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Get a leg up in the information technology industry with these tips

The information technology industry is an innovative and exciting place, but also highly competitive. Learn what it takes to become a gainfully employed IT expert with these tips.

The information technology industry has always been defined by growth and innovation, driven by passionate and...

dedicated individuals whose accomplishments have helped usher the world into the modern era. It's no wonder, then, that so many people are eager to break into the information technology industry or make their mark in the IT world. However, that enthusiasm can only take you so far; becoming an administrator requires a great deal of knowledge and technical skill, which must be honed through years of training. The role of administrator also requires a healthy dose of humility and an acute understanding of the inner workings of IT. While all of this may sound like a tall order, if you're able to meet these requirements, you'll be well on your way to a rewarding, lifelong career.

Not sure where to get started? Check out these five quick tips to help find your way.

The ever-evolving role of the system administrator

The landscape of the information technology industry is constantly changing to accommodate consumer demand, and the role of the system administrator has evolved accordingly. Gone are the days when administrators could dedicate their attention solely to specific software, hardware or the cloud. Today's admins must be well versed in all areas and must actively look for ways to bring these elements together to make them function as a cohesive unit. Virtualization is as vital as ever, and the introduction of new technologies doesn't necessarily mean that legacy products will fall by the wayside or become irrelevant. The role of system administrator is also becoming increasingly hybridized, so those hoping to find gainful employment in IT would be wise to either brush up on or become more familiar with networking and storage to stay competitive. Although the high expectations placed on system administrators may seem intimidating, acquiring multidisciplinary skills can open up infinite possibilities to entry-level employees. The beauty of IT is that it's in a constant state of flux, always striving for progress; administrators who embrace this fact and use it to drive their work will find themselves justly rewarded.

Programming: An essential skill

One of the most essential qualities an administrator should have is the ability to adapt. Administrators worth their salt must always be on their toes, ready to familiarize themselves with new technologies as old systems fade into irrelevance. The latest casualties of IT's continuous evolution are the command line and the graphical user interface. While many enterprises still rely on these systems, programming is rapidly replacing scripting with no sign of slowing down. In this new age of DevOps, knowing how to code is no longer a luxury -- it's a necessity for any administrator who wants to maintain an edge in the job market. For programming novices, the best way to get started is to look into programming languages like YAML and JavaScript Object Notation and tools such as Ansible OpenStack API. Learning to program can be a difficult endeavor, but once you've mastered it, you'll have an advantage over those resistant to change. 

Create a roadmap for your IT future

Much like the role of the administrator, professional IT training has undergone many changes in recent years. Where once IT trainees were forced to shell out hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to physically sit in a classroom and take weeks' worth of courses, training and certification can now be done online, often for a fraction of the cost. Computer-based training has become increasingly popular largely due to its accessibility, but it still has certain drawbacks, particularly the lack of hands-on application. A traditional college degree in IT can help make up for that lack of hands-on experience, but it can come at a hefty price and can take two to four years to complete, which isn't realistic for those already working a nine-to-five job in IT. Fortunately, some schools will offer abbreviated or nighttime courses to accommodate those working on a strict schedule. If you're looking to expand your knowledge beyond the basics introduced in online or college courses, IT certification might be the right choice for you. Certification can help you develop a specialized skill set, which can come in handy for administrators dealing with a specific technology or brand, and comes at a variety of levels.

Choose the right level of IT certification

So you've decided to pursue IT certification; where should you go from here? There's certainly no shortage of certification tracks to choose from; virtualization industry leaders like VMware and Microsoft offer vendor-specific certifications, or you could opt for a general certification. There are also multiple tiers of certification, from low level to expert level. With so many options at your fingertips, figuring out which certification will take you the furthest can be an overwhelming task. It's important to be discerning. The best way to get started is to assess your reason for pursuing certification. How can certification benefit your career in the long term? If you choose to pursue a higher level of certification, will your current employer compensate you in accordance with your newly-acquired skill set? Will the technology you intend to study be relevant in the next five years? How about 10 years? Would-be administrators should also consider how much time and effort they are willing to dedicate to certification. Those with demanding schedules might not be cut out for expert-level certification, as it's labor intensive and time consuming, but they may find a great deal of success pursuing a lower level of certification. It all boils down to the individual. If you're realistic about your needs, goals and capabilities, you should have no issue finding the certification track that's perfect for you.

Dear entry-level IT employees

It's no secret that the IT job market can be cutthroat and competitive, and it can be a real challenge for those looking to get started in the information technology industry. Extensive training and certification can certainly help you acquire the necessary skills to be a competent employee, but truly excelling at your job and climbing the ladder toward a top-earning position requires a little something more. Arrogance has been the downfall of many an entry-level employee, and novices are advised against letting lofty aspirations cloud their vision, lest they lose sight of their long-term goals. In any enterprise, change is incremental, and hard work and earnestness will take you much further than audacity. Learn to temper your ambition with humility and patience, listen to the valuable input from those around you and respect both your peers and superiors and you may one day find yourself at the top of the IT food chain. 

Next Steps

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This was last published in July 2016

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What advice would you give to entry-level IT employees looking to get ahead?
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While there are always specifics, to rules for getting ahead in IT are much the same as everywhere.

Listen to everyone, but only remember the good stuff. Learn from the best. Connect to people who are smarter than you. Train the folks who don't yet know all the things you've just learned. (Really, the dividends on that last one are phenomenal.)

And the two most important peripheral things. Read so you know stuff. Write about it so other people know you know stuff.
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Listen and learn. People in the field for years can often provide knowledge you will not find in books.
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Nice information for those looking to embark on a career in IT.

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