business processes using Use Cases, Activity Diagrams and State Charts then the programmers life would be much simplified.

    So to answer your original question Which Qualifications are worthwhile? - You could be more successful with just your University degree in Geography.

  69. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    couple of things

    " If you think your manager/company is going to offer you an automatic pay-rise every year, forget it" - true, you need to be a politician for that.

    "** Thinking about it, we have no formal qualification - it's all experience, and we don't read CVs until late in the recruitment process, if at all.. but as a small company we can get away with that. Larger companies often use recruitment companies - who basically strip your CV for keywords then match with requirements and send everyone to interview who appears to match. Hence having a CV with lots of relevant qualifications/buzzwords on it is essential."

    Also true - if the recruitment company is no more than a box shifter (most are, and some employers recognise that and just don't use those recruiters).

    Worst interview i ever had - also turned out to be the most instructive:

    "Here's a PC, connected to a switch that uplinks to network. PC won't go online. Fix it, whatever it takes. Wipe them if you have to, just get it online. I'll be back in an hour".

    No more clues.

    Having said that, today I've been exchanging emails with a "colleague" (I use the term extremely loosely) who has a reasonably well paying job as an "Specialist" but can't even get sound playing (i have a strong suspicion he couldn't find the mute checkbox that was checked), and was hired on the basis of a CV that said he could do IT support. No network skills, no non-Windows skills, and according to some co-workers not so hot on the people skills thing either.

    A: if you do go the support route, everyone's problem is important - to them, even if not to you. Don't make that muppet's mistake and treat people as if they are inconveniencing him when they ask for help. Even if it's amazingly easy and trivial, make them feel "looked after", as if it was something easily overlooked. Laugh in private - or share on here :)

    B: if you go the developer route, -formal- business analysis skills are over-rated - again, making people feel as if you're taking problem away from them just works (this by the way is how the muppet got his support job) - but don't take the p*ss, otherwise you'll be hired back to run NHS IT. Although no-one could accuse that 'nice' Mr Granger* of having people skills (yes that's based on face-to-face experience). Once you do the people thing, the business analysis should just become obvious - because people will tell you, and you'll see straight away that not everyone has the same idea of what you're there to do. Trick is to find the right person. Then convince her/his boss. :)

    C: if you don't have any hands-on skills, but know the jargon (although not a clue what it means), go into recruitment

    Good luck, hope things work out - but seriously, don't waste time on an IT-specific degree if you already have a degree-level hard science or engineering qualification, and don't spend money on vendor-specific courses until you've got hands-on experience. E.g. for Linux, an earlier poster said build yourself a media box - good plan. For Windows, make Vista efficient. Ok, forget that second idea, never going to happen.

    Oh, and read BOFH. Religiously. :)

    * who, by the way, started an IT degree but actually graduated in something else instead. Earned a fortune making people believe he understood IT. When i was a (very) junior on one of his project teams, he wanted to know why he had to use approved antivirus software before being allowed to plug a personal laptop into company network.

  70. Charles Manning

    Why say a degree is impossible?

    You don't have to quit your job and be a full time student to get a degree.


  71. The Original Steve


    ...is worth a lot at entry level.

    Took someone on who I felt was a better fit on the team in terms of personality, but other than tinkering at home he'd only ever worked as a shelf stacker. (He's 20 mind!)

    I asked a few questions about current tech to gague his interest in it. If candidates know what a SAN is (just what it stands for, or what it's used for. Even "Storage" is a valid answer) then it suggest they at least try to keep up on development with enterprise tech. Someone who WANTS to learn is beter than someone who doesn't in my opinion.

    A couple of years on a helldesk, hinting that you want to learn, do a self-taught A+ and Network+ and go in with the attitude that you're not experienced, but you're determined, want to learn and LOVE troubleshooting and customer service. That's what most people, IMHO would look for when getting a traniee / PFY in. If it's an entry level position a clean slate and desire to learn is the best I could ask for. The paperwork is just a useful deciding tool if stuck between a couple of candidates.

    - PLAY! OSS is great, but I most companies don't want trainee staff around Linux boxes, and I'd wager there's less in use out in corporate world. Enjoy playing with every platform, but become a god on desktop Windows.

    - A+ / Network+ are good, entry level bits of paper. But they show you know fundementals - nothing more. Self-study is cheap and will boost your credentials

    - ESXi and Hyper-V are good freebie places to look at. Create a VM host and use the host to create test VM's for your learning machines!

