Dont forget to get your free upgrade of the CCNA ExSim-Max and/or NetSim for 200-301 if you've purchased it after June 1, 2019 and haven't passed the old exam and want to pursue the new version.
submitted by DrmTheater
My First 6 Months in IT - What to expect in YOUR Journey - Featuring advice on CVs/Resumes, Interviews, Certificates and training, and how to handle being laid off.
My Experience in IT after 6 months, What Can You Expect?
Hi all, I recently read a on r\ITCareerQuestions about being frustrated with all of the posts asking for help. This in part, is a response to that.
Fair warning – this is going to be a long one (slightly over 5000 words), strap yourself in or get out while you can, you have been warned! I have tried to break it up into sections, so feel free to skip to parts that interest you. I will happily answer all questions, PLEASE feel free to DM me. I will help anyone with resources that I used, and advice on best career pathways.
Who is this post for?
I think this post is going to be for you if you fit into any of the following categories. If you are looking to break in to IT and you haven’t even taken your first step, if you have been studying for certificates and you want to know if it is all going to be worth it (is there a light at the end of this tunnel). Maybe you want to know what your first 6 months in IT are going to be like. Maybe you want realistic salary expectations and you don’t want to ask a salesman or the guy driving an expensive car. Maybe you have been a lurker on this thread and you’ve seen all the conflicting advice. Perhaps you have sent out 400 job applications and had no bites. Maybe you have had 20 interviews and no one has given you a chance. My point being there are many steps you need to take to take your “first step” or to get your foot in the door. If you are someone who is taking any one of those steps, I do recommend reading this.
My Journey, two jobs, one lay-off, sleepless nights, a global pandemic and an incredible wife.
When I was 28, I decided I wanted a stable and steady career. Something I didn’t have to fight 30 other younger and hungrier people for. To put this into context I once applied for an entry level market research position and I don’t mind telling you that interview experience was something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I hadn’t applied myself at university, I studied Biology, something I had no passion for and the competition in scientific research was something that you would never survive without passion.
I was always exceptional at exams/learning/studying, to that end I was first in my year at university for exam results. And for that great honour I was awarded a £1000 cash scholarship prize. And being an irresponsible student I spent the entire thing (and some student overdraft) on my very first PC.
I spent hundreds of hours watching Linus tech tips, and Jays2cents and how to build a PC. I was hooked, I built that PC, booted her up, and realised…. I still want to watch build videos. I genuinely found out that I loved learning about hardware. I didn’t know that about myself. I know I see a lot of backstory posts asking for help that all say “I am tech savvy, I am the techy one in the family” etc etc.
So, I think these people know what I mean. By the way if you are worried that being the “techy one” isn’t valuable then you are dead wrong. It means you can learn technologies quickly and interact with user interfaces with ease. These are going be all you do for a long time in IT. You will have many user interfaces thrown at you that are custom to your company, but more on that later.
Well, unfortunately, years pass me by while I take a job in biology I have no passion for, I didn’t hate my job, I got to work at a university helping students with disabilities cope with every day life. But I didn’t feel excited or driven.
And then one day I was watching the UK version of the apprentice, absolute trashy TV at its finest for those that don’t know what it is. It is a competition in which people present a business plan to a billionaire and that billionaire decides if the business plan has legs.
So I am watching this guy with perfect quaffed hair and teeth that would blind you, (you know the type, he works is sales and thinks the world would collapse without him) and he is pitching a Cyber security recruitment company. And he has the leading experts in the country critiquing him, and I heard the same thing over and over. IT is desperate for people, for every 10 roles in IT security, there are only 1 or 2 qualified people.
I have to admit I got a little excited, nervous excited. I did something that changed my life. I googled it and made a phone call. That’s right, I spent all of 2 minutes before I was on the phone to a salesman. Let me tell you, if I could go back in time a slap myself for buying in to this pitch I would.
“The average person in IT security in the UK earns £72,000”, Booom, I am hooked. You are telling me I can earn £72K and they will be desperate to have me? I won’t have to compete? It won’t be a dog fight… Where the hell do I sign up? Well spoilers for what is to come later, but no, I didn’t end up as CIO of a small company making silly money in year one.
So, what were they offering me and what did it cost me? I signed up for a course that included a Microsoft Technical associate (MTA) in server fundamentals and an MTA in security fundamentals. I signed up for a Comptia certificate in Network+ and in Security+ and finally an EC council certificate in ethical hacking, called CEH. All for the price of around £3000. “Not bad” I told myself for a £72K/year job. “Not bad” I told my wife (who supported me through every single step).
