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March 14, 2013

My decade in IT: How to get your career started

By starting career

Editor’s note: In this two-part series, IT pro Ashraf Al-Dabbas (VCP, ITIL® v3 Certified, 3X MCSE, MCITP) shares some of the key lessons he’s learned during his first 10 years working in the industry. Want to ask him a question to address on our blog? Submit yours by filling out the form here or emailing blog@trainsignal.com.

At turning points in your personal or vocational life, it’s normal to reflect on the progress you’ve made and your goals for the future. I recently started a new job, my first external career move in nine years. Changing jobs is one of those times for reflection, as new colleagues force you to come up with answers for questions like, “What have you been doing?” Or, “Why did you take each move in your career so far?”

These reflections can be a good source for tips for soon-to-be graduates or career-changers considering a job in the IT industry. I want to share my insights with you in a three-part series, the first of which will help you know what to expect from your first IT job and how to start looking for it.

You need to at least like IT

It hurts me when I meet people in this industry who don’t really like IT and only got into the field because they thought it could be a source of good income and there was demand in the market. People who don’t choose IT for the right reasons will probably be unhappy and less likely to be able to do what is needed to succeed.

You will spend most of your IT career solving problems—problems that usually are not easy to solve. They’ll need research, creativity and persistence. If you like IT and enjoy doing it, time will pass by without you even noticing it, and you will have the will to carry forward until the issue is resolved, even if that means staying up all night or missing meals. If you don’t enjoy doing it, these problems will become tedious.

Maybe not everybody is lucky enough to do what they like in life, but do not make your life miserable by doing something that you know you do not like. It will affect your attitude, and in the IT business, attitude is everything.

You cannot be a lone wolf

A lot has been written about the importance of social networking in finding good jobs in IT, and nobody can argue against its effectiveness. However, nothing beats warm personal interaction and building friendly in-person relationships. Almost all good opportunities I have gotten so far have come my way through somebody I knew: a coworker, a customer or someone with whom I took a course. Display good skills, do a great job, and be nice to people, and you will secure your next break.

It’s widely known that most good positions are filled before they are announced and most jobs have hundreds of applicants. It is hard to stand out in this huge crowd, and a recruiting manger will not give each resume enough time to analyze it. Even worse, most recruiters rely on software that uses word-matching to short-list a limited number of resumes, and your chance to be among this group is tremendously improved if you know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who can convince a recruiting manager to actually read your resume.

Once you are hired, your support network is what helps you succeed. Nothing is more important than that friend who can teach you an urgently required skill on short notice. A friend in need is a friend indeed, and you need to believe that what goes around comes around.

For example, you may not be good at writing scripts, but your friend is, and another friend may ask you for help with his spam issue. I do not let a friend down, and my friends never let me down. Some may give me more than I can give, while others seem to need my help more often than I need theirs. In the end, things have a way of balancing each other out.

Get some experience before settling on a career path

As a fresh graduate, having some experience will help your resume, but more importantly, it will help you chose your career path and set your goals. It will help you test the water before you dive into the deep sea of IT, and it will tell you what role in the IT industry you are more fit to fill.

How can someone get experience before even starting to hunt for a job? If you can secure a good internship, that’s an excellent point to start. But in many parts of the world, internships are not available or not very useful, so find other alternatives to build some experience.

Personally, I did part-time jobs and some freelance small jobs before I graduated, most of which were not even covering their costs, but they were fun to do and taught me a lot of useful skills. It was really useful to learn early on to deal with customers, take responsibility and master time- and resource-management. More often than not, this will help you secure your first job after you graduate.

Be prepared to start small

You need to start somewhere, and usually a fresh graduate will have to start small. But always stay determined. My first full-time job was in a five-person company that did not pay me much at all, but I still enjoyed my time there because I liked the nature of the work they were doing.

Before the end of the year, I moved to a large enterprise that paid me more than double what I was making at my first job. The little time I spent at that SMB helped me stand out in the large enterprise since it taught me how to take responsibility and claim ownership of tasks. I was soon recognized as a prospective leader and as someone who was not afraid of suggesting new and innovative ideas.

Now that you understand the first step into launching your IT career, stay tuned for Part 2 on how to make it a success.

About the Author

is vExpert, VCP, 3xMCSE, MCITP, CCNP, ITIL v3 Certified and an MBA holder. He has 10+ years of diverse experience working in a large organizations in systems infrastructure support, leading corporate wide IT initiatives, organizing and conduction projects and social activities. For Ashraf, IT is a passion not a profession. He is self-motivated, persistent and full of positive attitude. Exploring new technologies, learning new knowledge, visiting new places and meeting new people are the things that drive him forward. He likes to write, share ideas and interact with different people. As part of his upbringing in the Jubilee School for gifted students (Amman, Jordan), Ashraf learned to understand, accept then debate all points of view objectively and respectfully.


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