    - MS do free online virtual machines with training guides. They're actuall quite good. Imagine others provide something similar too.

    - Enterprise versions of most software can be obtained via trial licences / eval copies from most big vendors.

    - If you have a pro or ent version of Windows fire up gpedit.msc and play. I'd suggest in a VM if possible. Same with Windows firewall (advanced though).

    - Keep ontop of industry news. El Reg, Neowin, The Inq and BBC Tech News are some of my favourites.

    - Everyone needs platforms, web servers, databases, mail servers and directory services. Platforms are the starting point. Unless you want to be a DBA I suggest knowing different vendors, editions and maybe a play installing, but otherwise don't go in to deep. DBA is a job in itself and sits in IS rather than Infrastructure.

    Most of all - enjoy it. Being enthuastic is your best bet. WIthout qualifications or experience behind you, you're going to need to sell yourself on your personality. I'd suggest going in as willing to learn and be shaped as possible, whilst showing your love for IT, customer service and desire to get into enterprise IT.

    Good luck!

  72. nuclearstar

    How long are you prepared to wait

    I started in IT just over 10 years ago, failed my A levels, too much dossing.

    Eventually got a job as an Office Junior in a printers. Small companies like that often have very few IT staff, so I managed to integrate my normal day of job adding stuff to excel spreadsheets and helping the 2 IT people out, usually just trying to fix someones connection to a printer or the network, then after 6 months managed to get a job in IT as a nightshift operator, doing backups, checking schedules ect. 3rd job was a Desktop Support role, very interesting but i soon got bored of it. Now I am with one of the biggest IT solutions suppliers in the country, yes a lot of people hate the company I work for, but I enjoy my job and am a Lead Technical Analyst now, in charge of various virtualised infrastructures.

    Point is, I have no qualifications in IT at all, not a single letter to put to my name, my experience first off was just home build PC, pretty much like you. I have worked my way up and dont regret it at all.

    My advice is to get yourself vmware player, download windows 2008 evaluation and install that, play around with it, install IIS and get some .NET web applications setup, you can get loads from hotscripts.com. Also setup and install AD is pretty easy to be honest.

    When comfortable with that, try installing a few linux distros and setup a few web services on that. Also to note, Citrix is a big player too, and you can sign up on the site and download a 365 day trial of their full Xenapp software, took me about a day to install with no knowledge of it beforehand.

    You will likely pick up networking/firewall skills as you go on. If your employer offers to get you a qualificiation then jump at the chance, never a bad thing for free training. Make sure you read the small print though, they sometimes put in if you leave within 3 years, you have to pay for the training.

    Virtualisation is pretty big at the moment in my experience, so do atleast have a play at home with vmware and citrix virtualisation. If you are enthusiastic about it, then you really do pick things up fast.

  73. Shasta McNasty

    This one appears to have been missed.

    You could try the following:

    Install a mainframe emulator on you PC.

    Buy a COBOL training course/book from ebay

    Add JCL & SQL to the above training.

    Earn a fortune from large businesses that haven't upgraded their systems for many, many years and all their old COBOL programmers have retired/died/stopped caring.

    Businesses are acquiring data at blinding speeds yet have no idea what they're going to do with it.

  74. Pat 4


    Sorry but without a school diploma of some kind, or some kind of certification from some morganization... no manager will even look twice at your CV...

    At the moment... you are still just a user... sorry.

  75. dark1here

    Whick qualifications

    My son got ME when 15 years old, spent 5 years in bed. Computers and the internet were his only outlet.

    No GCse, A Levels. He started on a Helpdesk for Microsoft Office products mainly Excel and Word.

    He started doind MCSE qualification with Microsoft on line, and Now has 18 including MCTP s. Having donea lot of network work, he got on the BP team. running their worldwide VPN. From there he took Citrix and Cisco exams. He now is a valued techie with majors on commercial contracts with Major worldwide banks.

    He says that IT graduates, tend to be generally out of date when they leave university, and they have to learn the same sort of stuff as he has, so why end up with a £40K millstone round their neck?

    1. Aldous

      Re: Whick qualifications

      the only thing a degree adds is that it shows you have commited to something for 3+ years. If your one of those types that goes to uni to get a 2:1 and liver damage then yeah nothing to add but you can do some great research that yoou won't be given such free reign to do in a job.

