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Chrystal: Tech is a booming industry and there’s no better time than now to join us. Many people take a more traditional path to IT through school or certifications. However, the journey to IT can come from anywhere. I’m your host today, Chrystal Taylor, Head Geek at SolarWinds. On this episode of TechPod, I’ve invited a few IT pros to share their journeys into IT, some advice for those looking to transition to tech from other spaces, and any other bits of wisdom gained along the way.
Chrystal: So, who are my guests? Let’s take a few minutes to get to know them a little bit. If you don’t mind, we’ll take turns introducing ourselves just where we are now. And for fun, you can tell us about a hobby if you’d like. If you have any shameless self-promotion, now’s a good time to do that. So if you have a cool project or you’ve got a YouTube video or something that you want to share, you’re welcome to do that.
Chrystal: I’ll start. As I said, I’m Chrystal Taylor, I’m a Head Geek at SolarWinds now. I get to do fun things like this and write blogs and things like that. So, you can find me around the SolarWinds space. My favorite hobby that I spend way too much time doing is gaming of all kinds of, so I will continue to do that. And let’s kick it over to Marc.
Marc: Hi. So I’m Marc Netterfield. I currently work at Cardinal Health. And my hobbies are mostly to try to find how I can spend as much time as possible not at my desk, so I spend a lot of time camping and working from the sides of mountains.
Chrystal: Nice. We’ll go to you Ivan next.
Ivan: Hey. My name is Ivan Bravo, systems engineer here at SolarWinds. So I practically started out as a mechanic, that’s my first foray into actual adult work. So going back from that, I started working on Apple IIs back when I was in the fourth grade. So, I just practically snowballed from there, built my first PC. Then went on to school, helping out at my local college over at Seminole Community College over in Sanford, Florida. So, eventually I ended up going from aerospace engineering to IT. And then things happened one after the other, and that’s practically why I’m sitting here now talking to you fine folks.
Chrystal: Awesome. Jake.
Jake: Hi. I am Jake Muszynski. I work for Nationwide Children’s Hospital. And some of my hobbies include tinkering with very small things, pretty much anything you can get from Adafruit.
Chrystal: Awesome. And last but not least, Paul.
Paul: Yeah, my name is Paul Guido. I work for a regional large financial institution in Texas and my team fights to keep that place safe every day. At a local presentation, I call myself a security janitor because it sounded funny, and about 30 years ago I did maintenance for a school district. So yeah, there’s a lot I learned back then that I still apply today.
Chrystal: Excellent. Well, thank you all for joining me today. I’m very excited about this. I love talking about different things that brought us to IT and how they help us in our jobs and think about things differently. So, let’s go ahead and kick off with our origin stories. I am going to tell mine, but it is going to be brief because I have told my story before. So I’ll be short.
Chrystal: I transitioned to IT from retail. The store that I worked for went bankrupt and I was unemployed as a single mom with about a one-year-old and I really needed something else to do. My brother-in-law worked at a tech startup and he called me with an opportunity, introduced me to my next boss. And I turned out to have an aptitude and I turned a two-week contract into a full-time job and did that for almost 10 years. So, that’s my story of how I got into IT, which was really just necessity. So I think that leads nicely into Jake’s origin story. If you’d like to tell us how you transitioned to IT, that’d be great.
Jake: Sure. I went to college to be a secondary education teacher, I went to teach high schoolers biology and geology. And I ended up moving after all of my student teaching was done, went to look for a job and I didn’t get one. It did not go according to plan. So I went and I looked at what was available out there, and I got a job in a call center. It was to support people who sold cable modem internet service, and I did billing calls, I sold service and I fixed those easy-to-do calls for technical support. And I figured out that I liked that. And one thing led to another, and now I have a career here doing system administration.
Chrystal: Excellent. Ivan, you told us a little bit in the intro there about coming from being a mechanic. So, how did you actually transition from being a mechanic into tech?
Ivan: Okay. So, I was always a mechanic, so I just practically changed from vehicles to PCs ever since I built my own PC without instructions. So, a lot of people thought that was a little bit odd that the fact that, oh, they just had this one guy assemble something from auto parts and nothing exploded. So, I went in just practically went from aerospace engineering then I applied all my skills to IT. And I started tinkering with a bunch of stuff ranging from archaic equipment back in the ’70s, all the way to the latest and greatest back then. So, did all that just fine. And I decided that I liked working in an air conditioned environment, so I moved from being a vehicle mechanic to a server mechanic. So, that’s what I’m calling myself still.
Chrystal: Excellent. Yeah, that air conditioning can make all the difference in the world. Now I know Marc has lots of fun stories. I’ve known Marc for quite a while now, and I’ve heard some of his fun stories. So Marc, why don’t you tell us your story?
Marc: Yeah, sure. No problem. So growing up, I’m from Las Vegas, and so I was working in restaurants on the strip for many years. And I went to college to be a mechanic also for a little while. I did one semester of computer science and thought that I didn’t want to do that nerdy stuff, so I dropped off of that program. I bounced around at a bunch of really high end restaurants in Vegas and I was doing pretty well with that for a long while. And then I didn’t want to have to live in Vegas anymore, I decided I wanted to move. So, I started looking at other jobs and realized that being a waiter in most parts of the country is not a six-figure income and I needed to do something else.