So, when did I first begin to have doubts? That is easy, I remember it like it was yesterday. I had this awful procrastination habit (I bet almost ALL of you do it too) I would google jobs for whatever certificate I was going to study. For me, this was the CEH. A simple “CEH Jobs” search was almost all I ever googled back then. And there were hundreds of them, decent pay too. And then one day I saw it “we are looking for real candidates, no offense to those with a CEH”. It was like a punch to the gut, but worse as my heart raced with fear. What the hell did they mean?!
It was at this point I realised I might be in trouble. I am sure a lot of you feel that way now. Have I just been swindled by a Nigerian prince who just needed my bank details so he can transfer me my millions? Well yes and no. Yes I had been swindled by the promise of £72K, and yes I had been swindled by the CEH, it is one of the most expensive certificates you can get and it does make you look like an idiot to anyone in field. But no, I had not been swindled out of a career just yet.
I kept my head down and I nailed my first ever certificate and I have to admit, it was the hardest things I ever studied. I would say that knowing hardware helped a bit with the server fundamentals certificate, but only for about 5-10% of the learning objectives that were focussed on hardware. The rest was like information overload. I had to learn about how servers worked and communicated. I had to learn Microsoft’s branding too, which is a feat of its own. But I did it, I finally got an IT certificate.
I powered through my security MTA full steam ahead knowing I could achieve it with hard work and consistency. And that is when things got interesting. I began studying for my network+, and let me tell you, I fell in love. I began feeling like the curtains were being drawn on the way the world worked. I understood how if I sent an email, that email was carried across the country to my friends and family.
However, the instructor kept saying the same thing over and over. “And if you take a CISCO course you will learn all about it”. I mean if I had a £ for every time she said it….
Well, I did it again ladies and gentleman. I went back to the same person who sold me my snake oil. And I asked if they did CCNA courses. Of course they did, for the cool price of £800. What the hell I thought, the CCNA is a “real” certificate finally. Finally, I won’t feel worry and despair at the thought of this all being in vane, because I, Jacob Smith will be a network engineer.
The course was mediocre, and I found myself frustrated, so I did the unthinkable. That is right, I spend £10 on an Udemy course. I mean obviously it was going to be terrible. You would have to be an idiot to think a £10 course could be better than an £800 one. Well Neil Anderson spared no time showing me the error of my ways. His course was phenomenal. I bought the course for the first half of the CCNA, then I bought the course for the second half, and then I thought why the hell not, its only £10, I will buy the course that comes as whole package just to support him.
This is the lesson I learned that day. A person can sell their 20 hour course for £10 if they know it is good enough. And then they can make more money than the predator who sells their course to desperate people for thousands.
Let’s skip forward a few months. It is the last hour of the last day in which I can sit the CCNA before they retire it and change it completely. The exam went amazingly, and for those interested I used Neil Anderson’s course, and Boson netsim and boson exsim for the tools.
I am done. I have finally sat the last certificate I am going to sit before I start applying for Jobs. I no longer want the CEH as I know it will just make me look bad and I don’t want to commit the hours required to learn something that will hurt me.
Advice on Resumes/CVs
I fire up google again and waste no time typing “professional CV templates”. Wow, CVs look incredible these days, look how pretty I can make my application. I have dedicated sections for skills, work experience, school etc.
Here is lesson number two, and more important than you realise. Do NOT use these templates ever. Every recruiter that you send your CV to has some sort of CV filter on it. These CV templates are terrible for a number of reasons. Firstly, the format cannot be read by the CV filter, it doesn’t know what it’s looking at so it just bins it. If you are using one and you have sent hundreds of applications and had no bites, then I strongly recommend you read this part and do what I did.
Secondly, these templates are designed for people with work experience and skills. Unfortunately that wasn’t me, I was breaking in to IT. This meant that the focus of my CV HAD to be biology, there was no way to change this. My CCNA was at the bottom of my second page under “other”. So if by some divine intervention my CV did get through to a recruiter, there was no way they would ever read I had 5 certificates.
I had some of the worst and most sleepless nights of my life for the next 2 weeks. I applied to 20-40 jobs a day and heard nothing. Not a peep. It is at this point my beautiful wife lets slip that her sister is in IT recruitment. Mixed emotions is an understatement, I bounced between desperate joyous relief and utter disbelief that at no point did she think to mention this.