      Kudos to you son though sounds like despite illness he bootstrapped himself into the area (finance/gas/oil) where the higher paid IT jobs are.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Whick qualifications

        No. A degree shows you have done more than just commit to something for 3+ years. It sounds like your[sic] the type that goes to uni[sic] to get a 2:1 and liver damage.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Whick qualifications

      I went the same way (anon for obvious reasons!). Did my GCSEs and A-Level's. Got consistant IT grades there and continued doing IT as a hobby also. Even learnt how to use a Amstrad Commodore at 5/6 years old! Said no to university and learnt my craft at a private school who by chance were looking for an apprentice and were growing from an all-girl school to a mixed-school. My manager was employed a year previous and had visions to grow the IT (which was 4/5 years out of date in 2006). Once my manager weeded out the other rubbish in our team, we managed to go through two server upgrade cycles and learnt building servers, managing AD/DNS/DHCP, routers, switches and the value of good customer service. People always come back to you if you're nice and will back you up if the stinking attitude (that I saw with the previous tech's) is not there. Got promoted twice and ended up the 2nd in command and looked after the general helpdesk/support guys.

      In my time since then, I've learnt Cisco CCNA (still not passed due to personal reasons) but gone on to manage kit in data centre's and manage web environments/troubleshoot web tech in a smalll business, medium business and now starting a new job earning 40k+ at a top web firm in their industry at the age of 26. Will be working as a top sys admin in their operations team. I've only got here by hard work, continous curiousity in IT, honesty, learning from mistakes and becoming confident in what I know from bottom to top in IT.

      Degrees will get people in high-level programming/project/managerial roles for top co's. But if you want to be the best sysadmin / techie; work hard to want to understand everything about IT (desktop to server to general networking) and then specialise in what you enjoy most. For me, that's web/networking technologies. Also, learning to be proactive is key as well as spotting weak points in systems or bugs in software causing regular crashes will get you brownie points with your bosses.

      1. dwa

        Re: Whick qualifications

        I am just interested to know the ages (approximate) of the techs that your team needed to ''weed out'' at the school you worked at?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Whick qualifications

          One was late 20s when I started (at 19) and the other late 50s. The guy who was in his late 20s was a degree educated guy. Very bright, but very lazy. Could of taken the manager's job, but didnt. Then got arsey with the manager for not doing things way (although he was responsible for the awfully built Asus P4 barebone machines he ordered before my manager appeared that were dirty cheap and horrible maintain - we replaced them very quickly!). This guy went on to become an IT Manager at a local law firm on a bucket full of money and then moved to the states with his new girlfriend.

          The guy who was in his late 50s had a very interesting story. Basically worked for the school for 15+ years. Was the only tech there being managed by the head of science at the time. Did what he wanted and that's probably why the IT suffered. Not discounting his work though as he was very clever and could script VB until the cows came home! Made some very clever stuff. But his efforts were distorted by his horrid personal life and didn't move up the chain as a manager that should of been his. I suspected he was autistic (from his extreme values and literal understanding on things). Weeding out was the wrong word looking back what I said, but these guys werent being productive. I was a shy guy coming in, but luckily my manager put the time into making me grow as a competitent sysadmin who took decisions proactively. Having come from another public school, my manager wanted to set the bar high for good customer service/reliability and we both pushed for that.

          The finance server (that also did the whole school e-mail too) stuck in a bottom cupboard near the door with easy access and one of the finance administrators having an admin password to the whole system sums up the attitude of the previous gen technicians there. And they were even nice enough to punch a whole in the wall in the cupboard for ventilation. Charming security.

          1. dwa

            Re: Whick qualifications

            Thanks anonymous - that's a great run down on those guys and their story. I think there are lessons for us there. What I see guys seeking progression in their career but can't - for whatever reasons. Maybe they needed to take a jump into the unknown. Instead a gentle push was probably the best thing that could ever happen for them.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Whick qualifications

              I'd love to go further with the stories, but want to keep it short and sweet for anonymity. I'm still learning a lot myself having been in IT only 7 years. All 3 jobs (excluding the new job I'm moving into next week) have been very different. All different industries, different attitudes and different levels of competency in IT.

              Everyone should be brave enough to step into the unknown and push themselves. Isn't that what life is about? The two guys I left running the IT with my manager will probably end staying there for many years because they're only moving when pushed (by redundancy or the nature of short term contracts). That's fair enough and if they're happy, so be it. But I'd be unhappy to sit so comfortably in a job that it becomes repetitive and that my skills aren't being stretched. I'm hoping to become someone who can sell their skills on a independent basis and go into consultancy eventually after turning 30 (as long as circumstances don't suddenly change).