Marc: So, I got into IT originally doing customer service for an IT adjacent company and just hammered away at some certificates and tried to learn what I could and took whatever opportunities came my way for a couple of years. And then after about three years of building myself up into a proper IT career, I stopped doing that. For a while, I was a farmer. I’ve done all kinds of different things all over the place. I like to travel, so I was always looking at like, “What can I do if I want to live here? If I’m going to live in the mountains of Santa Fe, I’m going to be a goat farmer for a while. And if I’m going to go live in Dallas, Texas, I’m going to work in IT.”
Chrystal: That’s a great outlook. So, that leaves us with one final origin story to tell. So Paul, can you tell us your story?
Paul: Yeah. My family is traditionally in the construction business, so I learned all the trades growing up with the family doing commercial construction. And that really kinda set the stage for everything else. Later on, I needed some work, I thought, “Hey, there’s this opportunity at the school district, I’ll go ahead and work there.” And so I was a maintenance guy at a school district. It was great. So, you get a ticket that a toilet is stopped up or a call, you go in there and you run a plunger on it. That’s procedure one. Procedure two, you run a snake. It still doesn’t work. And so I pulled this toilet up in the cafeteria area and there is a wax paper milk carton stuck inside that toilet. And there was literally no way that was ever going to deteriorate or go away, listen, it had to be removed from the network. So, had to put everything, reassemble it, test it and put it back into service.
Paul: That sound like a ticket that you would normally get whether it’s a car mechanic or whatever else you’re doing, a security constraint, a network problem. Yeah, exactly. It’s all those all rolled up. I also got a HAM radio license about that same time, and that really me into networking over radio. So, I was watching packets go across doing frame tracing at night for fun. I did that for many years. And then finally, I landed this great job as a sales assistant at Avar. So I put the sales reports together because I could tell the difference between a parallel cable for a printer and a scuzzy cable for a storage.
Paul: So, it was really nice. I was in the right area, so I could really learn fast. I got my CNE back in ’94 from Novell, Compaq certified, and then just kept flying on from there. MCSE, VMware, storage, router switches, kind of the whole gamut. That’s why it built me up to where I can do a lot of security stuff. I worked at a financial institution for the last 20 years before I’ve been at this place for about a year and eight months or so. So, it’s been quite a ride for me. And I’m very fortunate. And I did it all the hard way without a degree. If I could recommend anything to anyone, please, get yourself a degree if you can. It will make the road a lot easier.
Chrystal: Well, that’s another leap. It was very interesting. Thank you all for telling your stories a little bit. Now, the reason why I asked everyone to tell their story in its basis form, because I’m sure we could all go into much more detail if we wanted to, but the reason why is I wanted to illustrate that there’s no one way to get into tech. And especially now, the industry is insane. Finding a job right now, there’s such a lack of talent that if you want to transition to tech, now is the time. So, for anyone out there who is having struggles or dealing with imposter syndrome as we all do from time to time, there are loads of us out there that don’t come from a traditional tech background.
Chrystal: And so, we’re going to discuss it. And those of us that have degrees or don’t have degrees can talk about how that’s affected as well. I want to talk about the advantages, the disadvantages, because I think that diversity of perspective and diversity of thought really keeps everything innovative and moving forward, which we need to continue to do. And having those different backgrounds makes us think differently. We think about things differently than someone who just went and took a bunch of network courses, they think very specifically along one line. And it makes it a little bit easier if you have someone to say, “Well, what about this?” Because maybe they never would have thought of it. And there’s nothing against going the normal way into tech, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
Chrystal: So, now that we’ve done that, let’s talk about the real conversation that we want to have today, which is, just discuss those things. So, I’ll kick us off. And feel free to join in when you have advice or a comment or a story to share. So, we’ll start with, like I said, different experience leads to solving problems differently. I definitely think that’s true. I have written many times about skills gain from previous experience, from gaming to retail, to being a waitress, and all of those things and how I’ve used those skills in tech.
Chrystal: So, do you guys have any stories where your previous skills came in handy in tech? And I think that that’s really a good transition because, Paul, you just told that story about a toilet from your previous life and how you relate that to similar situations you’ve had in networking. So, if you have any other stories or anyone wants to talk about fields that have been useful and come in handy in your everyday life, I’d love to hear it.
Paul: One thing I’d like to throw out there, in 1993 when I started in IT, I thought it was too late. I thought I’d missed the boat. I thought everything had already happened, there were already all these people doing stuff out there. And I was wrong. And not only was I wrong, but there are people out there listening thinking that it’s too late to get into whatever IT field they want to get into, I guarantee you, you’re wrong. You really need to get in there and start getting active, doing things whether it’s an entry-level position or however you want to get that crowbar in there and pry that door open and get in. Do it, do it now.
Chrystal: I agree. It’s not too late, and I will say also, you’re not too old. If anyone’s having that experience, my neighbor worked in the oil fields for like 20 years and he recently lost his job, and so he was looking to transition into tech and asked me a lot of questions. And it’s not too late, you’re not too old. We can all learn new things every day. When I was in college briefly, because I didn’t graduate, when I was in college, there were several people in some of my classes that there was a lady that was in her 80s and she was there just learning stuff. So, it’s never too late, just take it and run with it. Don’t think it’s too late. Jake, you had something to add.
