October 15, 2014

Money & Career, So You Want My Job

So You Want My Job: IT Professional

vintage man working on large old computer

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

While IT (Information Technology) may not be the sexiest industry out there, it’s certainly one of the fastest growing, highest paying, and most stable careers available for young men entering the working world, especially considering that one often doesn’t need a four-year bachelor’s degree. To talk about this booming industry, we spoke with Joseph Moody, who at age 25 is well into his career at a point when many men are just starting out. 

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc.).

I have lived in Brunswick, GA most of my life. It is a midsize coastal town about an hour north of Florida. I work as a Desktop Administrator for a public school system and help manage 7,000 computers and 14,000 users.

A few months after my 16th birthday, I was offered a computer technician internship at my high school. It paid minimum wage but I was able to work while at school! A full-time position opened a month before I graduated high school and I applied for it. I started full-time the week after graduating. I am 25 now and have work in IT for just over 9 years.

My primary job is a desktop administrator. I deploy operating systems, manage software, ensure that updates are applied, etc. With so many devices, we try to automate these processes as much as possible.

2. Why did you want to get into the IT world? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?

I always loved computer games but never saw IT as a viable profession. My first job was actually roofing. I started that July 1st in southern Georgia. I lasted 6 hours. I took the first indoor job that I was offered, which happened to be the computer technician internship. I found that I really loved solving problems and helping people.

What has really kept me in IT is the constantly evolving technology and challenges that go with that. Things like virtualization, cloud based computing, PowerShell, and mobile device management didn’t exist a few years ago. Now they are essential to my job. Tomorrow, I might be learning a completely different way to do something. A fast pace and constant changes mean that every day is different!

3. Can you define IT for us a little bit? It tends to get lumped in with a variety of careers that are computer-related, from software design to computer engineering and everything in between. What defines an IT professional?

That’s a hard question because our field is so broad! Generally, IT professionals support end-users in some way. A help desk technician might work on desktops. We also have jobs like server and network administrators. They keep the behind-the-scenes technology stuff up and keep everything connected. You have other positions like data administrators – they keep data organized, build reports, etc. Inside each role could be dozens of more specialized jobs. Generally, the bigger the company – the more specialized the positions get. The more specialized the position, the more complicated the technology used.

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You do have to have some knowledge about other fields though. There are just too many overlapping pieces not too. A server administrator needs to know how everything is connected in the network. A network administrator needs to understand how servers talk to each other.

4. How do you become an IT professional? Is it necessary to have a degree? What did you study? Are there certifications for your field?

This is the coolest thing about IT – in most cases a degree isn’t always required for the technical (fun) work. Once you get up to the management level, you normally have to have a degree. For most other positions, you can graduate high school with a technical diploma, spend a year in a certification track at a local college, and get a good paying job.

I did go to college and I have a degree in IT. In my personal opinion, a college degree is not worth as much in IT as it is in other fields. The technology simply changes too fast for a college to keep up.

A lot of IT professionals prefer to earn several IT certifications. Most entry level jobs would like to see someone with an A+ (basic PC repair) or Network+ (basic networking) certification. After that, the certifications become specific to your job. Higher level desktop/server positions would want a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE). A high level networking position would probably want something like a Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP). The IT field really loves acronyms…

5. How do you find work as an IT professional? What’s the job market like?

Ask around: talk with IT professionals, see if your area has a technology user group, see if anyone is looking to hire an intern/help desk role. A good friend of mine cold-called a hotel 6 months ago and asked if they would let him work as an intern. He was later offered a full-time position.

Lately, there seems to have been an explosion of work, so the job market is very nice. There is some concern about automation eliminating certain jobs, but that debate has been going on for a decade.

6. Tell us a little bit about a normal work day.  

Busy! Every day is different which is a good thing. I start the day by making sure everything is in working order and then start fixing problems as they come in. If there are no problems, we normally start working on big projects, migrations, upgrades, etc. Our to-do list is never short.

Because every day is so busy, it is very easy to get into a reactive, putting-out-fires mode. I try to spend a bit of each day learning something new to counteract this. We will practice things in a virtual environment or learn something new on Microsoft’s Virtual Academy. As a side note, a lot of the training resources that we use are free for everyone.

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7. Do you do any continuing ed? With how fast the world of technology moves, it seems like it would be difficult to keep up. Is that the case?

Continuing education is a must in IT! The technologies that I use today didn’t exist a few years ago. In a few years, I will be using completely new tools. Most of this learning happens naturally though. When we are working on big projects or eliminating common problems, we are typically learning the latest technologies at the same time.

The biggest mistake you can make in IT is to get complacent and stop learning. It is so easy to let your learning slide for a bit and to get far behind.

8. What is the work/life balance like?

This really depends on your field and the industry that you support. Healthcare/banking tend to be very demanding. Other areas have a better balance. I work in education which probably has the best balance.

We do follow a couple of rules to keep the all-nighters at bay. Be proactive; it allows you to fix problems before they get bad. Test every change that you make. Never make a big change on Friday afternoon.

9. What’s the best part of your job?

The cookies! When you go out of your way to make someone’s life easier, they tend to reward you with baked goods.

A close second is that feeling you get when you solve a complex problem. IT has a lot of complex problems so it can be a very rewarding profession!

10. What’s the worst part of your job?

Remember those complex problems that I mentioned above? If you don’t get them fixed, companies lose money, people can’t work, etc. IT can be stressful and demanding because IT departments are relied on for everything in a business.

11. What’s the biggest misconception people have about your job?

That if we aren’t running around, we aren’t doing anything. In IT, most of our job is done behind the scenes. This work style is relatively new though. Ten years ago, the technology didn’t exist for an IT professional to work remotely. Now, we can do 99% of our work anywhere in the world.

12. Any other advice, tips, commentary, or anecdotes you’d like to add?

Don’t get bored! If you get complacent with one technology, find something else that interests you. Master it and move on to the next technology. The more you can master, the faster you can fix problems and make processes more efficient.

Don’t be an introvert. Talk with the people, find out what they do and how you can help them. Teach people how to do things faster. They will love you for it!

Find someone smarter than you – learn everything you can from them. I have worked with some really sharp guys who have taught me more in a week than I could learn in a month. The best advice I ever got came from a guy at Microsoft. Thankfully, he wrote up that advice here.


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