Chapter 3. Information Technology: A Great Career
Information Technology (IT), once a hotbed of easy employment and rapid advancement, has become an enigma of sorts. To be sure, the need for skilled IT workers remains high. Companies are still building information infrastructures, applications, and web technologies. But thousands of IT workers seem to be caught in a vortex of declining salaries, career indecision, and a more difficult job market.
Reports seem to say that thousands of IT jobs remain unfilled, yet job postings remain unanswered, résumés sent in response to newspaper ads are unrequited, and day by day, we become jaded to the opportunity that just a short time ago seemed so commanding.
In addition, a dilemma largely unknown in the mid to late 1990s has reared its ugly head—experience requirements. During the technology boom of the late 1990s, when the convergence of the Internet as a business medium and the most robust economic growth of the past 50 years caused an unprecedented demand for technology workers, experience became an unrealistic expectation.
The need for technology workers far outstripped the physical bodies who worked in the industry. This gave rise to entire new industries hoping to cash in on the IT skills gap. Boot camp training, CD-based curriculum, and web-based training tools promised to provide the skills needed to build a career in IT. And for some, it worked—at least for a time.
However, the dot-com revolution gave way to a more tempered and realistic approach to the adoption of new technology. Dramatic technology project failures and the loss of millions of dollars preceded a correction in the IT job market. More importantly, companies changed their requirements regarding technology professionals.
Having a degree or certification has quickly become secondary to your experience. The term "paper-certified," meaning an individual who has technical certifications but little hands-on or practical experience, has entered the employer's vocabulary. In fact, certifications, once highly demanded, have given rise to skeptical analysis. An "Oh, you're certified; I won't hold it against you!" attitude has risen among prospective employers who were either directly burned or have heard the horror stories of CCNAs who cannot perform the most rudimentary tasks and MCSEs who cannot bring up a server or correctly install and support the most basic of business applications. The same holds true for certifications in project management and other areas.
Where before the certified professional received daily calls from headhunters, busy stealing talent from one company to place at another, the phone remains silent and many technology workers are faced with shrinking salaries and no longer receive calls touting the latest opportunity. The face of IT career advancement has taken on a distinct squeamish pallor.
All of this gives rise to the compelling question...
Is IT still a good career choice?
The answer: A resounding Yes!
The first thing to understand is that IT is neither a new field nor a declining field. In fact, it remains one of the greatest career choices both in demand and opportunity. The fact remains that the need for IT talent continues to grow, and a good number of technology jobs remain unfilled.
Few fields offer the wide variety of career paths, opportunities for promotion, and sheer enjoyment from fun and challenging work. And, if past experience is an indication of future potential, it's only going to get better.
However, the "correction" experienced the past few years is simply a normal reaction in a maturing industry, bringing it closer in line with other professions and careers. The idea that someone leaving school with a technology certification should earn 30 to 40 percent more than his peers in another nontechnical industry is unrealistic. And yet, this is the complaint. I hear of people complaining that they cannot find work in the $50 to 70K a year range after gaining their certifications. Of course, they can't!
I realize that radio advertisements still dangle the "big money" carrot, claiming that after you take their courses and have your certifications, you can earn $50, 60, 70 thousand or more, right out of school. Yes, and if you take this little pill, you will lose all your extra weight and develop the body of your dreams without exercise while eating everything you want.
As a budding IT professional, you need to have a realistic idea of the market. More importantly, you must understand the steps necessary to advance your career as rapidly as possible. The entry-level dilemma of experience needed to gain the experience needed is simple to solve. However, your career moves after you are in the field will have a much greater impact on both the speed and level to which you rise in your profession.
IT is and will remain an incredible opportunity for the career-minded professional. It has historically offered, and will continue to offer, rewards more readily than many other careers. More importantly, it is a production/results-based career. That is to say, in the final analysis, career advancement will depend largely on production instead of tenure and formal education.
That should be cause for excitement. What that means is that your career potential in IT falls largely on your shoulders. You are in control. Few other careers offer as much opportunity for results-based advancement as IT. In fact, the trend is moving down this path right now. This is why, on discussion boards and in conversations, the talk has shifted from how to pass the next exam in your current certification track to how to acquire needed experience. More precisely, how do you get the necessary experience in a catch-22 situation?
I regularly hear complaints about the difficultly of breaking into the field. "I need experience to get the job, but the entry-level position requires more experience than anyone in an entry-level position would have." Although in actuality this might be true in some cases, it is important to understand the employer's perspective. Rest assured that, in most cases, a prospective employer is not posting a position with the idea that no one can fill it. The employer is typically in need of a skill set. More importantly, he is in need of a solution. Most companies would not take on the effort of posting, collecting, and reviewing résumés, and conducting interviews with dozens of candidates or more, if they were not interested in eventually filling that position.
Employers are looking for someone to do something. It is your job to convince employers that you are the person who can do that needed something, and that they should pay you a decent wage to do so.
The chapters in Part II, "Filling Your Toolkit," discuss how to do this with résumés, interviews, and other things.