Jake: Yeah. We talked about what we can bring in from other jobs. I found that most of what I’m doing, working with other people, educating them as to what I’m concerned about, what I think needs to be done, or why one thing is a better option than another, it doesn’t have to be formal, but you do have to know how to build up and show people why you see things the way you do.
Chrystal: Yeah. Actually, teaching skills are very useful in any field, but also, especially in IT. I mean, it’s constantly evolving, and like I said, always learning new things. So I’m sure it’s quite helpful having an education background.
Jake: Running a meeting is basically running a classroom.
Marc: I know, for a few years I was doing consulting. And when I was consulting, a big part of it was being able to drop in and meet a new set of clients and feel out the room and figure out how this situation was going to unfold for the next week or two and who I needed to get on my side and how to get things going.
Chrystal: Definitely, awesome. Well we mentioned earlier, Paul recommended that you get a degree if you’re going to come into tech. I don’t have a degree and I don’t have any intention of getting a degree. But I am of course already here, so it may not be as important. I will say though, how do you address the bias? Because there is bias out there if you don’t have a degree, it is harder to get past recruiters and things like that for if you want things. And my answer to that is networking, it’s about who you know and leveraging your connections. That’s how I got this job and I will not be ashamed to say that.
Chrystal: Who you know is important, especially if you don’t have a degree. And it doesn’t even need to be a computer science degree, there’s a lot of recruiters and stuff. As long as it’s like a box is checked, then they’ll pass your resume through. So, how do you guys address that bias? And do you feel like you have to continually address it in the workplace for coworkers? I never felt that pressure in the entire time I worked in IT from other coworkers, that I don’t have a degree in and that made me somehow different or lesser or anything. No one’s ever given me grief about it. So I’d be interested to hear how you all’s experiences have been.
Ivan: Well, for me, actually, I could recall one of my first big contracts. It was practically a contract to upgrade a little over 100 PCs that were all running Windows 3.1 and moving it over to Windows XP. So, this was around 1997 to 1999. And it was practically down to two people, which is, me, just starting out in college versus a guy also had the master’s degree and he said he’s been doing this for quite some time. So, when we were both down into the wire, the hiring manager just asked us one question, and is just practically, “Okay, my printer’s not working, so what could be going on with it?”
Ivan: So, I don’t exactly remember what troubleshooting steps he worked with for my competitor, but it was rather long. My first question was, “Okay, was the printer plugged in?” And of course at the end of the day, I’m the one who got the job. So, usually it’s not about what you know or what degree that you have, although they do help, but they both pretty much lead into the same place, and that is experience. Experience and wisdom gets you asking the right questions, and some questions are righter than others. So, that’s pretty much how I tackle every single problem that I run into.
Chrystal: Well, and since we’re giving advice to people who may be coming into tech from somewhere else that aren’t going to have that experience, I think the wisdom part of it is really important. It’s that different perspective because often I find that people who have been in tech for a long time, they have preconceived notions of all these steps that they need to go through. They overthink things because they’ve seen problems too many times, they start relating it back to other problems they’ve seen. So, they don’t necessarily see those simple easy solutions.
Chrystal: So, having that other voice in the room is actually really helpful to say, “Did you plug it in?” Because that’s clearly it wasn’t the first steps that the other guy took was, “Did you plug it in?” And it might’ve been the answer. I mean, there’s the joke from IT Crowd to try turning it off and back on again. It’s crazy because it works too much.
Paul: So, I’m a hiring manager, and one of the things I did after taking the position, I went and looked at all the job descriptions. And one of the things I made is a degree is optional, it’s not a requirement. I want to make sure that I have the most diverse staff possible, so I have diversity of thought when it comes to fixing problems and coming up with solutions. Going through the resumes was a good thing and I think it’s going to help us in the long run fulfill the goals that I have as a IT security professional to make sure that we keep everything secure.
Paul: I guarantee you the bad actors out there, they’re not looking for degrees, they’re looking for talent. And that’s what everybody really needs to find is good talent, people that have a good thought process on what they’re doing. Though, I recommend people getting a degree. I really do. I don’t hire just people with degrees.
Chrystal: Fair enough.
Jake: So, I have definitely seen it both ways. I do think that my degree has opened doors for me, I do think that the HR person who was looking at the thing really only cared that there was a degree not to mention that it had nothing to do with technology whatsoever. But while I was in school, I had people that I knew dropping out of college because they just took the right programming language right before the year 2000 because they had problems to solve in industry. They were getting pulled out of college because they knew a thing.
Jake: When Y2K was a thing that people were actually afraid of, they literally had their entire college paid for because they went and worked for a year or two because they had this one semester of class. So, in that case, it was just the actual skill that solved the problem. And I think that happens a lot in IT. I think that once you have the experience that fixes a problem, then you can go and translate that into jobs.
Chrystal: I agree.
Marc: When I was first getting into things, I didn’t have experience to fall back on. I relied on my home lab experience and my video games setup and my home theater and all of those kinds of things. I’ve wired up all kinds of machines and made them talk to each other and do all these different things, and then that was enough to get me in the door into my first position. And then from there, solved different problems that clients that I worked with and the businesses that I worked at had. And so being able to then refer back to refer back to, “Well, I don’t necessarily have a degree, but I have fixed this whole catalog of things in the past. And whatever you guys have broken, I’ll fix that too.”
