How to Get a Job in Computers

Okay, so you want a job in computing. This is as good a time as any to define the phrase “a job in computing.” In the context of this article, any job that involves spending most of your day working at a computer is “a job in computing.” If that sounds like something you’re keen on doing, here’s how to increase your chances of getting there.

Steps

  1. Survey the field. The first thing you need to think about is exactly what kind of job in computing you want. Each job has its own special requirements, so you should assess your own skills and then decide which job might be best for you. Supply and demand is important too. Remember that traditional programming jobs are moving to China etc. But new roles are coming up like Business Analysis, Testing and Compliance. Please seeTypes of Computing Jobs below for an overview of the most common types of computer jobs.
  2. Play. Sit down in front of the computer and just play and experiment. This is a great way to learn new programs, but isn’t the best way to learn how to configure an operating system or write programs. At the very least, you’ll become comfortable with computers by doing this.
  3. Find a Mentor. You probably know someone who knows more about computers than you do. Learn from them. Once their knowledge is used up, find someone even more knowledgeable to learn from. Soon, you’ll be the expert, and people will start coming to you!
  4. Read a Book or a Website. These days, there are websites that teach you just about anything to do with computers, from the basics all the way through advanced programming. If you Google any specific problem you have, you are sure to find an answer. If you want to find random computer tips, just Google “computer tips” or other phrases like that. Many websites have random tips that help you learn more and more about computers.
  5. Get certified by reliable company. Same company that offers software (Red Hat, Sun, Microsoft, Oracle and many others) may offer the paid official exams, on success giving the written confirmation about your competence. As they do not teach you and just test the existing knowledge, this is frequently very cheap in comparison to the paid course. You will win against candidates that do not know the technologies they say they understand and just list the known names in their CV.
  6. Get On the Job Training. If you already have a computer-related job (but want a better one), find someone at work you can learn from, or take on new projects where you can learn as you go along. It will be hard at first, but the more you learn, the better your skills will become, and you’ll become eligible for promotions or for better jobs at other companies.
  7. Take a Course. This is the most obvious approach, and yet many in the industry have long careers in computing in any of the jobs above without any formal training. Still, not all computer skills are easy to teach yourself, and as more and more students graduate with degrees in computer science, the competition will make it harder for the self-trained to land the best jobs. A degree, certificate course, or specialized certification such as an MCSE will greatly improve the odds.
  8. Get Your Foot in the Door. Once you have the skills you need to get a job, you still have the hardest part ahead of you – getting hired. Since your resume probably doesn’t reflect computer work experience, you’ll need to add a “Skills” section that lists all of the skills you’ve acquired. You might also want to mention something about computers in an “Interests” or “Hobbies” section. Make sure your resume looks extremely professional. You’re submitting it to folks who use a word processor to write their grocery list – you don’t want to give them something you threw together on an old ribbon typewriter.
  9. Network. Find out where the computer guys (or girls) hang out. You’ll be surprised how much info you can get just talking to people in the field. And you might also find that it’s not your cup of tea. Most people that WORK in computing don’t fit the stereotype. There are a lot of game players in the industry, but there are very few high paying jobs that allow you to play all day. It is a real career that requires a LOT of work and a lot of coffee drinking.

Types of Computing Jobs

  • Data Entry - This is a job just about anyone can get. Basically, you take information from a piece of paper and use it to fill out a form on the computer. Many old hands who started out in this role are now heading up computer departments.
  • Secretarial/Administrative - This position involves some basic office skills. Not only must you understand the basics of using your computer and a few applications, but you’ll probably also be expected to take dictation, answer phones, type letters, and keep things organized. In terms of computer skills, you should know how to use word processing, accounting, and spreadsheet programs at the very least. People in this role often move into other computing roles such as Managers, Meeting Organizers and Human Resources. Naturally you can move into mainstream computing areas, particularly QA and Testing.
  • Power User - Not so much a position as a status of being an extremely proficient user of (typically) Microsoft Office or similar tools. Advanced users of these tools become familiar with the basics of computer programming through starting with Excel macros or Access database programming. One can become very valuable to a small business by learning such skills, and even start to consult with other small businesses at rates typically starting around $50 an hour.
  • Customer Service/Telesales - These positions usually place a higher emphasis on phone skills than computer skills, but you should know at least the basics of how to use your computer.
  • Technical Support (Production Support) - Most companies consider technical support to be an entry-level computer job. You are expected to know the operating systems on which the product you’ll support will run, and you’ll also need to know the basics of any programs that product might interact with. The good news is that the company will teach you what you need to know about their products – you just need to learn everything else. Success in technical support requires good problem-solving skills and a great deal of attention to detail. Technical Support and Problem Management is a rapidly growing area. Users now rely heavily on Help Lines, International Support Centers and the like.

