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

Young man and young woman talking tech over latte

I 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).

 

If finding work in IT is on your to-do list, and you don't have an "IT degree," what now?

 

Kids in the classroom at community college

I'd suggest checking out the community colleges in your immediate vicinity. Surf their websites and look for things like "IT training," "IT careers," "IT skills," and so on. If you can't easily find something, then pick up the phone, call the admissions department, and ask to speak to a counselor.

 

Tell that person you're interested in working in IT, don't have an IT degree (or any degree, if that's also true), and you're looking for their fastest path into an IT job. My local community college, Austin Community College, covers a five-county area in central Texas.

 

The Austin Community College website includes a page labeled Career & Technical Programs that lists 87 different options, of which a half-dozen or more fit squarely under the "IT jobs" umbrella.

 

Their Computer Science and Computer Information Systems heading lists half-a-dozen AAS degrees in such things as programming, web development, game development, LAN administration, LAN/systems security, and end-user desktop support. They also offer certificates in databases, C++ and Java programming, network administration, user and desktop support, and Web development.

 

Certificates are particularly attractive to many people because (a) they are usually offered to satisfy specific employer requests from the local area, and (b) because they may be completed more quickly and cost less to complete than a two-year Associate's degree.

 

Finally, as at most community colleges, ACC also operates an active and broad Adult & Continuing Education program that offers classes on popular IT certifications including the CompTIA "Big Three" (A+, Network+, and Security+), Microsoft MCSA and MCSE, CompTIA CCENT, CCNA, CCNP, and more.

 

In short, there are lots of opportunities for upskilling and certification prep available, at reasonable prices and on schedules (and through media such as online learning and labs) aimed at adult learners working full-time jobs.

 

Check it out! Investigating these options won't hurt, and if you're lucky you'll not only learn something, you'll also be able to parlay your learning into a positive change of career direction.

 

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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.