Paul: And one note to the opposite experience, not having the degree. I definitely was qualified for a couple of different positions that I applied for over the years and I never could get past the HR filter. I never could get to the hiring manager to explain what skillsets and what experience I bring to the position.
Jake: Well, I just think that that’s true of getting promoted also. So, there are certain promotions that you won’t necessarily be able to get without that degree, sometimes even the master’s levels degree. So, if you know where you want your career to progress, you definitely want to make sure that you’ve made it as easy as possible and get that degree if you need it.
Chrystal: Right. It can be an uphill battle. I think right now the atmosphere in tech right now is so much easier to get into without that degree though, because everyone’s looking for talent and they’re willing to pay for it. So, I think that that being the case, the whole atmosphere we’ve got going right now is that you do have the talent and you do want to get promoted or such later and you want to go the degree route, maybe do it on the side. But that shouldn’t stop you from applying for positions if you’ve got the experience or you’ve got the skills to do it now. If you took a class and you learned Python, I mean, you can probably find a job if you want it, you just have to look. You may not get paid as much as someone with a degree, and that is probably to be expected.
Chrystal: Let’s see. I mentioned networking, not the IT term, but networking with people. And I think that this is a good transitionary point because that’s how I got into IT, is people I knew. I used to joke all the time that I got into IT because of nepotism because it was my brother-in-law that offered me an opportunity. And really all he did was introduce me to my next boss, and that’s how I talked to them and that’s how I got the job. But the networking is important, and you never know where it can come from. Keep your ears open. If you’re not in tech, odds are you probably know someone who is or who knows someone who is.
Chrystal: So if you’re interested, ask those questions, start poking around. Don’t don’t feel like you don’t know anybody. I mean, some of these big tech corporations are enormous, so the odds are of you be knowing someone who knows someone that works at those places. If you have questions, I think it’s a good time to ask questions, what did it take? Ask their stories. Find out what it takes to get into one of those tech companies to get around the recruiters, because you can get around the recruiters. If you know someone, they’ll hand in your resume past the recruiters. So, that is something I think that everyone should keep in mind.
Paul: You’re spot on. Definitely networking is a big thing, and there are so many great opportunities to network these days, besides there’s hundreds of small conferences that happen, almost every single locale has one. You should go there, they’re very inexpensive. There are other industry type things that happen that are now starting get active again, where they have things in your local area at some hotel, show up, see what’s going on, talk to different people. Network at the luncheon part of the area and talk to people.
Paul: Same thing goes for the security organizations like (ISC)² or ISSA. Almost any kind of job in IT is going to have a security component, might as well rub elbows with the security teams too. So, there are really good opportunities out there, go find them. Go look for meetups and whatever else it’s in the area.
Jake: My best opportunities have absolutely come from other people who I’ve worked with along the way or people that I’ve known and they’ve invited me to look into a job. That’s 100% true. But you talked about looking at big tech companies. I would say, just look at companies, because even if you don’t have a direct path into IT, if you get into a company that has another job that you can do but then you start talking with those IT people, that type of networking can let you transfer the career. We do that a lot at the hospital I work in because nurses will become IT people because they understand what the work that has to be done is long term. So I think that getting to know people who are doing that can come in a lot of different ways.
Chrystal: I agree that it can come in very handy. I want to say I do have a friend that she started out as an administrative assistant, and then she transitioned to a developer role. And she had gone to school for app development, and so she just got her foot in the door, started out as an administrative assistant. And that can be equally important.
Ivan: Yeah. Networking is very important because how I actually started was I was an independent contractor. I called myself as that just because I walked by the career boards that I’d pick up anything from there. So, if you’re running as an independent contractor, you have no choice but to actually go in front of people. So, how I got my first big job is just practically me being in a CCNA course and the guy next to me eventually became my manager because he was just taking a CCNA course, so he could get his certification. He saw that, “Oh, this guy next to me can actually subnet, maybe I should go ahead and hire him for 90 days on this temporary project.” And it all snowballed from there, he would not let me stop.
Chrystal: Excellent. Marc, did you have anything to add?
Marc: For me, it was actually pretty similar to what you guys had described with knowing somebody who their friend’s mom was hiring a customer role in an IT adjacent company, and I was like, “Yeah, sure. I’ll go meet her.”
Chrystal: You never know, it doesn’t hurt. I know that it can be very difficult for a lot of IT professionals to put themselves out there and meet people and talk to people. But it’s such a crucial aspect of a career if you want to move forward or if you want to change jobs, if you want to do any of that stuff. I don’t think that’s even just tech related, I think that’s just in general. Knowing people, meeting people, becoming friendly with them, learning things about them, can really help you move forward in any career.
Chrystal: So, I know we have at least one person that is in a position of hiring or has been in a position of hiring. So, from that point of view, and Paul, you talked about it a little bit earlier with respect to you not requiring a degree, just making the degree optional. And so, does anyone else have anything to add on what you look for in candidates?
