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Your IT Career Starts Here: Certification, Community Colleges, and More

So you want to work in IT ... but you don't have a four-year college degree. Don't lose hope! Spurred by a visit to CompTIA's website, Ed Tittel investigates alternative career launching pads.

Young man and young woman talking tech over latteI recently came across a fascinating article recommendation in the CompTIA in the News section of that organization’s Newsroom page. It’s from a fluffy-seeming publication called JADE Magazine: a fresh perspective for Asian women.


The article, titled Different Career Paths in Tech, surveys a number of common questions about working in tech, which I equate with working in some aspect or niche of information technology. CompTIA cited it because the JADE article cites CompTIA's own 2015 study HR Perceptions of IT Training and Certification.


You’d think the data mined from a study that will turn two years old next month (it first appeared on Feb. 18, 2015) would be stale and irrelevant. I’ve got to hand it to whoever wrote this piece for JADE (no attribution is given), however, because they managed to pull some truly interesting insights out of that material.


I’d like to review those insights while mulling them over a bit. My hope is to bring cheer to aspiring IT workers, especially career changers or interested parties who didn’t (or haven’t yet, or won’t) earn a degree in an IT related subject like computer science, informatics, IT, MIS, and so forth.


I’ll summarize my favorite point as a section head in the text that follows, with explanation and discussion to match.


Is a CS degree necessary to work in tech? If you don’t have one, how can you gain the skills needed for such jobs?


The JADE article makes the point that a degree doesn’t hurt (and in fact helps) aspiring IT professionals. On the other hand, the article's unknown author suggests that what so-called “skills-focused alternatives” to four-year degrees are also valid paths into the field.


In particular, the article makes reference to “certifications, internships, and apprenticeships” as workable means for employers to “identify and hire capable workers.” Furthermore, Jade also observes that “skill-specific training comes at a lower price tag than even public universities, and translates directly to expertise used on the job.”


If that doesn’t sound like a killer endorsement for IT certification in general, and countless job development programs that combine skills training and cert prep at community colleges all around the country, then I don’t know what would!


Here’s where the CompTIA study comes into play: JADE cites the study to assert that “98 percent of HR and hiring managers are willing to consider qualifications outside of college on an applicant’s resume.” That’s so close to being the whole population that it might as well say “almost all HR and hiring managers.”


What this means to aspiring IT workers in general, and career-changers in particular, is that finding and attending a good upskilling program or IT-oriented apprenticeship — particularly one fueled by public funds and intended to turn the unemployed or marginally employed into fully employed taxpayers — is a smart path to follow in finding gainful employment in a field where a lifetime’s career can be created and nurture.


The same is true for lots of recent college graduates, or those getting ready to graduate in 2017, with degrees in other fields where the employment prospects are less encouraging, and the opportunities lower-paid (as well as fewer and farther between).