Here is what I learned. You are not applying for a social media job, you are not applying for a graphic designer job. A recruiter reads a hundred of these a day and there is nothing that annoys them more for IT people than a fancy looking CV. Put this CV in black and white, have literally nothing but words. Don’t even break the page up with horizontal lines. Put everything IT related at the top, have a strong and promising professional statement. Focus on your certificates, focus on your lab experience. And cram that CV full of skills that you know about. You want something like this in there.
DHCP, DNS, IPv4, IPv6, AD, NTFS, Switching, Routing, Wireless, STP, RIP, OSPF, EIGRP. Hyper-V, VMWare.
Windows 7/8/8.1/10, Windows Server 2008/R2, 2012/R2, 2016, 2019.
iOS, MacOS, Android.
This along with your certificates, your goals and your passion. Along with (briefly) anything transferable from other non-IT related jobs, I am talking about customer service, high stress jobs and time sensitive roles. These skills will be valuable but they should be secondary and again I cannot stress this enough, make it brief. Your education, and non-IT related jobs should make up a small portion of the CV that follows at the end. A recruiter is going to pick your CV up and see your skills, see your certificates and personal statement and then just put it down and give you a call. I doubt they ever get to the part where you describe what working at Pizza hut was like.
Round 2 of applying for jobs
Once I rewrote that CV (annoyingly I had already applied to a lot of the jobs in my area with my poor CV) I sent it out. The difference was life changing. I got a call back the next day actually I got three call backs the next day. Over the next 2 weeks I got roughly 12 recruiter calls, I got three interview offers. I did 2 interviews and got offered to the next stage. The first was with a large corporate company with 1000s of employees. They IQ tested me and they told me that I would be drug tested at my interview. This was a huge red flag to me. I have never done drugs and nor would I want to. But if these people are going to greet me at the door with a mouth swab, then I hate to think what working for them would be like. I turned down their offer for a second interview.
Instead I went to interview at a nearby (well not nearby 90 mile round trip commute) MSP. This was mid-March and I have never enjoyed an interview experience more in my life. The culture was very much this is a place where we have a laugh and you will love working for us. I didn’t have any red flags at the time, I just was so pleased this was all finally happening for me. We joked about football, we talked about hobbies, some IT related questions, typical interview stuff. He even joked we had a bromance going on and said, and I quote “F**k me, you know an interview is going well when its been over and hour and you haven’t noticed”.
Honestly, I think my older age was an advantage here, I was 30 at this point and I am at a stage in life where I am able to hold a conversation well without being nervous or self-conscious. There are obviously going to be downsides to being 30 and starting out too, but I was happy this worked in my favour.
I got a full day and a half of training (sitting behind a guy and watching him work), okay some red flags cropped up at this point. The people here didn’t seem to care very much, nor did they know a huge amount. The way the cases distribution worked was everything went to 2nd line, and they trickled down anything they didn’t want to 1st line and they pushed up what they needed to, to 3rd line. So, I got all the “my webcam isn’t working” calls, which was fair enough, I was grateful to have the job. But I had nothing in my queue that I thought “omg I have no idea what this is”. That might sound like a good thing, but it is the worst thing that can happen to your career. How are you supposed to learn how to install SSL certificates if you never have a case for it?
Well I doubt it is any shock to any of you crazy enough to still be reading, but I after a mindblowing 14 days, I was put on furlough (not sure if Americans have this, but it means temporarily laid off). It seriously makes you question why they hired someone that they laid off 14 days later, but that follows with the “everything is a laugh” attitude I suppose.
I spent the first half of April not knowing (but having a bad feeling) what was going to happen next. And then our prime minister announced the first extension of the lockdown. And when I woke up the next morning I had been completely locked out of all my accounts and I had a “whatsapp” message waiting for me. You read that correctly, Mr fun and games decided it was appropriate to give me bad news over whatsapp. He told me he really liked me and to look out for a message from him when this all blows over, as I will be the first person they call. But he had to let a lot of staff go permanently.
I spent all off April preparing for this, but it still didn’t help me through what this felt like. Try and imagine working your ass off for 18 months to begin a life you never once dreamed was possible, to have it given to you and then taken away in the space of a month.