Chrystal: And I would like to add my voice into the ring here. When I used to be part of the technical vetting process for hiring at my previous company, I didn’t care about degrees or certifications. I gave them information on the job that we were looking to hire for, and then I would ask them open-ended troubleshooting questions like, “This is the problem that we’re seeing, how would you start to troubleshoot this?” Because to me, the process is far more important. If you have a process for troubleshooting and you can get there, having that certification doesn’t necessarily mean you have the skills to get there.
Chrystal: I have met a number of people who have had certifications but couldn’t get around to the actual thought process of it. So, they are stuck in, this is what I was taught, and this is the only way they know how. Then they would get stuck into that one groove. And for me, it was more important that you could get to the end point, you could get down the path, you know what troubleshooting looks like in the case of what I was looking for at the job that I had. So I’d be interested to hear if anyone else hires or has hired, what you looked for or if you required a degree every time.
Ivan: Okay, at one point I did go up to the manager spot. I didn’t really care too much about it just because I felt like I was way too far from the trenches where I like to operate in. But for me, how I actually filtered out my candidates is just to see how deeply involved they are in the industry as a whole. I remember one of the candidates that I eventually hired to be my right-hand man at a previous job. And the interview wasn’t really an interview due to the fact that we went in, well, I could actually tell he was a gamer, so the first question I asked of him is, “Okay, what’s your tech specs?” And he was completely flabbergasted because he wasn’t expecting me to ask him what his gaming rig is. Then he started a long list, “Okay, I have an AMD processor with an Nvidia card,” and so on and so forth.” And I could tell that he loved gaming.
Ivan: So as any gamer with a test, if you build your own PC, you actually go through the entire CompTIA A+ certification right then and there. Okay, you power up, doesn’t go on. Pause. Okay, something’s wrong with a memory, swap them out. If it works, start going through the next processes. Not a lot of people actually know about that. So, when I actually brought him in, I found out that he really did love gaming to a point that, “Okay, well, I can actually use him both off and on hours.” So, he became one of my best friends at some point. Even though we’re at two completely different companies now in two different states, we still talk. At some points, he became the mentor. At some points, I’m the mentor. But either way, it’s always sharing information. And that’s one of the things that I love about this industry.
Jake: I’m not sure that I’m quite on the same page there. It’s great when you have a lot in common, but I will say that I want to be able to get along with them, I want to work well with them. I’m definitely not going to require people I’m hiring to share my interests just because our lives might be very different outside of work, we’re allowed to have things outside of work that aren’t related to what we’re doing. And I think that working with people who come from all sorts of different backgrounds and have all sorts of different interests is something you want to look for in an employee. So, while I think it’s great when they are, I just don’t want to make sure that that’s a focus of an interview ever. I like to make sure that I’m focusing on, can I think that they contribute to the job that I’ve got?
Ivan: Yeah. And I did completely understand that because the requirements that I had were onsite technicians, so a lot of face time, a lot of desk-side support with practically PCs that are similar specs to what you’d see in a gaming rig back in 2012. So, I had a very specific mindset for that one, and that candidate fit the mold actually. So, I do end up switching around the parameters depending on what I need versus the lineup that I received from HR, like every manager does. And I got tired of that, so I’m actually happier back on the trenches.
Chrystal: Well, I think then we can all agree that the point is to ask questions related to the job that you’re hiring for regardless of whether or not someone has certifications or degrees. So, if there’s any hiring managers listening to TechPod today, I hope you take that into consideration. A degree isn’t always going to make or break you, you got to get that diversity of thought in there. Excellent.
Chrystal: So, that leads into the next thing, which would be, what skills do you think are needed to launch a career in IT now? Not necessarily then, but what about now? What are required now? What are important tech skills? Is hardware more important? Is software more important? Or we need some mix of both? I’ll tell you, I have almost no hardware skills other than having my own gaming PC. I’ve never worked with physical hardware in IT. So, I believe software is important. I believe understanding hardware is important, but not necessarily having the hands-on skill as much with cloud and all of that. And I think that really coding is very useful. So, I’d be interested to hear what you guys think is important skills to know now to come and get into the field and continue to grow. I’ll go to Marc first this time.
Marc: So, I know when I was getting into IT, rack and stack and being there in the data centers and the closets and things was a pretty typical entry position for a lot of people. Data center was a commonplace a lot of us would begin. And that’s the route that I went and a lot of my peers. But in the cloud era, that’s significantly less relevant than it was 10 years ago.
Marc: So, at this point, I feel like when I’m talking to people that were looking to join our team, it’s a lot about, how do you learn? And have you learned any kind of scripting? Do you have any kind of exposure to any APIs or databases or anything like that? Because that’s the work that my team is doing, is mostly glueing data from systems from one place to the other. So, for us, it’s a lot about, you have to understand how to get information, how to research things. If you can’t read through boring technical documentation, you’re really going to struggle on my team.
Chrystal: Go ahead, Jake.
Jake: So learning is 100% the most important thing that you need to be able to do in technology today because your job does change from year to year to year. Just because you haven’t changed jobs, the technology in front of you is always moving. But I will say that things like problem-solving and being able to break down systems into components, so you can understand what’s going on, those are skills that apply over generations of technologies. Experience in that helps. But some people just jump into a problem, and those are really valuable.
