Tips for Learning I.T.
By Erik Rodriguez
This article provides some information and tips on learning I.T. related topics and technologies.
What is IT?
I'm still surprised that people don't know what I.T. stands for. Several times per month I meet people who ask what I do. When I reply saying I do I.T. they either think it's something else or say "what's that." At this point I don't bother explaining what it is, so I usually just tell them "I work on computers." I still don't know how I ended up in this field, or why I run this site. However, I'm in too deep now to get out, so I might as well make the best of it ;) The information technology field is a complicated one. It is arguably the most technical practice on the planet. Remember that basically our whole civilization is controlled by information technology. Credit cards, banking, e-mail, etc is all controlled by servers, routers, and other technical devices that comprise I.T.
How do you get into this field?
I wrote a short article a little over year ago about entering the I.T. field. It covers the basics of system administration. You can read it here. As I mentioned in that article, most I.T. professional do not use information taught at universities or colleges. Those institutions usually focus on "general" education. I attended one of the top 50 universities in the nation. The computer department had literally no focus on information technology. The computer science and computer engineering programs focused mostly on math and java programming languages that have little to do with I.T. practice. Although some schools now offer degrees in information technology, the bottom line is that I.T. is all certifications.
There are soo many certs out there, which one do I get?
This is a good question. There are literally thousands of certifications available. Some are highly specialized and/or specific, while others are very general. Below a list of the most common and relevant certifications today:
- CompTIA Network+
- CompTIA Linux+
- CompTIA Security+
- MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer)
- CCNA (Cisco Certified Networking Associate)
- RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer)
You may have heard about the "A+" certification which is basically just a simple test covering computer hardware. The fact of the matter is, if you are getting into I.T. you will need to know much more than just that, so you might as well not waste your money on that test. The prices for these certifications vary. Some of these require you to take a course before you are eligible to take the exam, other let you "self study" and simply purchase a test voucher. Based on that, these certifications can run anywhere from $215 to over $2500.
I know nothing, where do I start?
The compTIA certs give students a good general overview of I.T. and I.T. related topics. They are a great starting point to get into something more specialized. If you are completely new to I.T. the best way to learn is to read books, talk to I.T. professionals, and find some good tutorials. DO NOT try to jump into something advanced right away as you will only confuse yourself and might even be scared off. Learning I.T. takes A LOT of time. At the age of 24, I would say I have spend around 3 years worth of my time doing this stuff.
Microsoft, Red Hat, Cisco?
The microsoft certifications are valuable! They teach you many confusing things that would otherwise be tricky to learn on your own. They are valuable because Windows is deployed literally EVERYWHERE! Windows desktops and servers will be around for many more years and there will always be a demand for that knowledge. Linux, specifically Red Hat, is usually deployed in large businesses, or other places that require a highly customized computing environment. While the demand for this knowledge is not as prevalent, the wages for Linux professionals are higher than that of Microsoft professionals. Cisco is commonly used in mission-critical environments. It is more expensive than other network equipment which is why it is not that common among small businesses.
I can't afford these certs, how else can I learn?
For many reasons, you may not be in a position to obtain these certifications. There are several alternatives:
I always hated reading books in school, but some great non-fiction I.T. information really hits the bullseye for me. You can learn a TON of I.T. from books, and you don't need a ton of cash to do it. Many books are available on-line. You can also find some published ebooks by hitting the torrent sites. I have an extensive collection of books and ebooks. I have turned to some of these books when I was caught in a bind and they saved my ass a few times.
- Websites like this one
- Test equipment
You can find TONS of tutorials online about nearly anything. I taught myself HTML with some help from Joe Burns who runs a site called HTML goodies. HTML goodies served as a huge inspiration to me, and without it, skullbox.net might not be around today...
There are also TONS of websites like this one (I like to think this is one of the better ones) that focus on information technology. The more you read, the more you learn. It's also great to find sites like this one and send the author an email. Most of them (like me) will reply and give you some insight on any questions you might have.
Test equipment is a big one. As you may or may not know, I have been doing freelance I.T. work in the Orlando area for over a year now. I have setup many different types of networks, routers, servers, etc. One of my best practices is building whatever my customers need on a spare box before I actually get to their site. At the time of this article, I have 6 servers in my closet that I use for testing and installation practice. While some of them are stable machine (one's that are never rebooted) others are ripped apart and re-installed monthly. You don't have to spend an arm and leg on this stuff. If you are just testing operating systems and configurations, you won't need a beefed up machine. The majority of my servers are Pentium 3 machines.
The I.T. field isn't for everyone. Remember there isn't a single person who knows everything about information technology. It is such a broad and complex field that it is impossible for someone to be an expert on everything in I.T. You can become quite successful and live very comfortably if you put in the work and get a solid foundation. There will always be a demand for system administrators, network engineers, and I.T. managers. Remember, it is very important to obtain your certifications. These prove to employers that you know what you're doing and that they can trust you to work on their network, servers, etc. You may want to read another article titled "The Do's and Don'ts of IT professionals."