Professionally Speaking

Getting (and Staying) in IT

This month, our columnists address some common questions.

I want to get into IT, what certification should I get?

Ah, the $64 question. The simple fact is, right now there’s an oversupply of skilled IT professionals in many areas of the job market. Coming into the industry with no practical experience means that the main value you now bring to an employer is your energy, enthusiasm and potential for the future.

An entry-level certification such as an MCP and/or an A+ may assist in the job search. It does demonstrate an interest in the field and a basic level of understanding; but a hiring manager is under no illusions, and you’ll still need to be trained from scratch. In the longer term, it still should be possible to enter IT; however, be aware that you’ll need to knock on a lot of doors before you get started.

That being said, going toward a full MCSE without any experience is a waste of time and money. There’s a lot of advanced material to absorb, and I don’t think you can fully comprehend it until you’ve had actual experience with the products. At the same time, an employer isn’t going to put someone with little or no experience into a senior role requiring that level of knowledge.

I’m not convinced it was ever true, but the days of taking classes for a few weeks and walking into an “exciting” IT career with a $70,000 job are long gone.

If you don’t have one already, think about completing a college degree. It’ll certainly help you get hired and will assist you when moving into more senior roles later in your career. Apart from the broad knowledge one can acquire, a college degree demonstrates an ability to think and shows determination. However, I acknowledge that not everyone has the time and funds available to do this.

Should I leave my current job?

In the past, job-hopping was seen as a way to quickly climb the ladder to seniority and money. However, today a hiring manager looking at someone’s résumé with a history of changing jobs every 12 to 18 months may wonder how long that person would likely stay if hired. In many cases, it can be a matter of months to get up to speed with the business and technical environment and to be fully productive. So a history of quickly changing jobs is likely to be seen as a potential problem. It may be viewed that you lack organizational commitment, are only interested in yourself, and that you may leave when the going gets tough.

I’m not advising against people changing companies, as it can be a great way to get different perspectives of various technical situations but I really only recommend this once you’ve explored all options with your current employer. After all, your current employer already knows you well and, presumably, knows about your performance and potential for the future, whereas once you leave and go somewhere else, you need to re-establish your reputation from scratch.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a level of risk in staying at a company too long. In this case, you may have developed more company-specific skills and less transferable skills and may only have the perspective of how your company sees things. I’ve seen statistics recently stating that people who have become redundant after five years at a company tend to take a little longer to get rehired, and this may be a factor here.

In this current environment, no matter how much you hate your current job, I don’t suggest you leave it until you have another one. The current job market is tougher than many of us imagine, and the cliché that the best way to get a job is to already have one still holds.

In any case, one factor to be considered if you’re changing jobs is that you might need to take a pay cut in order to do this. Salaries in many areas have dropped since those heady days of early 2000, which may remove one key motivator to change jobs. However, there may be other factors such as the type of role offered, future career growth opportunities and company benefits such as work/life balance policies that still may make a job change desirable.

About the Author

Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to and

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Reader Comments:

Fri, Jan 14, 2005 Jason Anderson (studying Cleveland,Ohio

At this point of all our(us citizens) lives, when president bush and his lobbiest are sending all our labor jobs over seas and telling the american people to "prepare for the jobs of the future" if not in IT? than what. Dont tell us not to waste our time studying IT tell us which area of it to focus on,where the best oppourtunities are going to be. Here in cleveland the jobs are long gone we are recovering a little but not nearly at the rate we need so i dont like you article because it has no life behind it no brighter side so to speak if your going to give out advise make it worth even opening your mouth other wise your just another critic. Thank you.

Sat, Nov 1, 2003 Humanity Perth, WA

This is great! Gives me faith in humanity :)

Mon, Aug 11, 2003 Too damn certified USA

Yeah, right. Everyone knows MS certifications are worthless. I'm certifed MCSE, MCDBA, MCSD - in addition to Cisco and Comptia certifications, and I still can't find a job - even with 10 years of experience! Maybe you should get out in the real world before you decide to start rolling out advice to people.

Thu, Aug 7, 2003 Al uk

Perhaps an article on how to get out of IT might be more appropriate. Some Industry experts are saying 90% of IT jobs will be outsourced over the next 5 years and most of them will go overseas. Advising someone to go into IT in the 2000s is like advising someone to go into manufacturing in the 1980s. The jobs simply won't be there in a few years time - not that there are many jobs now. If you are young and still working in IT you need to be looking for a new career now. Don’t wait to be let go and then find it next to impossible to get a job – which is what happened to lots of manufacturing workers in the eighties.

Sun, Jul 6, 2003 Martin Hull

The above comment is typical of our profession. No offence rana but have you read the material on this page? Not sure its not just me that is confused by your question? but what do you mean you want an MCSE cert with minimum prize? The cert tests alone require quite a considerable level of english to understand the questions alone. There is no quick and cheap route to any cert let alone the MCSE. I would strongly reccomend an english course well before looking at an MCSE. This is by no means a nasty reply rana but merely an observation to your request and the level of your english as all the certs are english orientated you would sure benefit from one first. Also you havn't mentioned at what level are you at in computing or what experience in the real world have you got? A little more detail I am sure would get you a response even if it isnt what you want to hear. If you are new to networks You really need a year at the minimum working in a network environment with at least a grounding as an administrator. Other wise I would forget the MCSE for now. Why not try for the CNNA or perhaps an A plus to begin with, then move towards something like an MCSA then add more certs towards an MCSE afterwards. Either way it is a long haul buddy. No quick fixes or a drip in your arm can give you a certification that means something!

