Career Guidance 101 for Dummies

Charting a career especially in the information technology domain can be a tough exercise, but just as the proverbial journey of a thousand miles begins with a step there are the first steps that anyone seeking to find their niche can take to make the path ahead clearer.

A lot of people reach out to me in this area with diverse motivations and perspectives. Some want to be “like me”, others want to be “the best” or “the greatest” and others yet still don’t have a clue! In my own experience I knew I wanted to pursue a career in IT & Computing right from childhood. I was fascinated by technology from an early age. Long before I first touched or used an actual computer I had a stack of Lotus Notes and Word Perfect text books I occasionally glanced through as well as some computer hardware textbooks I used to educate myself and feed my interests.

I subscribed to a popular monthly Computer and ICT newspaper back in the day and attended annual IT conferences and summits organized by AITEC Africa while in Junior & Senior High School. I had an initial interest in computer hardware and used to take computers apart and put them together to learn more about the various components and how they all fit together. In university I got a part time job in a campus Internet cafe and even started studying for the Comptia A+ exam. I disliked networking at this point in time as I ignorantly thought it was just about running cables. We were taught to assign IP addresses to customers who came to the cafe to use their personal laptops to browse the internet but didn’t have a clue about the concept of subnet masks or Classless addressing schemes.

My first real encounter with networking occurred one evening when I had to repair a damaged patch cable and had to refer to Google to find out how to crimp a straight cable. With a lot of effort I managed to get the color coding right and terminate the RJ-45 jack. Upon plugging it into the customer’s laptop the info bubble popped up; “Local Area Connection is now connected, Speed:100.0 Mbps”. “How cool!!” was my reaction. Fast forward to some months after that event and I sat in an education seminar where we were introduced to Cisco Networking and the CCNA certification along with the world of opportunity it offered to those who pursued it. It piqued my interest and I decided to find out more information which eventually led me to pursue the CCNA certification and the rest is history.

My advice for anyone starting out in IT and in need of guidance or direction;

1: Do some deep introspection to figure out what you are or think you would be interested in. When it comes to IT there are a hundred and one possible areas of specialization and some would definitely catch your interest.

2: Do some research. It amazes me that people would want to pursue certain careers and will not start with a search on Google to find out what it entails. Go to job sites and find out the available roles in your fields of interest and read the Job Description. Get a feel of what the roles require in terms of skill sets, education and training to help you plan your learning & development and skill acquisition.

3. Get a mentor. It’s good to have someone more experienced in your field of interest who can give you advice, answer your questions and give you a few pointers. With tools like LinkedIn, you have at your disposal a wide community of professionals in whatever your chosen field is.Reach out to them & engage their minds. Not all will respond positively but at least one or two will.Mind you, it’s advisable not to wear them out with “unnecessary” talk. Do your part by getting as much information on your own as you can and reach out to them when you have genuine issues and concerns. Any mentor will be glad to help a protege who is putting in their own effort rather than expecting to be spoonfed.

4. Get your hands dirty. With the combination of Google, YouTube & Virtualization Technology there are few technologies that you cannot learn behind a desk. Most vendors have virtualized platforms of their technology offerings. This makes it easier & cheaper to deploy for learning & testing purposes and reduces the risk of causing outages in production environments.

With this and other tips, getting a kickstart to your career should no longer be a hassle but an enjoyable journey of discovery.

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