How do I start a career in Information Technology with no experience?

How to start a career in information technology

You decided you want to work in the field of Information Technology. That's great! So now what? Where do you go from here?

Getting into the IT field with no prior experience can seem daunting, but it is quite achievable with the right strategy and effort.

The most important things are to get some baseline knowledge and credentials, acquire hands-on skills any way that you can, and leverage valuable skills from other areas while highlighting your capacity and willingness to learn.

First off, do I need a college degree?

There is a short answer to this and a long answer. 

The short answer is no. A lot of successful people in the IT field don't have college degrees. A lot of employers are starting to remove that qualification in favor of other experience. Some individuals end up going back to school later on in there IT career on behalf of there employer. 

My personal opinion is a college degree is worth getting, whether its a technical degree like computer science or information systems or something non-technical like business administration or communications. There is also a level of discipline that completing a college degree shows. I was not the best student I'll admit but I found that in my last 2 years of college I really learned what it was like grind through to completing my degree. I had to work really hard and that was a great sense of accomplishment. 

If you feel like you do want to get a technical based degree, that definitely will help show that you are committed to a career in IT. But as a final note, I know really talented individuals who work in IT and have degrees in fields like history and Spanish. They started on a help desk and worked there way up to various roles like information security analyst, systems administrator, data analyst, web developer and others. 

Research what field of information technology you might be interested in 

As there are quite a few. You could look into various career paths like information security, cloud computing, data analytics, software development, and more. I can't speak for you so its important to get an initial understanding of the different options. 

Now just because you feel like you might have found what path you want to do down doesn't mean you have to stick with it. A lot of IT professionals move around and its there willingness to learn that sets them apart. 

I personally wanted to go in programming and realized very quickly that I didn't like it. Then I thought I wanted to go into network administration, and realized that wasn't a good fit. Just because they weren't good fits and I didn't like them, doesn't mean I didn't learn something from each of those paths.

Ok so at this point:

  • You realized you want to go into IT for a career
  • You either have a college degree or not
  • Now you want to get some real world experience

Lets look at some easy options:

1. Build a Home Lab

As you’re working on building book knowledge, also try to reinforce it with real world experience. Creating a home lab environment with second-hand routers, switches, firewalls and servers bought cheaply online is extremely helpful for this.

Use your home equipment to intentionally practice things like configuring networks, managing Active Directory, setting up virtual machines, hardening servers, and more. This will teach you practical skills and workflows that you’ll encounter on the job. 

Make use of manufacturer software and online emulators as well if you don’t have budgets for a full complement of gear. For example, Cisco offers Packet Tracer which simulated Cisco devices and commands. Microsoft provides virtual lab environments to test various infrastructure scenarios at no cost.

Building a home lab and experimenting with it is something I still utilize today. Practice makes perfect.

2. Learn to Code

While IT and software development are not exactly the same career path, coding skills are becoming increasingly crucial even for infrastructure-focused roles like network engineering. Having familiarity with scripting or programming languages is a huge advantage these days.

Start by learning languages like Python, PowerShell, JavaScript, HTML/CSS, SQL, C# or Java. Many free interactive courses for these exist online to teach fundamentals through gamified, self-paced methods.

Once comfortable with syntax and concepts, try building small projects that connect to networks and hardware, scrape web content, manipulate databases and more. These activities will help cement critical thinking for real-world IT applications. 

Now I hate coding so you won't find me doing a lot with this however I know coding is utilized a lot in infrastructure environments especially for automation. I leverage Microsoft PowerShell A LOT in my day to day work and I won't get away from it. Be flexible and be willing to learn.

3. Obtain Fundamental IT Certifications 

Some of the most widely-recognized and valuable entry-level certifications to have on your resume include CompTIA’s A+, Network+, and Security+. These provide verification that you have a core understanding of critical IT computer systems, concepts and skills. While they may not get you a job on their own, they certainly help showcase basic competencies to recruiters and hiring managers.

Almost all IT certification providers offer study guides, practice tests, and preparation courses to help you get ready for their exams. Take advantage of these resources to ensure you pass your first time around.

4. Explore Internships and Apprenticeships

Keep an eye out for available IT internships at local organizations. These are often posted by corporate IT departments, tech startups, managed service providers, school districts and other entities.  

Internships, co-ops and apprenticeships allow access to mentorship opportunities while gaining invaluable on-the-job learning. They may be unpaid or nominally paid, but the long-term rewards make up for this many times over after completing the term.

Periodically check large nearby college and university career sites for open tech intern postings not limited to just students. You can find surprisingly decent gigs that way.

If I had to pick the most important option here for starting you career, its this one. I got my first IT experience working for a school district in the summer of my sophore and junior year of college. I was a technician and helped with general break/fix computer support. You know the saying "everyone starts somewhere?" Thats what this was in the best way possible. Yes you do some grunge work but you get your first exposure to working in an IT environment and you learn some of the ins and outs of how it works. 

How did I get that opportunity? One of my family members asked one of the school district technicians if they ever hire helpers. They gave me an email to contact and a few months later I hear back. I was also lucky enough to get paid and work with awesome people too. 

I have friends who had fancy, well paying internships for large companies and I had more hands on experience than them and it really put me ahead in my career. Its really important to network where you can during this time. You can also continue working on the other items like studying for an IT certification while doing one of these internship/apprenticeships. Whats even better is you have experienced co-workers to ask questions to.

At this point you checked off at least one of the boxes above. Where do I go from here?

Start applying for entry-level IT jobs. There are more roles in IT suited for beginners than you might think. Help desk, desktop support, PC technician and IT assistant positions rarely expect candidates to have much experience as long as you demonstrate aptitude. 

Make sure your resume highlights any related knowledge, training or skills you do have. Employers know they’ll have to train you on specifics of the role, but want to see basic troubleshooting ability, communication skills, and a foundation to build upon. 

Also be willing to sacrifice some salary at first compared to more advanced IT professionals. View your early jobs as stepping stones toward higher pay and responsibility in just a few years’ time after paying dues and gaining experience.   

You get an interview. Now what? 

Talk up your transferable skills and capabilities. When interviewing for starter IT positions, take time to call out adjacent strengths that still apply. Your capacity to learn quickly, attention to detail, work ethic, adaptability, customer service orientation, and other “soft skills” can make you very attractive. 

Be ready to explain how experiences and abilities from past roles translate. For example, highlight communication abilities required when assisting upset customers from a previous customer service job. This well-roundedness combined with your existing IT progress can clinch an offer over other candidates that may possess more tech qualifications on paper but demonstrate fewer well-rounded complementary talents.

Whether you get a particular job or not, its always important to build your professional network. 

As the saying goes, “it’s not just what you know, it’s who you know” that helps unlock career progression. 

Begins making professional connections both online and locally before, during and after your launch into IT. Attend local tech Meetups, conferences, IT pro organization events and seminars. Follow key industry thought leaders and professionals on social media. Create a LinkedIn and let contacts be aware you are looking to switch over to a tech role and ask for any advice or leads they may have. 

Great word-of-mouth referrals and references could be made on your behalf after getting to know new people.

Following this multi-pronged strategy requires dedication and perseverance, but the investment will pay off tremendously. The critical shortage of qualified tech professionals right now combined with the solid foundational moves summarized above can absolutely open new doors for you in an exciting IT career ahead!

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Jamie Larson
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