I was let go on a Friday and I didn’t sleep a wink that whole weekend. I did get a phone call from my recruiter which I thought was nice. But it turns out they were only calling me because the company that let me go were claiming it was because of poor performance. They didn’t want to pay the recruitment fee, and they were willing to damage my reputation and relationship with the recruiter. However, it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me. Them refusing to pay the recruitment fee, drove my recruiter to immediately look for a job for me. It is Sunday afternoon that same weekend and I get a call saying “I have an interview lined up for you tomorrow, can you make it?”. I could not believe what I was hearing. I have an interview lined up and I may not even miss a pay day? I felt like crying. But what was that he said? I must have misheard, did he say it was for tomorrow? That’s right, after having no sleep and being in a state of emotional and physical exhaustion I now had less than 24 hours to prepare for a job I had no idea about.
How to prep for an interview
I worked my arse off. I learned everything I could about the company, I read their testimonials, I studied their customers, I looked at the solutions they provided. I like to have all my certificates with me, along with copies of my resume. I like to have prepared questions to ask the interviewer. I like to have a separate document that I can pass to them with all of my documentation from my labs. (this obviously means you have to document all your labs). I dressed as smartly as I could and gave it everything I could. I watched youtube videos of typical helpdesk questions, I learned the tricks to the questions they ask, e.g. The owner of your company says his printer is broken at the same time you get a call from a customer saying all 200 staff have lost connection to the internet. What do you do? The trick is to communicate with your team, with a team you can do both at the same time. These videos are an amazing tool to prep with and they give you really good answers that you don’t have to think too hard about. They also take away some of the nerves.
So how did it go? Well of course I just didn’t sleep. I mean who would have been able to sleep after what I had been through. I thought about postponing it but I still went for it. I can’t begin to describe the difference in management style. This man was a manager, he was an IT professional with 25 years experience, and he had owned, ran and sold his own successful MSP.
It was both refreshing and worrying. He expected nothing of me, he didn’t really care about my technical knowledge. I didn’t know this at the time, but it was because everyone at this company was driven and knew their stuff. Everyone held 10+ certs and had years and years of experience. This was a different company, with serious people and incredible opportunities to learn.
I thought I had bombed, I was tired and a little defeated. But I got a second interview, and with sleep was able to completely turn it around. I turned my weaknesses in knowledge into opportunities to ask my manager to showcase his knowledge. I was far more engaged and I was offered the job at this far more serious role for the same money I was originally on and I cut my commute in half (well technically I am work from home).
What to expect from a serious MSP?
At my new company, cases come in to 1st line and you are expected to work on everything, and only after you have exhausted your ability can it go up to second line. It is also worth noting the main difference between the two companies is that the first one only provided services for their customers and they had monthly rolling contracts. My current company is a cloud provider and they host all of their customers infrastructures and endpoints, as well as having 1-3 year contracts (much harder to pull out of during a pandemic) it didn’t hurt that a lot of their customers are hospital related.
I have been at my new company now for 4.5 months and learned more there than I could have ever learned at the first company.
I put my money where my mouth is. It wasn’t long before my first manager called me and offered me my old job back. This time with a 33% pay increase. I flat out told him no (respectfully of course) but firmly. It was a lot more money than I am on now but that wasn’t the point. I would not want to stymy my career by working at such a poorly managed company. In the UK, they could have just left me furloughed (it wouldn’t have cost them anything) and I would have received 80% of my salary. But they terminated me and then expected me to come back? I wasn’t going to repay my new manager’s act of saving me from that hell with disloyalty (I know loyalty can be looked down upon in this sub, but that is how I was raised).
What can you expect in your first 6 months?
Enough about me, let’s look at you. Let’s look at what you can expect.
You can expect that certificates can take between 2-6 months each depending on how much time you dedicate to them.
You can expect your first job to pay a little more than minimum wage. However, most places now pay for your training, pay for your exams and give extra time to study during work. You can more than likely expect your first job to be helpdesk.
You can expect to have to apply to hundreds of jobs to get your first one. However, if you follow my previous advice you should be getting call backs from recruiters at a minimum. If not, then it will be your CV that needs to change.
If you want to be successful you will have to sacrifice. I get up 3 hours before my shift and I study. Every single day, and I work longer on weekends. I offer every single time someone needs to stay late or come in early. I often stay late after work finishes to tidy up cases and prepare for the next day. I work through every single lunch. The reason for this is because I take twice as many cases as the other person that started 3 months before me, lets call this person “anon”, anon is my direct competition and he drives me to be the best I can be.
