I’ve seen many people asking how to start or skill up in their IT career, and I thought I’d share my two cents on ways to do so. I’ve divided this post into three sections: Foundational Tier, Advanced Tier, and Expert Tier. If you already have knowledge from a previous tier, start at the tier after. After discussing the tiers and what knowledge to obtain, I’ll have a bonus “extra tips” section that will discuss resumes, websites for learning tech, and job hunting.
This is just my opinion on how to get started or skill-up in this industry. I’m obsessed with IT hiring/job data, and I scour several job sites and look at financial salary reports based on what skills are in high demand, and I read a lot of job posts. Just to give you a sense of where I’m at in my own career at the moment, I’m currently a Sys Admin in the fin-tech industry. Sites I analyze data/job posts from: Dice, Robert Half, Indeed, Linkedin, Glassdoor, Zip Recruiter, Medium, and select subreddits pertaining to IT/Tech.
For those just starting their IT career journey, this is where you start. A good way I like to gain new knowledge is to study for specific certifications, so I’ll be recommending certs to study for as we go. You don’t necessarily need to obtain the certs, but having them on your resume will make it look good and with certain certs demonstrate practical knowledge.
If you’re completely new to computer hardware/software/IT, I recommend glancing over an A+ certification study guide, it will teach you the basics of hardware and desktop/laptop/printer administration.
Two skills I recommend every IT professional to have it Networking and Linux. As a bonus, many companies also have Windows Server operating systems, so studying for the MCSA Server 2016 (or relevant Azure cert) certification wouldn’t be a bad idea.
For networking knowledge, study for the Network+ or CCNA certifications. Net+ is more beginner-friendly, and CCNA goes into more depth and focuses on Cisco-specific networking equipment (you can also choose a Juniper cert as well because it’s a popular networking equipment vendor too).
For Linux knowledge, study for the Linux+, LPIC-1, or RHCSA certs (I recommend RHCSA because the exam is performance-based and it will show employers that you have hands-on experience with Red Hat Linux).
The Google IT Support Course path on Coursera is a great set of courses that teach a broad range of systems administration, Linux, and security, check it out!
For the Advanced Tier IT career, we’re going to focus on programmatic/command-line skills. Here are four items that are super good to learn, and if you have knowledge in these areas you will open up your career opportunities: Python, Powershell, Bash, SQL/Databases. Now I advise you to pick two of these and get good at them, but if you want to be super cool learn a little about all of them. ** As a bonus for the Advanced Tier, I recommend learning some Configuration Management. Configuration Management options include Ansible, Chef, Puppet, Salt Stack.
Python is a programming language, but can also be used by system administrators as a scripting language to automate manual tasks. For learning Python there are tons of resources, but a good one I’ve found is a book/Udemy course called: “Automate The Boring Stuff With Python”. There’s a website for it where you can read the book for free online, you can buy the paperback version, and there’s a cheap Udemy course that follows along with the book as well.
Update: Google has come out with a new course path on Coursera called: IT Automation W/Python, I enrolled in it right now and it’s really good!
PowerShell is the windows command line on steroids, and learning it will make people think you’re a wizard on any Windows computer/server. A good way to learn PowerShell is the “Learn Powershell In A Month Of Lunches” book.
Bash is the command-line equivalent of the Linux/Unix world. Bash is used to giving Linux commands and to use as a scripting language like PowerShell to administer Linux systems. A good resource for learning Bash is books like “The Bash CookBook” or “Learning Bash”. Studying for the above-mentioned Linux certs will also teach you bash.
SQL stands for Structured Query Language and is used to manipulate and gather data from databases. People that know SQL definitely do not have issues finding jobs, so I thought I’d include it on the list. There are several SQL courses on the Udemy website that are good for learning SQL and database skills (at the end of this reddit post I will share other sites that are great for IT/Tech learning, so stay tuned). Alternatively, you can study for the MTA Database Fundamentals certification. Edit: It’s been pointed out in the comments that another great resource for learning SQL are the T-SQL Fundamentals and T-SQL querying books by Itzik Ben-Gan.
For learning Configuration Management, Linux Academy has videos that cover these pieces of software. You get a free trial when you sign up with them, plus they have videos in a “free tier” that cover the basics of a variety of different topics.
Security: Someone brought up the fact that I left out information security, so I will add a bit about that. The Security+ cert is a good place to start with security, as is working with SELinux. After the basics of the Security+, there are a plethora of certs that teach more advanced security knowledge, companies such as ISACA, SANS, ISC2, and CompTia (to less of an extent than the formers but still worth mentioning) offer such certs. Information Security practices are also taught in specialty certs for many of the Orgs listed in this post such as Cisco, Aws, Azure, etc (Example: AWS Security Specialty).
For additional coding/programming knowledge, you can visit the following sites: FreeCodeCamp, Codeacademy, TeamTreeHouse, TheOdinProject
For the Expert Tier IT career, I’m going to recommend Cloud, and Containerization technology. The Tech world is heavily shifting to use these two awesome technologies, and knowing them will get you some pretty awesome and unique jobs.
For Cloud knowledge, you’ll want to pick one of the three big providers (AWS/Azure/Google Cloud) and study for their certs. AWS has the Solutions Architect/Developer/SysOps certs (or the Cloud Practitioner at the very beginner level), Google has its Associate Cloud Engineer cert, and Azure has certs as well but their names escape me.
The containers are really super cool. There are a few big players in this arena: Docker, Kubernetes, and OpenShift (this one is for Red Hat Linux). Docker has the DCA cert you can study for, Kubernetes has the CKA cert (they have a developer cert as well), and OpenShift has specific Red Hat certs that cover its material.
Websites with good learning resources:
Free: Youtube, EdX, Coursera, Udacity (some), Udemy (some)
Pay for: Udemy, Linux Academy, ACloudGuru, Linkedin Learning, PluralSight
Resume: Make sure your resume is spiffy and shows off all of your talents. Make sure it markets you in a great way. Get the help of a resume professional if you have to. Once that is done make sure you make a profile (make it look nice and spiffy) on big job sites (LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Dice, Indeed) and post your resume on all of them.
This is a huge one for your IT career. Practicing new technologies/software at home is a great way to level up your skills and show employers you have the drive to learn new things and become better. You can do this in two ways:
Physical machines: You can buy new or get old/junker computers/servers and put Linux and other operating systems on them, network them together, and use this setup to practice system administration skills.
Virtual Labbing: Or you can use software like Virtual Box/VMWare to create virtual servers and practice system administration that way.
Cloud Labbing: Same as above, but making virtual machines and entire enterprise environments in the cloud. When you sign up for an account with any of the big cloud providers, they give you introductory credit to experiment with the cloud and understand how it works.
When hunting for IT/Tech jobs, location matters. Remote jobs are possible, but good ones can be hard to find. If you’re in a small/rural city, I recommend looking for jobs near bigger cities/capital cities/tech hubs. Indeed and Glassdoor are great websites to scope out jobs in other cities, and see how salaries are in those cities. Now I know that not everyone is in a situation to move, but I will tell you that it’s worth it. I lived in a small southern town, moved to a capital city for work, and it was amazing. Perhaps I’m biased because I made the move and it turned out good for me, but I recommend considering moving if you’re in an area that does not have a good tech market.