Chrystal: Leon has a story or a thing that he likes to say, which is that you never learn a new skill if you’re always… I think that one he uses is a DNS administrator, if you’re a DNS administrator and you’re only a DNS administrator and you’ve never learned anything other than DNS, you’re not going to go anywhere. And in fact, you’re getting phased out. That might not be the correct job, but whatever it is, the point is, you have to continue learning, continue adding to your skills, and that if you stay stuck in one place, you’re going to start to see that you lose out on opportunities because there’s not as many opportunities if you only know one thing. Go ahead, Paul.
Paul: Yeah. And along those lines, if I didn’t grow my skillset, I’d be the best Novell, Compaq guy around. So, you’ve got to keep learning. When Microsoft came in and it was going on strong, Active Directory, VMware, just storage, networking, switches. Get your hands on anything that catches your interest. The nice thing about it is, in IT, there are a wide range of roles that are available for all types of people from all types of mindsets, everything from a job where you’re doing a rote thing over and over versus the ones where they have to be absolutely as creative as possible in their thought process. There is a wide range of things out there for everyone to do. So if someone thinks, “Oh, I could never do that.” Well, you can’t.
Chrystal: Just like the weather, if you don’t like it, wait a minute, you’ll find something new. So, I mean, that’s IT. That’s the beauty of IT in my opinion, is that it’s constantly changing and there’s new things to learn, so it’s always interesting. Ivan, did you have any additional skills you’d like to add to the plate as being important for growing in tech right now?
Ivan: Oh, yes. Always take a look at what’s going on in the news really. For me, I actually felt like I was blindsided when I heard cloud technology was a thing around 15 years ago. So, if I actually knew that, I would actually be in a completely different spot than I am right now. Tech is always changing, it’s pretty much Moore’s law. So, the one thing that I always tend to tell people is, one, ask the right questions, and two, do not be afraid to fail because, in my mind, you either win or you learn something.
Chrystal: Excellent. I think this topic specifically leads nicely into another question, which is, how do you handle requests from your employer to learn new technical skills? And that I think is a good question because there’s employers that will offer pay to learn things, they offer programs to take you through college. And not every employer does this. So, I am curious to hear how each of you would handle when your employer asks you to learn new skills, because we all know it happens on a regular basis.
Jake: So, we definitely do encourage people to go get training. Our business will absolutely pay for college or certificates or just online training. That’s not how I’ve learned most of the stuff that I’ve done though. Usually, I’m interested in solving a problem and there’s something out there that I’ll start with a Google, and I dive in. So, both things probably are going to have to happen when it comes to both of this, the employer wants you to do something and an employer wants you to go get training for something.
Jake: Usually, they don’t necessarily understand that you need training right off the bat. So, I don’t often say no. Usually, I’ll tell them where I’m comfortable like, “I’m confident this is going to be okay if I go and do this,” or, “No, I think I need some training,” and then they’ll follow that up with training. So, you need to make sure that you’re communicating clearly where you’re at in terms of your skillset.
Ivan: Yeah. I have something to add as well for training. So, it’s just practically I deal with that in practically a weekly basis due to the nature of what I’m doing right now. There’s just a new piece of technology every single week, sometimes every single day. So, usually the workflow would happen with my boss going in, “Hey, Ivan, let’s go ahead and have you learn this thing.” In which I would just respond with, “Why? I mean, the last thing was doing fine.” Then I spent more time onto it, and like, “This is actually fun.” Then flash forward three weeks, “Why aren’t we doing this in the first place?”
Ivan: So, I like learning new things. And that’s my definition of being an IT guy, you have to learn new things. And the best part of it is you see the things that you learn already applied in action and you can just stand back and say, “Yeah, I did all that.” So, it’s very great, and I never turn down the opportunity of learning something new. That’s for sure. And no one should either.
Marc: So, I’ve had colleagues in the past who kind of had a resistant attitude when they got tasked with, “Oh, you have to learn this new thing. You have to develop this new technology in the environment.” But I had always taken the attitude that everything that I learn is just more for my resume, it’s going to help me out in the next job. If it doesn’t help me out immediately right here, then that’s fine, someone else will pay me for those skills. So, I am always pretty open to it.
Marc: To a certain extent, I do try to align my personal career objectives with what my employers are looking to get from me. If I know what I’m doing and what I want to do, and if my employer is really pressing on me to develop some skills that are just completely in a direction that I don’t see myself going, then I’ll usually try to give themselves some kind of pushback or redirect, maybe there’s someone else on the team who would do better with that than myself. Because I know I was very excited to learn VMware when that first became a thing, and that’s segued into the cloud things. But at that time, if they’d have had me learning like wiring codes, then that would have been sunk time for me.
Chrystal: Yeah. I think that’s a really good point, balancing it against your personal objectives. And we all know, you can’t always say no when they want you to learn something new. But I think if there’s a difference too in the task behind learning certain things and other things, so if you’re being tasked with learning something every week and it’s just like, “Oh, here’s a new device and it doesn’t take you very long,” maybe that’s different than, “Oh, you need to go get a CCNA.” That’s a different task. So, if they’re asking you to get the skills behind a CCNA and get the cert, that maybe is going to be a bit more of a time sink. So, you’re going to have to put a lot more time into it and you have to balance that with your life.