The results of my hard work are that I am sitting my exam in half the time that Anon will take (honestly I doubt he will take it when he says). I have closed more cases than him and he has been at the company for 7.5 months vs my 4.5 months. I was asked to go to site to setup a switch for a customer (twice) over anon. I have been “selected” by my manager to work directly with on a fileserver project. It looks like he has taken me under his wing (which I highly recommend, if you can get someone to teach you that is half as smart as my manager then do it).
I have had multiple people tell me they notice how engaged I am during meetings, and how well they think I am doing. I have had a number of times a 2nd line ask me if I want to be shown something that typically only goes to 2nd Line.
I have learned that hard work, determination and a willingness to learn does not go unnoticed.
What are some of the negatives to expect?
But it isn’t all fairytails, there are downsides too. I don’t spend as much time with my wife or doing the things I like. I feel guilty if I watch a film instead of study. If you take twice as many cases you are going to make at least twice as many mistakes. Making mistakes is normal, and you have to learn from them, but if you take them to heart like me, then you are going beat yourself up twice as often.
Ultimately, the sky is the limit, how hard you work will depend on you and what drives you. I have my foot in the door and I have no intention of taking my foot of the gas anytime soon. If you think that once you get your foot in the door that the hard part is over, then that simply isn’t the case I am afraid.
How to give yourself the best opportunity in your career (tips no one tells you).
I push myself out of my comfort zone many times a day. I do this so that these things become my comfort zone. I notice how often my manager trusts me to do something that he wouldn’t normally let a 1st line support engineer do.
You can expect to have a highly stressful working environment. You are going to have many fires to put out at the same time, and you need to organise yourself so it doesn’t overwhelm you. I think something that no certificate teaches you, or that I have yet to see, and it is easily the most important thing I have learned, is to have a to do list. First thing in the morning, before you do anything, fire up notepad or onenote and write down everything you have to do in that day. It doesn’t have to be in order, just get writing. And then anytime you complete a task look at notepad and start working on the next thing. Also, if anyone asks you to do anything ever, fire up notepad, and write it down. You can be albert Einstein himself, and you are going to forget to do a good chunk of that stuff if you write it down. And remember, you are going to make a lot of mistakes, but forgetting to do stuff is a terrible mistake to make and can be easily avoided.
If you have to stop someone mid flow because you realise they are telling you to do a multistep thing, then stop them and fire it up and ask them to start again. Annoying but better than having to call them later and ask them to say it all again, or worse just forget it.
You can expect a relatively thankless job. There will always be those people who remember to thank you and make you feel like you are appreciated, but more often than not you will get someone who the second the thing works, they want off the phone. Get used to goodbyes being a tad rushed/awkward.
You can expect that you will need a lot of help. But try to be smart and kind about it. Try speaking to those people about things in which you don’t ask for help and ask them about themselves. Develop relationships that are meaningful. Also, try and vary the people you ask for help from, don’t take advantage of someone because they are polite and never let you know that inside they are frustrated because they too have a big to do list. Spread your help out and try and make up for the fact you are going to be a big inconvenience by offering to help in other ways. Make the coffees, make the teas, offer to take dogsh*t menial tasks that need doing. These sorts of things are good way to pay it back to someone that you won’t be able to help technically.
Advice to avoid serious mistakes.
Always think about what you are doing. Always. Is this something you should be doing? Is this something that needs approval? is this something you should check with someone first?
Checking with someone is not the same as asking for help and it has saved my ass more times than I can count. Don’t be the person that causes a service outage because you didn’t check if something is right. It may feel obvious, it may make you look dumb. But if I was to be shown 100 tasks and asked what my gut tells me is the “proper protocol” for each one, I would get most wrong. Don’t try and guess what is best for the customer or company policy.
This is what I like to call good old-fashioned Arse-covering. It covers yours and your employers.
Those £72K jobs exist. And people do them. You could be one of them, but it will take years of dedication and sacrifice. If that sounds like you, if you can be driven, passionate and determined then nothing will stop you.
Thank you for reading.
If you are crazy enough to still be reading this, then thank you. I wish you all the luck in the world.
TLDR: Hard work and self-belief pays off. Nothing is going to stop you except YOU.
submitted by jacobsmith14433