              There's room/opportunity for everyone in the IT industry as long as they are engaged and want to learn more with every step they take. From what I'm finding at the moment, companies want engaged employees who have a very consistent experience track record. I'm surprised my lack of a degree or major qualifications hasn't stopped me moving up the chain. Maybe that's just the nature of the beast at the moment.

  76. SwedishCodeMaffia

    Don't bother

    Unless you were born with an interest - seek happiness, fortune and fulfillment elsewhere

  77. rhydy
    Thumb Down

    sideways slide

    You sound very enthuastic. I have done nothing but It quals since graduating 15 years ago (ok a brief break doing OU). My advice...similar to the others, forget about competing with the third world and automated tools, build your career in the medical industry and find rare/niche area where you can channel all that enthusiasm for tech into some new amd exciting field. Write software drivers for medical stuff, become a whizz in excel for medical computations, build cheap commodity medical devices from old PC bits, but do not undersell yourself as an IT support chap, no offence to IT support chaps...but their under loved by the finance department and staying that way.

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have been an IT consultant for 19 years. In that time, I have been an IT salesman, an engineer, a web developer, and a database builder / admin. Currently I run an IT company in London where myself and two other engineers support a wide range of clients. I try to spend some of my time building database / web projects - which we do in 3 - 6 months per project, and sell to our clients for up to £25k (and then reuse for other new clients). My company is happily ticking over, and produces about £300,000 - 400,000 turnover per year. If I had my time over, I would have dived more fully into the database / web part of the whole thing. As it is, I get to spend little time programming because I have to be a manager and engineer.

    My recommendation is to try to drop straight into web / database programming rather than eventually ending up there. Leave the hardware to the hardware monkeys because if you get involved, you'll find it hard to break out (after all, I'm not going to stop going to see clients to plug their network cable back in for £100.00 per hour because I'd rather be programming). Programming may seem a daunting wall to climb, but there are ways in that lend themselves to anyone who is prepared to spend a bit of time looking at examples, and working stuff out. If you are in the medical industry now, building database software for your already familiar industry will be easier than for someone not in that sphere, and if you're successful over a couple of years, will provide you a very good income for the rest of your life.

    Check out servoy as a SQL / Javascript platform That’s what I build software in.

  79. bailey86

    Do a general IT course

    Do a general IT course with a range of subjects. Try to cover programming, app development, networking, systems (server maintenance), HTML, scripting.

    That way you would get to try different areas and get to find the one you like.

    Another point - probably best to avoid Microsoft. A few reasons:

    * They have a tendency to drop technologies; ASP, .NET, Silverlight, etc and so the time you spent learning them will be mostly wasted.

    * Many applications are now web based and the vast majority of these are developed in non-MS languages.

    * The is a huge demand for app development which is mainly Android and iOS which will likely remain the main players.

    * Most of the web runs on non-MS stuff.

    But the main reason is that their stuff doesn't work properly and it's incredibly frustrating. Although the MS manual may say do x,y,z when you do that it won't work. You end up having to find loads of work-arounds which may not always work the same.

    I once had to work with .NET for about eight months and that was the closest I came to actually giving up IT cos nothing was consistent and trying to deploy apps was a nightmare - and when you're setting up the data entry systems for a call centre and need to deliver to a timescale it was incredibly stressfull.

  80. Anonymous Coward

    Get Indian nationality and living costs of £200 per month. That is the number one prerequisite for a job in IT.

  81. TomS_

    Choose a field

    You say you're into building PCs and mucking around with networks, but these are two very distinct fields in the real world. You'll have to pick one of them, or you'll never really be good at either of them.

    While its more than possible to be a jack of all trades without any kind of specialisation, these two fields are vast enough that trying to be a jack of all trades in both of them will really leave you as a master of nothing - IMO.

    Speaking from experience, I followed the networking route (excuse the pun) and chose not to specialise in any particular portion of it - I'm not a switching expert, I don't know BGP inside out, and I can only just fumble my way through troubleshooting SDH circuits. But, I've done enough of everything to have even a faint clue about them all if someone asks me a question or starts talking to me about it.

    And this is without really having paid much attention to computer hardware and software development over the past 8-10 years - networking and telecomms are just as fast paced as the computer side that one of them is going to end up consuming more, or too much of your time to get good enough at the other to make yourself useful at it.

    Figure out which one it is that tickles your fancy more, and throw yourself at it with all your might. The last thing the industry needs is more people who, although they have the right intentions, just have no clue because they are trying to do too much (sorry if that sounds harsh.)