Chrystal: And me personally, I balance it with my life. Are you going to give me the time that I need to learn this thing or am I going to be expected to learn this in my personal time? And while I do think that, as Marc and Ivan expressed, there are definitely benefits to yourself from taking your time when your personal time to learn things even if your employer asks that. I don’t think that’s always the case. And I am not afraid to push back if I don’t feel like I need to. I like to ask why, “Why do you want me to learn this?” That’s very important. I think communication is really important.
Chrystal: And you can ask why without being combative. And I think that the tone in which you ask your employers why they want you to do things is very important for maintaining your career path because people can take things personally. So, if you ask why and like, “Why? Why should I do that? Why should I do that for you?” Well, they’re not going to take it too kindly. So maybe ask what’s the purpose, “What’s the purpose behind learning this? What is the end goal?” And then you can have a conversation instead of an argument. So, if you do have pushback for certain skills that you aren’t ready to learn or don’t align with your personal goals, push back but push back in an intelligent way.
Ivan: Yeah. I’d like to add on on that one, because something similar happened to me a while back. So, I’m a pretty avid Linux user. So, I was approached by my then manager and he just practically told me, “You might want to take a look at PowerShell.” And I’m just sitting here, “PowerShell for Microsoft Windows, why would you want a Linux guy working on a Windows environment?”
Ivan: So, I just went along with it because I still don’t know back then, but I actually was told later on that the manager saw that I actually had some coding chops, so I could actually add in PowerShell as one of my toolset. And it came to a point that I am more confident with my PowerShell skills than I do with my Bash skills. So, sometimes when someone tells you that you should try to pursue something, especially a manager, don’t be offended by it. It’s more like they are seeing something that you aren’t seeing. So, just go along with it.
Chrystal: I think that pushes me to an interesting next point, which is about mentors. And I think that a manager isn’t necessarily a mentor, but your mentor might be your manager. And really a mentor to me is someone who’s going to help push you in the right direction, give you advice for your career and that kind of stuff, help you see things that you don’t necessarily see like that manager did for you that that skill is going to be good for pushing you forward. So, for you guys, do you have a mentor or are you a mentor? And do you have anything to add? And do you think it’s like a necessity? Do you think people should look for those? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. And Paul, I can see that you want to talk about this, so you go first.
Paul: Yeah. I happily mentor a number of different people from a security point of view, try and try and help them out the best I can and make sure that they’re prepared to enter the workforce. If they’re new in their career or if they’re established in their career and they’re thinking about changing what they’re focusing on, I do my best to help them out. I don’t think a mentor should be the person that you report to, you really should find somebody possibly even at another organization to be your mentor.
Paul: There’s a person that’s like the great grandfather of security here in San Antonio. He’s got a four-digit CISSP and I use him for my mentor. I’ve discussed career changes and other security aspects. When there’s something that has some history to it, I definitely want to touch base with him to make sure everything’s got a good alignment. Plus, he though is up there in years, he also is a startup mentality guy. He I don’t think has had a job for more than two or three years at any particular position. So, it’s really interesting getting that startup mentality in someone that has a lot of experience. And he’s worked at a lot of different companies that you all would know the names of right off the top of your head. So, I really lean on him a lot.
Jake: I can say that it’s sort of hard to branch out and try to find yourself a mentor. My mentors have been there, but they’re usually there to help me with a thing that’s going on. And I know that when I see people in our IT department, I’ve definitely tried to reach out to them. And usually I’ll notice someone because they’re interested in the thing that I think I can help with or they’re just willing to help, that starts a dialogue when you’re looking for a mentor.
Jake: And so, when I see someone who might need a mentor, I’ll definitely offer it up, and it’ll be, “Hey, let’s go grab lunch and talk,” about things that they might need to know. There are some things that are awkward to ask about, and you need to know how to find someone to help you through that. The idea of, how would I apply to my next job even if it’s not here? Or what should I be getting paid? Those types of topics are definitely not going to just come up in a normal team meeting. So, you definitely need to find someone who can mentor you through that stuff.
Chrystal: Absolutely. I also would like to throw out there, if you’re having trouble finding a mentor, while social media isn’t necessarily the best place, there are a lot of options on social media. People will do giveaways for mentorship that have been in IT for a long time, they open up. Typically, people who are regular mentors do a couple of people at a time, and they’ll announce when they’re ready for new mentees.
Chrystal: So, keep an eye out for people on social media, for people on LinkedIn, or which is a form of social media you could argue which are offering mentorship and start a dialogue with them. Typically, if they’re offering mentorship, they have open messaging where you can explain to them what you’re looking for and have that conversation. Maybe they won’t be the right fit for you and you need to find somebody else. But if you need a road to go and you don’t have anyone to go to, I mean, it’s not a bad idea.
Chrystal: And I would argue too that it is nice to have a mentor that is not even in tech for regular career questions. They won’t have this specificity of answering questions about the tech field, but they will be able to answer questions or talk to you about the people aspect. When you’re working with people, when you’re having a hard time with your boss or your manager or your C-suite or whatever, when you’re having a hard time, you’re burnt out at work, they can talk to all of the people side of things. So, it’s not necessarily needing to be a mentor in tech, although those are useful for giving you advice about the tech industry.
