How to Work in IT – Advice from Mick Reilly, Decypher’s Vice President and Technical Director
Mick has over 19 years of experience in Information Technology, and he specializes in Cisco networking and wireless. Mick loves to build networks that work and troubleshoot the ones that don’t. He’s been with Decypher for 12 years and manages our technical team.
What do you recommend for high school-aged kids or younger who are interested in technology and think they might want to get into a tech career down the road? Should they take online courses or classes at a local community college? Improve their technical skills on their own? How?
I would recommend a combination of online, college classes and hands-on learning. Lots of candidates are getting degrees in Information Technology just to get a foot in the door. A couple of the last people we’ve hired as entry-level technicians are going for or have received their degrees. Experience and certifications are the big deciding factors, though. I don’t look for a degree if the candidate has experience and certs. The certifications have to be consistent, spread out over time, and match the job experience. I don’t like seeing someone who just went out and got all the certs at once or someone whose certs don’t match what they were doing. For example, if you are doing hardware builds, you should have you’re A+ or ACMT cert, and not a security cert. It’s also important to be well rounded. Learn Windows, Mac and Linux.
For online courses, there are lots of good sites you can use, like Pluralsight and Cybrary, that use different instructors and methods to keep you interested. Some of them offer labs and practice tests.
Local schools and colleges are great if you like one-on-one interaction with the instructor, but you have to find a good one like Bob Farmer’s class at CMC Glenwood. They aren’t all equal. I don’t know of anyone in the industry who has much trust in ITT Tech or DeVry graduates, for example.
Hands-on experience is the key. Don’t go out and buy a brand new gaming computer and overclock it (make it run faster) and then think you are the bomb. Go get some used older ones and make them work. Load different operating systems on to them. Then network them together and mock up business scenarios. Lower level components create their own challenges and it’s easier to see the hardware limitations.
Start with the hardware, then the OS, then network the systems together, and then administer the systems. Set up shares, set up printing, set up backups, etc. It’s not good enough to just be able to set it up. You have to know how and why it works so that when it breaks, you know what could have broken. For example, everyone knows how to use the internet, but when it stops working you need to know which part stopped working.
For college-aged adults – should they work toward a degree in IT and/or start interning at a tech company and work their way up?
It’s tough for adults that are already out there in the market because they are used to getting paid. So to start in an entry-level position when you are in your twenties isn’t an easy switch. If you can afford to do a combination of interning and taking online tech classes, it would probably be the fastest route.
If formal education is important, do you recommend a technical school, associate’s degree at a community college, or a bachelor’s at a community college or university?
When computers and the internet were just becoming a thing, skills and experience were key. Now that the talent pool has grown, a degree can be a differentiator. In the mountains, our situation and the marketplace are a bit different. We don’t look at the degree as much as experience and certs, but in Denver or a more competitive metro area, you might not even get an interview without a degree.
What do you value most in a technician – degrees or certificates in IT, hands on skills, or anything else?
Skills, experience, and certs are important. Having certs shows that you have ability and focus to get through the certification process. However, the tech also needs to be a team player, professional, personable, and have common sense. Gone are the days of the backroom IT nerd. You can’t be the jerk who saves the day. You can’t just focus on the fix – it has to make business sense, and it has to be sustainable. I’ve seen really good technicians take apart an access point with broken antennas and solder them back to make a three-year-old, $100 access point work, when they are being billed out at $125 per hour – that doesn’t make sense. I’ve also seen really smart technicians deep dive into a suspected security compromise because the client’s mouse was moving around the screen by itself. He spent hours on it and in the end the batteries of the wireless mouse just needed to be replaced. So common sense and business sense are also key.
What looks good on a resume? Any specific classes/certs?
For our situation, I look for well-rounded technicians. Not the ones with the highest certifications, but the ones with a couple of entry level certs across multiple disciplines, like the ICND 1 & 2, CCNA, ACMT, MCSA, A+, Network +, and Server +.
I also look for a resume with specific accomplishments demonstrating that they understand what they have done. For example, sometimes you’ll see something on a resume like, “Responsible for the deployment of 500 Windows workstations across the organization.” That sounds like they just ordered them from Dell. A techie would give the details of the build and how they automated it, the software they used, and the challenges involved with that. Those kind of details prove that they have an understanding of the process.
Any other advice for things people can do at any age to prepare for a career in IT?
Learn how to meditate. ? A career in technology can be frustrating and stressful at all levels, but it’s also very rewarding.