I want to preface this post by saying that I am not a techie or a geek, although those that know me personally would suggest that. I love technology for the same reasons that everyone else does–ease of use, ability to communicate across different platforms, use of social media to connect with others, the ability to share things, produce videos and pictures, games, etc., but my love for technology has been the reason why I’ve been able to have a very long and lasting career in IT (Information Technology for short) for over 15 years.
I initially got my start in tech and electronics in May of 2000 when I joined the U.S. Navy that spring. I had just left my spring semester at Illinois State University to join and I went in as an Electronics Technician which is what they call a “rating”. I knew going in that I didn’t want to potentially have to be on the front line in combat so the Navy was an ideal choice for me.
Before I actually got to “the fleet” as it is affectionately called–this is when you reach your first duty station–I trained for 18 months. I attended two different schools, both advanced schools in technical electronics training where circuit level electronics and electrical theory was taught.
First, there was basic training, or basically boot camp, then there was what they call “Class A” school which is your military occupation training school, and then a “Class C” school which is a specialization for a particular system or technology that the Navy uses. I was young then and that journey was somewhat stressful but so much fun. A lot of studying, a lot of regimentation, up early in the morning and in the bed late every night. Classroom instruction typically went for almost 9 hours a day and the school was accelerated because the idea was to get you out into “The Fleet” as quickly as possible. Sailors needed to be trained in a timely fashion because there was always work to do, a conflict or some problem that the United States was involved in around the world.
Suffice it to say, I have the fondest memories of my time in the military so I can’t complain!
After all of that training I spent the next 5 years in different technology areas for the U.S. Navy, mostly in telecommunications and Information Technology. When I decided to leave the military in 2006 I consulted with a resume writing firm so that I could translate my military skills into verbiage that was easily identifiable in the civilian world.
This is something that helped out a great deal because it allowed recruiters to understand where my background fit into jobs that they were looking to fill. I decided to have the resume written to speak to IT positions although I could have targeted electronics technician positions. I spent those few years after the military really trying to find what I wanted to do because the money back than for Helpdesk and Desktop positions paid very little. I also wanted to master a particular area in IT and become an expert.
The first job I initially landed was at the City of Chicago in their Desktop Support department and at the time it was paying $15 an hour. A job was a job back then, at least that was my thinking but I didn’t know enough about the IT industry to understand how to navigate to higher paying positions that were more rewarding.
One of the issues with wanting to be in IT is that most companies want you to come in with a solid skillset in some niche technology. While that’s great, most people don’t wake up in the morning eating and breathing Linux or Windows and the expectation is that coming in you will be able to bring your skillset through the door and hit the ground running. So if you want to break into IT at a level that pays well you need to have worked on your skillset and be somewhere near an expert in order to get hired.
What I did along the way between 2006 and now is that I successfully went from position to position with an increase in responsibility, and diversity in the type of work I was doing. After almost 7 years in IT I decided to go for Project Management around 2009, which at the time was becoming a booming field to go into. I made some updates to my resume and applied for a few jobs. I also had a very good recruiter give me some really great advice on interviewing. She said:
“Dean, I have some really good paying positions that are a step up in responsibility, but can really give you a boost in the job market if you can gain the experience. What you need to do is very critical and it’s this, you need to write your resume so that it speaks to the kind of job that you want. All you have to do is make a few tweaks, and as long as you can interview and speak to that knowledge you will most likely get the job.”
– Melissa Ngo, Information Technology Recruiter
This actually worked well, the first time.
This was probably the BEST advice I ever received and it made so much sense. IT is not one of those industries where people generally get hired off of the street, it’s kinda like a “club” almost because companies only want people who are experienced. I have experience in IT at the time, but I did not have experience in Project Management.
What subsequently end up happening is that I applied for a job that she sent over to me. I got an interview opportunity by phone, and initially they didn’t feel I was strong enough even though I had a strong technical background from my years working in Desktop Support and System Administration. I had a second interview and I was very passionate about the position and my ability to perform, and as a result I got hired! They really liked my energy and enthusiasm and that was my very first role in IT Project Management.
Ever since then, which has been almost over 9 years ago, I have been able to command salary and contract rates well into the six-figure range. I’ve expanded my knowledge and skillset through certification courses, of which I have a few that I am taking right now, and I’ve continued to gain knowledge and experience from every position that I’ve had over the years.
The journey has really been a blessing to be honest and the Information Technology field is an industry where there will always be a demand. So if consulting in technology is something that interest you and you are looking for a change, I highly recommend it!