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IT Career Questionnaire

Changing Course: Making the Move from Banking to Start an IT Career
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Tom's IT Pro reader Greg and Ed Tittel's back and forth over the former's answers to the Making It in IT  blog career questionnaire.

1: What is your educational background?

Greg: I hold a bachelors degree in business management from May 2001.

Ed: Where did you go to school? Did you take any computer science or IT classes along the path to your (I’m guessing) BBA? 

Greg: I went to Penn State; my degree was a bachelors of science in business management. I took some beginner level Microsoft Office classes and Visual Basic, but that is it.  When I was taking the CCNA training courses, I took a few more computer science classes which included Java programming (beginner level), advanced Office courses, a SQL database class which included a small section on http coding, network security (I could take the security+ cert now and pass easily from that course work), and basic computer repair and maintenance which is tied to the CompTIA A+ cert.

2. What is your prior work experience?

Greg: I have spent the last 11 years working for retail banks as a branch manager. Both large and small banks, in branches anywhere from 15-50 million in asset size.  There has been no opportunity to use my IT skills in these positions since all the help desk/install/network management positions were either outsourced or located at corporate (states away from my current location).

Ed: Have you done any volunteer or other computing work of any kind, at any time, during this period? Don’t forget: working on your own PCs counts, and depending on what kind of work is involved, could possibly even count a fair amount.

Greg: I have not done volunteer work as of yet, but I am currently trying to start at my church office helping with network maintenance and potentially database work and integrating it into their website for various projects. I have some calls out there right now for that. I have built my own PC, and maintained it along with a home network with two PCs, two  laptops, various mobile devices and a Cisco wireless router that I have file and printer sharing enabled on. I configured and maintained the software firewall for it as well.

3. Where do you live?

Greg: I live outside Philadelphia and the job market is relatively stable.  A Career Builder search for within 20 miles of my home zip code resulted in over 100 postings for "network administrator."

Ed: Yes, you’re in a good market. No pressing needs to relocate as far as I can tell.

4. Are you interested in working in management, or would you prefer to stay on a technical track? Have you ever done any project management?

Greg: I am looking at two possible career paths.  My primary one would be headed into the network security engineer route via the Cisco courses, and the other would be in information assurance.  The information assurance would definitely be a backup path for me though.  I have not had any project management experience, but have worked in many cross departmental teams analyzing problems and coming up with solutions paralleling project management.

Ed: You should probably consider pursuing and earning the PMP (Project Management Professional) cert from the Project Management Institute (PMI.org). Your background is perfect for this kind of thing, and it could give you a meaningful way to apply your prior bank experience and bridge into IT in an entirely understandable and legitimate way.

Greg: This was one of my choices when I started the CCNA path, and is still something that I can see as a potential transition point.

5. What kinds of certifications interest you?

Greg: I just received my CCNA in July 2012.  I also hold the Certified Novell Administrator (CNA) certification, but there is not much of a market for that.  It was required at my school for a networking curriculum.  I was wondering if not having the basic ones like A+, Windows Server, or any of the basic CompTIA ones will be a liability.  I am fully willing to get any certification out there provided it helps me market myself better.

Ed: If you’re already a CCNA, A+ and Network+ aren’t necessary for you. You’ve already shown you know more and can do more than folks with those entirely entry-level credentials. You might want to consider pursuing the CCNP if you’re interested in a pure networking job, or consider one of the CCNA “flavors” (voice, security, wireless – probably security, based on your expressed interest in that subject matter) as an add-on to your CCNA first, then go after CCNP next.

Greg: CCNA security is definitely my top choice right now, but I am worried about going straight into that while still in the banking field. I feel like I would be on the road to being a certification hog.

6. Do your long-term career goals include staying in your current position (or in the same field as the next position you’re seeking, if applicable)?

Greg: I would need to completely change my career, but could still work in banks for their IT departments.  The trouble is I cannot take an entry level help desk job as a full-time job paying significantly less than what I am getting paid now.  I would like my next job to be in the field that I will be in for the long term, so either on the path to network security engineer, or information assurance.

Ed: Banks are not known for competitive pay, so you’re probably looking at some kind of vertical industry move to get into IT (after that, you could always go back into banking in IT, having proved yourself “beyond the help desk” somewhere else first). One traditional path into network or information security is to get into network or systems administration, and then to start specializing in security slowly and surely as you advance in seniority and experience. Sounds like this might be a good avenue for you!

7. What kind of job are you doing now? What kind of job would you like to be doing? How important is salary to you? How important is job satisfaction? If you could have any job at all, what would that be? 

Greg: Question 2 answers the first part, and question 4 answers what I would like to be doing.  Salary is important to me, but what is most important to me right now is getting the experience to be able to get into my career path.  I am open to part time, weekend, or evening hours on a low pay basis to get experience actually installing, configuring, and troubleshooting network problems if the opportunity arises for experience.  I could then be better positioned to go after a full time job to replace my current one.

Ed: Yes, you are right to suspect that something “out of the ordinary” (part-time, weekend, off-hours) might be necessary to get experience to help you talk your way into an IT job. I’d also recommend finding two or three job postings that call for CCNA with companies that interest you, and encourage you to do some interviews. Think of them as reconnaissance to help you learn what such employers expect of you, and what kinds of experience, skills and knowledge they value most. Then you can tailor your second job efforts to gain IT experience to meet those expectations. Those jobs probably won’t stay open long enough for you to try again, but others that are similar will surely come up.

Greg: This was on my mind as well. When I was searching for jobs that recommend a CCNA I noticed that there are many items in the job qualifications that I didn't have, (like the virtualization, Active Directory, etc.). Is there a percentage of the qualifications I should have before I apply, or should I just apply for all of them, and see how well I can sell myself in the interview? I've facilitated dozens of interviews and I know when someone is telling me what I want to hear vs. someone who genuinely has the capacity to learn what I want them to but might not have the skills down pat yet. The ability to learn on the job is something that I excel at, but getting an employer to trust you with that is a hard sell.