Getting your foot in the IT door

While I lament about my financial situation and bitch about silly things about work that irk me, I am really lucky to have the job that I do. I'm going to be taken on permanently at my job next month (knock on wood) and while I'm making ok money right now for someone with less debt and more moderate spending, I'll be getting a raise that will make life a lot easier.

It took me some work to get to this point. I graduated from a condensed technology program in Dec. 2008 and am just now getting a solid footing in the industry. A lot of it was my fault for not getting settled earlier - I separated from my ex-husband around when I started school and when the summer between semesters rolled around I found myself working a stable co-op for the government that could have become permanent (it did for my other classmates who co-oped there). So I quit. It was my first summer of "freedom" and I was reading Jack Kerouac and so I really wasn't ready to settle down into a job already when the divorce was partly because I felt stifled (emotionally, geographically, mentally) in the relationship.

Instead of finishing co-op, I took a Greyhound trip across Canada, met some amazing people on my trip, spent a week in Vancouver and then a week in Halifax and returned to finish my semester with all the life and excitement and vigor that I had felt deprived of for a very long time. (short point - my ex-husband's a great guy, we're just fundamentally incapatible. Just wanna make that clear)

So I finished school without a job. I then headed off to Vancouver for a month, couldn't make rent and had to come back due to Telus screwing up my phone number and thusly me not getting any calls for job offers. Back in Ontario, I settled in Toronto and wound up working as a secretary. What?

Yeah, here's a little life lesson - you're smart. Go for the jobs you want, not just the ones you're comfortable with. Even if you're not 100% confident you can do them right away, better to oversell yourself instead of underselling yourself. I've made that mistake way too many times, and it has cost me dearly, not least of all financially.

Instead of getting right into IT, I worked as a secretary for a full year. I hated it. But, since I was the only tech-saavy person there, I wound up having the opportunity to do most of the fixing and troubleshooting. I wasn't paid for it, but that's, again, to do with me short-selling myself. What I offered in tech services far outweighed the value of the work I was doing as a secretary.

After a year of that, my partner and I were both fed up with our jobs, so we decided to bugger off to St. John's, Newfoundland. I didn't have a for-sure job waiting for me, but I did have a potential contract with Tundra Technical Solutions. It was while we were in St. John's that I really got into the swing of things. In fact, I only worked IT gigs the entire time I was there (save 1 banquet waittressing gig my cousin set me with up - can you spell "sexual harassment by a bunch of drunken, old Kinsmen?" Blarg.)

The first thing I did off the plane (other than clean the cat pee off me - flying with pets is harrowing), is get my CompTIA A+ certification. I cannot speak highly enough of it, not necessarily because of the skills you need to possess to get it, but because it's widely recognized in the industry and a good way to get your foot in the door.

While I was in St. John's, I worked for several different IT staffing firms on various short-term contracts:
  • Tek Systems
  • CompuFirm
  • TES, The Employment Solution
  • Tundra Technical Solutions
  • Soroc (via Tundra)
I also worked for Staples as a Res Tech for a bit, as a stable gig inbetween my contracts. Not the best pay, and with the typical trappings of workign retail, but a good way to get one's feet wet and boost a resume in the beginning, and to stay up to date on the newer Windows-based consumer laptops/ desktops.
There are obviously pros and cons of doing contract work (yay - quick turn around time, get a variety of jobs, pay can be good), (nay - no health benefits, no sick days, no job security, no pension, no guarantee of hours, may have troubles getting paid *cough*CompuFirmdidn'tpaymefor2months*cough*). While it's not a one-size fits all solution, I do think it's a good way to start to get comfortable in the industry.

And always ask your fellow contractors what they're getting paid. I did this while in St. John's, and on one job where I was working as team lead, found out I was getting paid the least of the 3 technicians there. One tech, for whom this was his first gig ever, was getting paid $2/hr more than me, and the other, an experienced tech new to the firm, was getting $7/hr more than me. Needless to say, the next morning I called my recruiting manager and renegotiated my contract, which netted me an extra $4/hr.

Stop selling yourself short, for the love of all that is good and holy. And make sure you know what you're worth.