Right now I am staring at the screen of one of my colleagues laptops. It says “Operating System Not Found.” I take a moment, and while writing another DVD to boot Windows 7 from (we have a download license thanks…) I decide to reminisce about working in IT.

Do YOU want to work in IT?? Here are some of the things you have to keep in mind. Really, this is a guide for every kid who is good with computers, but thinks his skills will be enough to help him through a career in IT. Two words: STUDY. HARD.

What does “Working in IT mean?”

Sadly, for most people working in IT means choosing a career in tech support. You know, you build PC’s for your buddies and fix their pirated Windows machines from time to time. You decide that you have a fallback skill and relax through school.

Here’s some news for you: YOU, young person, WILL BECOME LITTLE MORE THAN A JANITOR.

Look. Basic IT work is thankless. Yes you will learn a LOT, and you will work with some of the fastest gaming PC’s that you have ever had the pleasure to work on, but they are not yours. In South Africa IT techies are generally not paid much. Those buddies of yours who’s high end pirated Windows gaming PC’s you fixed while at school will still be your clients. Only difference between you and them are that they went on to become web developers, lawyers, DB specialists and architects. You decided to fall back on your skill and here you are, doing the same thing for possibly less pay and because they are no longer your friends but your boss’s clients EVERYTHING that goes wrong will be automatically your fault.

Someone once said that technicians are glorified janitors. I have moved om from basic tech support, on to servers mostly, and STILL people in the company where I work think that if I walk past their desk I am available to fix whatever it is they broke.

BUT for me it will be different!

Don’t count on it. If you decide to become a tech you will be at the bottom of the ladder as far as office clout goes. Senior technicians like me will abuse whatever power they have over you to make you do the jobs they don’t want to. If someone needs cables to be pulled through a roof you will get the job. I still do those kinds of things from time to time, if only because the other techs in my team are really busy with being janitors themselves.

Me? I want to work with servers, that is my dream…

What about my skills? Surely I am good enough to rise to the top?

Really good technicians are few and far between. The problem is that the bad technicians move into management, and the good technicians do what they are good at – tech support. Very few people are both good technicians and good managers. Those that are good at both are also the hardest taskmasters because they know what they are talking about.

Also, managers aren’t stupid. If you are an excellent technician your boss will try and keep you where you are most useful. He wants a dependable techie on his team or in his office and PRESTO your chances of career advancement just went out the window (for me it meant bye-bye servers for many years). If you are SMART though you will make sure that your boss pays for your skills. The best way of assuring a rise in pay is getting a diploma or other qualification in your field.

Wait, you decided not to go that route, did you?

Other People muscling in on your job.

IT is one of the most exciting, alive fields out there. I remember moving of into other fields for a few years before getting back into tech support. When I got back after my short hiatus, where I was still involved in IT, I was staring into a box. A newly minted MCSE picked up a red cable and said “this is a SATA cable” and I did not know that.

You see, no matter how good you are – someone better is just around the corner. In fact, most bad managers can’t wait to order themselves a newly qualified MCSE techie to work on your team. Sure he won’t know half of what you know after three or so years of experience on the job, sure you will have to train him, but he will most probably be paid at least as much as you are.

Yes, unfortunately bad managers pay more for papers than for skills. And as I pointed out earlier, the chances of you working for a bad manager is rather large.

So is there absolutely no chance for me then?

Well yes and no. If you are lazy and want to use IT as an easy way out you are basically doomed. If you are lucky, like I was, you will end up working for a company that actively invests in your skills. IF you cannot go study after school, try and get some sort of qualification as soon as possible on your own. Talk to your employer if you must. An MCSE with a few years of real world experience is worth at leaset 1.5 times as much as a raw MCSE, and at least twice as much as a techie with nothing behind him.

Branch out on your skills. Windows is not the only OS out there. Get yourself some exposure to other technologies. Play with as many operating systems as you possibly can. The advantages of this are twofold: 1 – you gain new skills in other areas, and 2 – it gives you a feel for hardware. Windows tends to hide a lot of what the hardware does from the user.

Also, look at other qualifications. The Linux Foundation has some really good certifications, and the bonus is that if you are good enough you can write the exam without taking the classes. Another one is RHCE, but beware, you need to be REALLY good to pass that one.

Linux qualifications mean more these days than Microsoft qualifications. They are usually a little cheaper to get too.

Nothing says “Hey I am worth more” than being able to fix an IPCOP firewall that some client had lying around. A similar incident opened the door for me to be able to branch off into better things.

Is this just a bitter rant?

No. Yes. Maybe. Look, ask any IT tech and he will be frustrated with some aspect of his job at least once a day. Do you really want that? I thought IT guys were like the doctors of the middle ages, revered and respected. Turned out IT guys are EXACTLY like doctors of the middle ages: nobody really understands what you do, so they are naturally suspicious of you. And because of that anything that breaks is YOUR fault.

I am happy in my work for the most part. I am glad to have moved past the dark days of being a junior tech, but you tend to carry some of the “hey come here and fix my intarwebz NOW” with you throughout your career.

If you were smart or lucky, you would have gotten a diploma or degree, and you could now be my boss, sitting in his office and handling frustrations all of his own – yet clients respect him because he has a degree. He cannot install a printer to save his life, but his BSC Information Technology causes clients to listen to him when he says something. Heck, one day he told me: “Get a qualification, even if it is something that adds nothing to your skills, it’s all about perception. C’mon, I’ll even pay for it.”

And here I am, a senior IT tech with a diploma in project management. Know what? Last week I installed a brand new linux webserver for the company. It is now MY baby.

Life is getting better.

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