 

  • Software Quality Assurance (SQA) Engineer - You need to know as much as the best technical support personnel. You need to be a problem solver, a detective, and sometimes even a Customer Service representative. You’ll also need some basic programming skills, since more and more companies are beginning to rely on automated testing. The best SQA engineers understand a little (or a lot) about every aspect of computers, from building them to using them to programming them.
  • Software Engineer (Developer or Programmer) - To get a job at a top software shop such as Microsoft or Google, you’ll need a degree in computer science and detailed understanding of the field. However getting a developer position in some small company may be easier. What do you need to know is the language in which you’ll be programming. It is also important to know database fundamentals and (if programming for Windows) the Windows API. Knowing more than one programming language is very helpful. Understanding many of the basic fundamentals of computer science (e.g. linked lists, arrays, pointers, object oriented programming) will be essential in demonstrating your proficiency.
  • Business Analyst (Analyst or Systems Analyst or Analyst/Programmer or User Analyst)- This is a relatively new title, but the role is as “old as the hills”. People can become a BA with any mix of business and computing skills. It is really a matter of looking at what the company is really after. A good BA should know the process from end to end. The BA is primarily the connection between the business and the developers. To get into this job, and into computing, good knowledge of a business is helpful. So, if you gain good knowledge through your job, and maybe do a computer course, you can get your foot in the door.
  • Tester (Test Manager) - This one may not seem glamorous, but Testing is seen by the employers as being Number One in importance. It is often an easy way to break into computing, and you don’t get many people say “Boy, I really want to be a Tester.” Once in this job, you really get to know the whole process, and can easily get into Compliance or Management. Caution. Its usually the Test Manager, who gets the blame if the implementation goes wrong. But who cares. He can always get another job, as most know about this.
  • Graphic Designer - A graphic designer create digital art such as designs for company logo, advertising brochures, and websites.
  • Database Administrator/Programmer (DBA) - Database specialists are often software engineers, but not all software engineers work with databases, and some database specialists do not have high formality software engineering or computer science training, having come in via support-oriented career paths which can lead into database administration. DBAs are highly compensated and command considerable influence in typical corporate IT settings. Some DBAs get started by programming Access databases, move to SQL Server, and then to Oracle, through pursuing applied, product-specific certifications. Once a DBA, one can then move into data architecture and systems analysis.
  • MIS/Network Administration/User Support - MIS (Management of Information Systems) is responsible for making sure that a company’s network of computers is working properly at all times. This includes everything from showing the users how to send an e-mail to upgrading or repairing the computers to managing network resources such as file servers, network printers, and Internet firewalls. For user support positions, you need to be an expert at the operating systems in use by computers on the network and the network itself. You also need to know the fundamentals of hardware repair, the Internet, and the applications in use on the network. Network administrators need to know all of that plus how to set up network hardware, cabling, and network resources. Larger companies prefer their MIS personnel to have (or at least be pursuing) special certifications that prove they know their stuff.
  • Technical Writer (Technical Author, Documentation Analyst) - To be a Technical Writer, you must understand computer basics and the product about which you’re writing. You also need to know the programs you’ll be using for your writing, such as word processors, desktop publishing programs, web languages such as HTML, and Windows Help-authoring tools. You’ll also need to be a good writer (or trick people into thinking you are). The best Technical Authors tend to be ex or trained Journalists or English Teachers, who have an obvious head start. Ex Teachers do have a reputation of doing very well in the computer arena, possibly due to their presentation and management skills.
  • Compliance - This is a rapidly increasing area, due to exposure of Companies to large payouts (can run into billions) to Government Authorities due to breaking the rules. To get into this area, you just need to show an interest in checking what others do, and making rules. Employers are interested primarily in your knowledge of computer processes, for example, how the Accounts Receivable System works, end to end. Compliance sections generally have large budgets too!
  • Medicine/Diagnostic Imaging - There are lots of new jobs for computer literate people in Medicine. CT, PET, and MRI scanners all run complex software that should be operated by people with good computer skills.
  • Production Analyst - Another key position. This guy runs the “real” system, and also is in charge of OKing the new systems that the developers are writing. So, if you are into power, this is the job for you.
  • Medicine/Diagnostic Imaging - There are lots of new jobs for computer literate people in Medicine. CT, PET, and MRI scanners all run complex software that should be operated by people with good computer skills.
  • Computer Manager (Project Leader, Executive Director, Vice President and others) - There are probably more of these jobs in computing than anything else, so don’t rule it out. The industry is top heavy and full of titles, especially now that much of the real work is being done in India! Remember that these guys can earn very big money. The key job of a manager in computing is to convince users to keep funding computer projects.
  • Computer Contractor - Even though this role has been around for a long time, there is still a demand. Computer Contractors are usually experienced Professionals but not Managers. Typical Contractor roles are Business Analyst, Tester and Developer. Remember that many computer teams are made up predominantly of Contractors, and that they can make good money, in a booming economy.
  • Onshore Consultant - Typically a Senior Position but based in a foreign country. Onshore Consultants can be anything from Senior Managers to Developers. An example of an Onshore Consultant is a Professional from China, Pakistan etc. working in Canada.
  • Offshore Consultant - A growing industry. The Offshore Consultant is based in his own country and gets his work from overseas, for example, a Developer based in China getting Specifications from Singapore.