Chrystal: All right. So I have one final question for everyone, and I would like everyone to be part of this one to answer the question, which is, if you had a chance to start your career over, what would you do differently? And it can be anything, it doesn’t have to be related to education or any of the other topics we’ve talked about. But what, if anything, would you do over or do differently? And I’ll start this time with Ivan.
Ivan: Oh, if I were to actually reboot my career, I would actually lean further into the software side of things instead of being all hardware. It was difficult for me coming in as a mechanic, because everything that a mechanic sees are all hands on, you don’t necessarily see all the ECU systems until right down the line. So, if I were to do that, I would probably just send my younger self a large book of Linux Bash skills, and that’s practically it.
Chrystal: Excellent. Jake.
Jake: I’d probably learn more programming, and that’s in the generic sense, not in a specific thing. I think that those skills have served me well, but they’re all pretty much self-taught. And I think enhancing those skills, and I’ll probably still continue to do that even today. But if I had started off with a stronger background, I think that it only enhances the options you have in your career.
Chrystal: How about you, Marc?
Marc: I feel like I’m pretty happy with the trajectory of things. I feel like you guys have mentioned like pivoting into development, which is something that I did kind of midway into my own career. And I feel like you guys are right, that’s where it’s at. It’s been really worked out for me. And I feel like if I was still doing the same things that I was originally doing six, seven years ago, I’d be miles behind where I am in my career these days.
Chrystal: All right. That leaves, Paul.
Paul: Yeah. My previous job, I was there 20 years, I probably reinvented my job about every five years at that location by just continuing education. If people were starting out now, if I could start out, let’s say, now, I’d have better Linux skills, better PowerShell skills, Python, learn whatever you can about the cloud because that’s where things are going go, or not maybe every load, but a lot of loads. And then finally, I would have gotten a mentor a lot sooner, so I could have better guidance on my career. I think I probably should have made a couple of career changes faster. I could have avoided a couple of pitfalls and been further along with my career than I am. I’m very happy with where I am. It’s just that I think I could have gotten there probably 10 or 15 years earlier.
Chrystal: I agree. For myself, I think I would’ve gotten a mentor a lot sooner to give me advice, because I didn’t have any idea of what I was doing and I stayed somewhere that I shouldn’t for too long and I was stagnated, and it was unfortunate. So, yeah, I mean, tech is a place that constantly evolves and moves forward, and if you want to move forward, you also need to do the same.
Chrystal: Excellent. Well, thank you everybody. So I want to ask for any final advice for someone transitioning to tech from any other industry. And then if you have any self-promotion that you’d like to do where people can find you on social media or any of that stuff, if you want to do that, you are welcome to do that as well.
Marc: So, as final thoughts for someone trying to get into tech from another field, one of the biggest things that people talk about once you are inside of tech is imposter syndrome. Everybody feels like they can’t do the job that they have right now. If you think that you can do your job, it’s probably time to get a new job or a promotion, go do something else. So, that’s the thing, don’t feel like you can’t get into it. Everyone feels like that. Just dive in, find what opportunities you can, try to narrate a story about your background that makes it seem like a good idea to hire you. And then once you get going, don’t worry about what you don’t know, just learn more.
Chrystal: All right. Paul.
Paul: The time to change is now. If you’re in a different field you want to change in IT, go ahead and do it, get yourself a mentor, find that entry-level position, whatever you need to do to get in. If you can, advance at that company. If not, you might need to transition every once in a while to continue to grow in your career. If you want to get in touch with me, you can get me on Twitter at @Radioteacher.
Ivan: I would actually tell someone to go ahead and take the CompTIA A+ course because you get to see everything on computers from then and there. But do your due diligence, make sure to research everything. It’s always hard at first, but everything is hard at first, so don’t stop.
Chrystal: True. All right. And Jake, do you have any final thoughts? Any self-promotion you’d like to add?
Jake: Sure. If you’re going to make a change into getting into technology, it’s okay to not get the job that you think that you want, just get the job that’s closest to it and then keep trying to move your way in. Just get closer, get closer. And you might change your mind along the way, and that’s fine too. Give it a try and just keep iterating at it. That’s my best advice. And all my social media is really boring, so don’t bother.
Chrystal: Fair enough. Well, thank you again for everyone joining me today. This has been wonderful. I am so glad that we have so many different perspectives and we were all able to share some advice and some experience from us all being in IT for I’m sure collectively a rather large amount of time. So it’s been wonderful. I would just like to add that diversity only helps us become more inclusive, more innovative, and help move us forward and make things better. So, I encourage everyone to use your diversity of thought to move things forward, to make people think differently. It’s always useful.
Chrystal: If you’d like to connect with me, you can find me on Twitter @ChrystalT87, and on our wonderful THWACK community at ChrystalT. I welcome you to check the THWACK community out. It is completely free to have membership there and it is full of IT professionals learning and moving forward. There are lots of resources there and lots of ways to network with other people if you’d like to. And then, thank you for joining us on TechPod today. If you enjoy this episode, please follow, rate, and review the podcast. Be sure to join us in the future for more conversations around the IT industry. Until next time, I’m Chrystal Taylor.–