    FWIW I have worked in technical roles at several ISPs in Australia since 2004, and am now based in Europe. I have a lab at home consisting of several Cisco and Juniper routers and a server running ESXi, enough to set up a small ISP in my bedroom (and I have done so, to get a better understanding of how it all works.) That's what I mean by throwing yourself at your chosen field. You're going to have to get "geeky" and spend time and money outside of work to play around with stuff to really understand it. My job may be 9-5, but learning is perpetual.

  82. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't want to state the obvious BUT

    Look at Job Adverts. Read the Job Description. What skills and qualifications are employers looking for in jobs you are interested in? Which are essential and which are desirable? What kind of experience is needed? What sort of person are they looking for? What could you realistically work towards now, and what would you work towards once you get your first job in IT? Find out!

  83. Herby

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned...

    Becoming a proper BOFH. Of course one may need to start being a proper PFY first, but usually you get that job by knowing the boss anyway. For many of us, the BOFH stories are biographical (if not actually, but the intent is there). Go read just how Simon solves the problems of the day. Remember, he calls the lonley people at the "helldesk" low lifes and has much distain for them since they rarely solve problems, and end up creating more for him.

    Yes, go read several installments of the tales of BOFH, and his assistant PFY, and you shall become "enlightened!".

    Then again, I've been programming since the 60's (and being paid for it) so what do I know. But there are those BOFH moments!

  84. The Quiet One

    I would say that these days ITIL is pretty much essential to anyone looking to work in a semi-decent firm. Everyone in my department, around 40 staff, has V3 foundation at the mimum. A lot of employers will find this very attractive as you will be able to fit in quickly, all singing from the same hymn sheet.

    Beyond that, I wouldn't say out and out technical knowledge is an absolute requirement, especially if you're going to work your way up from helpdesk. A basic understanding that an MCITP can deliver would be a good starting point though.

    Good luck

  85. masterofobvious

    If you're doing any sort of operations job then ITIL is the one qual that will never go out of date.

  86. Flakey

    Its ok liking it now

    at the "hobby" stage but what happens when you are doing it five days a week, week in week out as a job? 12 years ago after being made redundant twice in engineering I too decided I wanted to get into IT, put the work and the hours in to get the qualifications (A+,Network and security+ along with CCNA) and thought I was the mutts nuts when it came to computers until they just took over.

    Imagine this, you spend every weekday in front of a computer then when you want time away from them at the weekend you are getting phone calls from family and friends along the lines of "any chance you could come and look at my pc ?, theres something wrong with it" Trust me, it gets to you. In the end I started taking myself off to my close friends garage and tinkering with car engines (something Ive always enjoyed) 3 years ago I'd had enough and was at the garage bitching and moaning about IT and computers, telling my friend how I wanted out. He then offered me a job working in the garage. Of course I took it and for the last 3 years Ive never been happier even tho the money is way less than I was getting and no one asks a grease monkey (which is what I tell people I am) to fix their car.

    Do something you like by all means but believe me IT isnt what its cracked up to be.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Its ok liking it now

      I had to respond to something, could have been some other message too.

      But first of all I am quite fond of these messages from El reg readers, I have in fact read them all, an all time record for me I think, even those who have to be expanded, something I usually dislike.

      No stabbing in the back, nothing really disgusting or even close.

      My self, with some background as a programmer was accepted to work for IBM (long ago, +20 or something).

      I did not accept that offer as they wanted me to start as an operator and not as a programmer.

      The idea of pushing around punch cards and tapes was not very exiting. But then IBM and many other companies then wanted you to start from the "bottom" and the expectation and the possibility to climb the tree was there then.

      Trees are not like that to day.

      As I understand you want to enter through the help desk. That is the lowest branch you can start from and climbing from there I would not count on.

      Start higher.

      Ever since I started in IT it is always those who sell something or those who think they run something who earn

      more, look happier, and tend to have a social life, at least it looks that way to me.

      Then there was this guy who mentioned plumbing. And the damned, or perhaps, not so damned thing is that lots of previously "dirty" professions are, to day, something very very different when it comes to income and freedom than long ago.

      The dirt you collect to day, in IT, is often much harder to wash off.

      Anyway, my perhaps best advice to you is to phone and make an personal appointment as fast as possible,

      just do it.

      Just sending letters can be fairly worthless.

