IT: What Should I Learn?

IT: What Should I Learn?

The IT business is good as a source of employment. When times are good, companies are all trying to develop new, exciting ways to reach the mass market. When times are bad, companies are trying to cut costs by automating. Either way, the technology needs people to create and operate it.

It's no wonder then that there are a lot of people who start out in other professionals and realize that they want to migrate from just being a user to becoming a technologist. So one of the most frequent questions I get asked by people who are studying technology at home is, "What should I learn first?"

My answer to this is - be bilingual first. That way, you'll at least be able to compete in the current glutted job-seeker market. Once you have the bilingual skills, I guess the choice is up to your personality. If you're the creative but detail-oriented type, then obviously software development is a good direction to take. There are lots of software languages to learn, but there is never-ending demand for Java, SQL (in its many variants), and Visual Basic/Visual C. The only problem is that learning languages at home means you don't learn the core skills of a trained developer, and so you'll probably wind up with a lot of bad habits that become hard to kick in a structured development environment.

If you're creative but not so detail oriented, there is a big need for Lotus Notes developers and Excel/Notes scripting people. Here, it's more important that you learn the business vertical of the companies you're trying to enter, and the IT abilities will come into natural demand.

Now, if you're a gadget-head, then networking is the way to go. The first obvious step up the ladder is to get your Microsoft MCP, then MCSE. After that you can go for the more advanced (and much more difficult) CISCO CCNA, CCNP, and CCNE certifications. If your Japanese reading/writing skills are good, you can also go for Japanese government qualifications. However, I've yet to meet a foreign company that really cares about these. I would just note, too, that just getting certifications on paper without technical experience really doesn't go over too well with employers. So if you're a beginner, get yourself into any job that's IT related while you study for your MCSE.

And if you're not really technical but just dig the idea of helping people out and playing with cool PC toys, then a simple MCP rating coupled with a decent amount of Call Center experience should get you into the support team for most SI companies. Or you can take a more creative route and do Web site development, where the key technologies are HTML, Perl/PHP, JavaScript, Flash, and a few other bits and pieces.

Lastly, one good way to prove out your skills while you are NOT in an SI company is to volunteer your skills to a local (well known) community or club and help maintain their systems, software, and Web Site. I have personally hired people from outside the industry because they have had the initiative to do something like this.