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An open letter to entry-level IT employees

The world of IT can be unforgiving, especially for those just starting out. The keys to finding and maintaining success are humility, patience and an open mind.

You've graduated and prepped, perhaps you've even collected some certifications, and you're now ready to take that...

first step into the corporate IT world as an entry-level IT employee. These first steps can be a challenging, but not just from a technical standpoint.

Beginning a career in IT means entering a world where no matter how good you are, someone is better. Arrogance can run wild in IT, and being the new person on the block with a chip on your shoulder is often a recipe for disaster. It doesn't matter how many letters you have after your last name, walking into a new company means you're walking into someone else's backyard and entry-level IT employees should be mindful to show proper etiquette.

If a company hires you to be a help desk tech and you later complete an advanced IT degree, you shouldn't expect to just slide into a new role.

Being the new person in a company doesn't mean you have to sit in a corner and say nothing. It means you're fresh with new ideas, up to date with the latest technology and, of course, you're eager to share. The challenge is to share where and when it is appropriate. Coming into an environment with lofty goals of changing an organization without taking stock as to why things are the way they are is the definition of arrogance. Having solutions without knowing the problem doesn't help anyone. However, inquiring about the problem presents an opportunity to learn and suggest possible ideas.

Once you are settled and start to dig in, you may realize that everyone isn't exactly treated equal. In a company, everyone as a human is equal. However, when it comes to the job we all get paid differently.

As an entry-level IT worker you might be given the simple tasks of racking and stacking servers, general administration or cabling. While these positions are often boring and tedious, they need to be done. While a more senior person could do the work, when you compare the cost in labor based on salary, it becomes very clear who should be doing the grunt work. However, in a few years when you have moved up in position, you will get to be the one administering the server while someone else racks and stacks servers.

This doesn't always sit well with folks that recently graduated from college or obtained some type of industry certification. However, if you look at it from the company's viewpoint, it might be easier to understand. If a company hires you to be a help desk tech and you later complete an advanced IT degree, you shouldn't expect to just slide into a new role. This can be frustrating for someone starting out, but all is not lost. Holding these advanced certifications may help you get first dibs at a new position.

Patience will always be your friend. Often, moving up the command chain can be fairly quick, depending on your work ethic. It's inevitable that new technology will emerge and the business may struggle to keep up. IT is a unique field, offering countless career paths or specializations. While many positions will be segregated among silos, there is normally enough overlap in the required skills to make a successful transition. Of course, don't lose track of the job you have today by spending too much time focusing on the job you want next.

When you walk in the door to your entry-level IT job, you're entering a whole new world. It doesn't matter if you start as an engineer or a help desk technician, the sky is the limit. Respect and value your peers' knowledge, engage with them in conversation and not brinkmanship. Be open to learning from what they have to say. Remember, nobody ever knows everything. Have a positive work ethic for not only the job and its duties, but also for your own growth and education. The IT field never slows down or stops; neither can you.

Next Steps

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This was last published in June 2016

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What advice would you give to employees looking to make an impression in an entry-level IT job?
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I posted this in the related question and I'll re-post it here for those that may miss it.

Don't give up or take bad comments too personally. There are some great bosses out there. Others are not so hot. I have some berate me for things that other were doing daily. The boss may have been having a bad day or just did not like me personally. In my 30+ years in the IT field, I can say I really only had 2 bosses I would probably never work for again. I have had recruiters try and place me in the same company a few times. My first question is to ask if Mr. X is still the manager? If so no thanks !!
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Listen. Learn. Apply. Most of all, don't be deterred by damn near anything. As an entry-level employee you're bound to get a fair amount of abuse, some well-intentioned, some decidedly not. Take mental notes of the bad ones so you'll know what to improve when you're running the show.  
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Yes, some of the abuse may be intentional. They may be testing you to see how you handle pressure and things like deadlines. It may not be your daily environment but they want to expose you to real world situations. Take it all in stride and learn new things every chance you get. It keeps the job from getting stale and boring.
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DO NOT try hard to make an impression.

It might be tempting to quickly discover a big problem no one noticed or a solution that no one thought of. But those most often end up in embarrassment.
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Don't give up or take bad comments too personally. There are some great bosses out there. Others are not so hot. I have some berate me for things that other were doing daily. The boss may have been having a bad day or just did not like me personally. In my 30+ years in the IT field, I can say I really only had 2 bosses I would probably never work for again. I have had recruiters try and place me in the same company a few times. My first question is to ask if Mr. X is still the manager? If so no thanks !!
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Again, DO NOT try hard to make an impression.

Winning attention of your boss at the expense of dislikes of the colleagues is no win at all on the long run. You came into the team. Now work on being accepted as a member.

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