      Good luck

  87. JM987

    I started off in the tech field about 13 years ago having computers as a hobby much like you describe. Starting off, I would look at A+ and making sure you understand the basics. Setting up a small network in your home, setup an AD domain and learn from there. Learning basics on lan/wan technologies is also very important.

    Microsoft offers some free courses from the desktop type support to server technologies. These won't cost you any money and offer a lot of good information.


    Virtualization technologies are becoming more important for all types of businesses, and most hypervisors can be downloaded for free and the management tools can usually be downloaded for free on a trial basis. It's a good way to get your home lab going.

    As others have mentioned, I can't imagine doing helpdesk work for a long period of time. I did it for a couple of years and found it too repetitive but I find it an important first step for any seasoned support person.

  88. P. Lee

    become a plumber/electrician instead

    Far more lucrative and not so subject to outsourcing deals and economic downturns.

    Many large companies will hire relatively small electrical outfits for work, but won't look at anyone smaller than BT, Accenture or some Indian outsourcer for IT support.

  89. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't do it

    Unless you have a real calling for IT, rather than it might be a nice career to make some money doing, don't do it.

    One of the big issues in medium to large IT departments these days are people that have a little knowledge, have done a couple of courses, but have no real feel or understanding of why things work the way they do. They act as a brake on progress and help prop up inadequate IT services for these organisations.

    If this sounds bitter and elitist its meant to. I contend that you could get rid of the majority of people working in IT these days and provide better service.

  90. Stretch

    Get a Comp Sci degree

    They are very easy and uni is fun. Also the fees are nothing really to worry about as the loan rate is low and its paid off before tax.

    1. Lexxy

      Re: Get a Comp Sci degree

      "the fees are nothing really to worry about".

      I strongly disagree. It has reached a point where in tuition fees alone, student loan debt is a life-long salary drain: a sort of education mortgage, if you like. Financially, you've got to ask yourself, long term - is it worth it?

      1. The Alpha Klutz

        Re: the degree millstone

        going to university is culturally normative. if it wasn't, I bet most people today wouldn't have gone in the first place. Some of them are there to learn, but these days people in our society interested in knowledge are vanishingly rare. Everyone's at McDonald's or Starbucks, scratching their ass, contemplating their next package holiday so they can go throw up all over a less well off country. Most people are pricks.

        If you want to learn about computers, shit, we gunna put your ass to work. Learn assembly language, boolean algebra, database theory, the OSI layers, graph theory, compiler theory, algorithms, parallel processing, serialisation, encryption, data compression, multiplexing, redundancy, client/server model, C, linked lists, reverse word indexes, encapsulation/encoding/data types etc.

        In the end, nobody will give a shit that you know any of that, and you still won't get a good job.

  91. This post has been deleted by its author

  92. dwa

    Think about it...

    I agree with autonomous coward. I am in the same position. At the age of 56 I am unable to get a decent job in IT. Unless you can break into management or project work it really is a young mans game. I went to the expense of getting a Masters Degree in IT and where did I end up - fixing audio visual devices in conference rooms! I am very lucky however. As part of a department reshuffle I ended up out of IT altogether and am now working in a Policy & Reform area in a government department. My degree helped me get out of IT and into this new position that for me is a great new opportunity. I have seen a lot of people burn out especially in the support areas. Support positions also often require working overtime at short notice. So if you want a life outside of work - don't chose IT. My view is that you are better to get a degree in a proper profession such Accountancy, Law, Medicine etc. My bother is an accountant and he is an expert on his employers book keeping IT system - so you don't have work in IT to be exposed to IT style technical work. So my suggestion is to stay in the health sector - its a stable and ever growing industry and try to seek out involvement with the many health IT systems that you may come across. Good luck with your career.

  93. improved software

    when you want to hire someone, in my view. Sometimes qualifications are important in certain areas and *can* help as always get you a job, i'm not dismissing them but...

    What employers really are looking for is experience, which trumps qualifications which go out of date very quickly anyway in IT most of the time, and certain skills cannot be taught quickly or easliy like problem-solving.. For example .. why the application server crashes randomly and how to create a quick workaround so it doesn't any more so the customers can get on with using the system..

    There is a lot to learn and it will take years and years to learn it, either you pay loads of money to do this or learn it yourself (which is the number 1 skill you must have in IT, be able to teach yourself new skills)

    My advice is to try and get your foot in the door in a company, and have something to show; a project to show your skills, whether done on a course or on your own.

  94. sltech
    Thumb Up

    This was an excellent and very informative thread!

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