Tips

  • Business skills and communications skills are highly valued by employers. Programmers who can communicate effectively both verbally and in writing have an edge in the job market. Those who have a business skills, especially an MBA, are also more desirable to employers.
  • Learn as many operating systems as you can. With the growing markets in Macintosh and Linux and an apparent shortage of professionals in these areas, being knowledgable in multiple operating systems in addition to Windows can give you an edge in the technical job market.
  • A good all-around computer tutorial is The Secret Guide to Computers by Russ Walter. Like the “Dummies” series, it’s good for getting your feet wet, but rather than a fair amount about one particular topic, it includes a smaller amount about just about any computer topic, from buying a computer all the way through the basics of programming in several different languages. If you’re teaching yourself how to be a software engineer, check out the “Teach Yourself ____ in 21 Days” series by Sams Publishing, “___ – How to Program” by Deitel & Deitel, or the “No Experience Required” series by Sybex. There is also a book by O’Reilly Publishing for just about every topic in computing, and that’s what the professionals have on their desks at work (even if they have a secret stash of “Dummies” books at home).
  • Most offices use Microsoft products like at least MS Office and Outlook, plus other Microsoft applications. Most businesses use a few special applications that are rare. Find out what they use at the office in which you wish to work, and make sure you know how to use that software. Knowing their special (or outdated) software can make the difference.
  • Right now the hot languages for programmers to know are Java, C/C++, Visual Basic, PHP, Perl and C#. The languages of choice change every so often, hence check the Tiobe indexand other similar review sites for the current popularity.
  • It really helps to know someone on the inside. If a resume is submitted by an employee for a friend, most companies will conduct an interview as a courtesy, even if the resume doesn’t quite meet their qualification requirements. In the interview, you can show them what you know. Be prepared, though – they may quiz you. Be careful not to put something on your resume unless you’re actually competent in it.
  • Nothing in this game beats experience. So that is why it is important to get that experience. Read the previous point carefully, as contacts are the easiest way to get a job.
  • College is great for getting a job of any type. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.
  • The best bet if you don’t have a 4 year degree is to go to a junior college. Most have certificate programs in PC Support/Help Desk or Lan/Networking or Programming. The curriculum from these programs are essentially what you would get if you attended a 4 year college and got a degree in computer science but the certificate program leaves out the unrelated classes such as Math, Science, English etc. This is a great way to get a good educational background in IT and best part is, is that its cheaper than a technical school.
  • Special computer software certifications are a good way to prove industry standard knowledge and make you somewhat more independent of a rock-solid IT background and long years of experience. These certifications exist for Microsoft OS’es and products, but also for the most common databases as well as UNIX OS’es, and they are fortunately coming up for some of the Linux distributions now. Contact a training center for the status on certified Linux training and cost.

Warnings

  • You may lose a lot of money without use if the company where you take courses or certifications does not count as reliable itself. Usually only the owner / author of the technology can issue a serious certificate.
  • Once you’re hired, it doesn’t end there. Keep learning new skills constantly. Once you think you’ve learned enough, you might as well apply for unemployment. This industry is always evolving. If you don’t evolve with it, you’ll be replaced by someone who will.
    • I spend five minutes each day looking up a command online and trying it out on a test machine (usually the first 5 minutes at work). After a few months (then years), I get to master a lot of topics without having put up any cash of my own.
  • Some careers involving computers require that you use a PC, so if you learn on a Mac or a Linux box, you may have a problem (and vise versa). It’s best to be comfortable with all three major operating systems.
    • Linux and Mac’s have the added benefit of not being subject to viruses so it you install one at home and use it for the internet it will not crash on you.
  • Soft skills are also important in computing, and office politics is present even in this field.
    • It the company asks you, “How do you deal with problem employees” or “How do you deal with clients that are very demanding.” then there might be some office politics at that company. If the question is never asked, then you know that that company will not have any office politics and is probably a comfortable place to work.
    • Companies with high profit margins like Coca-Cola tend to have less office politics than companies that have narrow profits and are looking for someone to lay-off.
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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 at 12:37 am and is filed under Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.