Thu, Jun 26, 2003 rana pakistan

i want to have MCSE certification how cani get it online and in minimum prize mail me at

Sat, Jun 21, 2003 x x

If you think segregating foreign people is being american that is a very bad vision of a multicultural nation, if you really are american study hard and help people in schools and colleges stop smoking pot rather than studyng.

Fri, Jun 20, 2003 Martin Hull UK

Excellent, Finally someone writing about IT jobs and the Industry who knows the industry.Too many people are being conned by false promises and false hopes about entering IT with high salaries and big bonuses. I have a HND in computing and MCSA along with 6 years experience of large scale networks.Currently I am earning £20,000 pa . So dont expect any more with no qualifications and no experience. You are lucky nowadays to get your foot in the door. That said things are due for a turnaround (hopefullly) stay optimistic and hang in there.Above all be realistic with earnings and job prospects!!!

Thu, Jun 19, 2003 Anonymous Indonesia

very valuable advice

Wed, Jun 11, 2003 Luis Ribeiro Portugal

Good Advice

Mon, Jun 9, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Good article

Mon, Jun 9, 2003 SAME ANON. from the post Los Angeles, California

Wow, Q from EU sounds like he's got it worse than I do. Good luck, Q.
I forgot to mention that while in Service, I'm taking part-time GE classes at a JC, and plan to eventually transfer to a Uni. and get a BA. in CIS. Should be done hopefully in about 5-6 yrs. Any comments or feedback on this would be appreciated. Thanks.

Sun, Jun 8, 2003 Q EU

Yeah well. In this corner of Europe where i live, it is really hard to get a decent IT job. I'm MCSE and MCDBA and i have over 7 years of active experience, but i'm unemployed now for the last 6 months.
There are a few new positions now and then, however every company overhere in my country requires an universty degree (yes, university - not college), at least one premier certificate and at least a few years of experience.
With just MCSE and MCDBA certs i can't even get a job in a service area (reparing PCs).

Sat, Jun 7, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Nothing here isn't common sense, but it helps some people to hear it from someone else.

Fri, Jun 6, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

People with experience, certs, and degrees (describing myself) can't get work right now. It isn't my resume, the problem is the economy, the increased outsourcing, and temporary visas like the H-1B and L1. Be American, Hire Americans.

Also, if you want to develop software and have no experience better get the degree.

Fri, Jun 6, 2003 Anonymous Los Angeles, California

Great Info .. Thanks Greg. I'm one of those who actually spent a year in Labs at a tech. school and got my A+ and MCSE - NT 4.0. The A+ cert. got me into an IT company's service dept. where, for the last 2 and a half years, I've been repairing Laptops and PCs, and get to get my hands one a server every now and then, but that's as far as I've gotten. No upward movement (into the Networking Dept.) has been possible because of "not enough work", as I'm told and other companies are not hiring. Any tips or advice?? anyone?? Thanks.

Fri, Jun 6, 2003 lucky one KC US

Great advise and article, thanks Steve!

Fri, Jun 6, 2003 lucky one KC US

Well said Alex. Great article Greg!

Thu, Jun 5, 2003 Alex canada

Many valid points. I think the one thing that a lot of newcomers have to learn real quick is that you will not make those high salaries or be in high demand until you pay your dues; by that I mean, it takes years and careful planning to develop your craft. Furthermore, building your IT career requires much more than just renewing your certs every 2 years. If that's all you can do, then you should lower your expectations as most companies are no longer intersested in techno-geeks who like to hide in dark server rooms or labs...

The ability to learn qucikly and communicate effectively will be what puts you into demand and the IT elite.

Thu, Jun 5, 2003 Anonymous Sydney, Aus.

Great information, the IT industry is becoming harder and harder to get into nowadays. Some very helpful ideas conveyed.

Wed, Jun 4, 2003 Ash Anonymous

Good advice!

Wed, Jun 4, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Fair advice

Tue, Jun 3, 2003 shank Raleigh, NC

Great Article.

IT certification helps in job search and moving up but experience is a must. I think it addition to Certifications, College education also matters a lot (more than certs). This does not in anyways mean that people without college degree cannot think (I think certifications are also good accomplishments).

Greg has outlined the key factors very well..

Tue, Jun 3, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Good advice and the part about tailoring your resume is very true!

Mon, Jun 2, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

right to the point

Thu, May 29, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Good advice about non-profits. I have seen volunteers in my IS department go on to paying jobs elsewhere after gaining experience.

Thu, May 29, 2003 Anonymous SWEDEN

I beg to differ!!

When I set out to pursue an IT career in the early nineties the job opportunities were abundant, but one had to have some kind of certification. So I got myslef involved in a CNE training program and the companies were yanking my chain to recruit me even before I had passed my exams. As it turned out I got recruited by a certified training center and spent most of the following years to educate others, due to the fact that they offered a very nice salary. I also studied and passed the exams as MSCE during that time.

Well, as we all know, the training business plummeted and so did the training centers. Several of them are out of business today, including the one I worked for.

All my former students now lead productive lives in the IT business, but I have been busting down CIO doors ever since the training center closed...

When it comes to your recommendation to pursue a college degree, two of my personal friends got degrees as Computer Engineers and are certified as MCSEs as well. None of which are employed anyway...

By the way, are you in some way implying that a college degree should demonstrate an ability to think, and a CNE or MCSE certification not???? ;.)

Wed, May 28, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

well said

Wed, May 28, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Great advice! Resume writing and good interview skills is the key.

Wed, May 28, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Good advice!

Wed, May 28, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

good job

Wed, May 28, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Legend article

Tue, May 27, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Excellent and timely article.

Tue, May 27, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Good tips on resumes

Tue, May 27, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Very updated!

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