Advice if You Are New to NetworkingClick here for pdf version
I wanted to share a few thoughts with you if you are in the position I was in a few years ago. In a job you don't really like anymore and considering moving into IT but not really clear on where to begin.
Forgive me for talking about myself but perhaps my experience will help you if you, like me, are looking to use the CCNA as a way out of a job you no longer like and you are looking to get a break into the world of IT.
I worked as a police officer in the UK for 12 years and for most of those years I loved it. By year 10 I was getting a bit tired of working shifts and by year 11 I was sick to my back teeth of it. Endless shift work, paperwork, politics and no prospects of promotion. Worse I suppose was the fact that I had to do what I was told when I was told and I couldn't complain about it or my card would be marked.
I wanted out but I was giving up a lot. I was a sergeant and well paid compared to most people. I had a secure job and a pension to think about. I had a couple of friends in IT and I was quite interested in what they did which at the time was Microsoft support. I had been on a course learning how to build PCs and repair them and I had really enjoyed it. While I wasn't a geek by any stretch of the imagination I did find IT in general quite interesting.
This was the time when a few people had a computer but it was only a few friends. We all used dial up modems and were using Windows 98 which was just about okay. My friends in IT were on great money, had a lot of influence where they worked and seemed to have a lot more choices than I had.
After a few chats with them I decided to study for some IT exams. I started with Microsoft and did Windows NT passing one or two exams.
Getting into IT
I wanted to get a break into a job in the IT world but lacked any experience. I knew that having a qualification could only help so armed with my MCP in Windows NT I began to look for jobs. They were all looking for a few years experience but after a long look around I found a company who sourced helpdesk personnel to work at larger companies. They were more interested in your attitude and ability to learn than a long string of IT certifications so I applied for a job with them.
After two interviews I was offered the job. I had to start on the helpdesk which in fairness was soul destroying. I spent the entire day helping irate sales people to find the spell checker on Microsoft Word or telling them that they could cut and paste stuff by right clicking their mouse. Terrible.
I studied like a lunatic and passed my CCNA after two attempts. The issue once again was that I wanted to find a networking role with no real networking experience behind me.
The crunch question is can you find a job in IT with no IT experience? My logic is to ask how can anyone find a role in IT if they were not in IT in the first place? Simple really, they got a job in IT with no IT experience. That is the only answer which makes sense.
If you are faced with the situation of wanting to get into IT but having no experience I suggest the following.
Step 1 - Get a qualification. Ignore the idiots who tell you that it won't help or that a certification with no experience is useless. It isn't at all. A certification such as the CCNA proves you can do the job because during the exam you have to prove you know what you are talking about. I won't lie to you, the CCNA exam is pretty hard! You have to know all the theory, apply it to scenario problems and also configure routers and switches during the exam.
Try telling me that by the time you walk out of that exam you don't know what you are doing! Sure, you will not be an expert but you will have a good grounding to kick start your career in IT.
Step 2 - Start to apply for jobs or contracts in IT support.
Foot on the Ladder
The key is to get your foot on the IT ladder. It is less important what type of role you get but if at all possible, try to get something with at least some networking or network support function. I just did a quick search on www.jobserve.com for 'CCNA' in Birmingham and came up with:
'Network engineer required by our global outsourcing client on a major automotive site.
The successful engineer will be ideally CCNA qualified and will be required to provide support to the client network (LAN) infrastructure , this involves monitoring the network, responding to fault calls, design, implementation and installation of new kit.'
They are paying £180 per day which works out at £900 per week or about £3800 per month. I'm not sure if that sounds like a lot of money. It does to me!
In Your Head
Something just happened in your head. It may have been one of the below:
1. That sounds great. I would go for that contract.
2. I could never earn that sort of money.
3. I had better start off at the bottom first.
4. I couldn't apply for that. It would be too hard/advanced for me.
5. There is no point in applying. They would never accept me.
My perspective is this. If you have passed your CCNA you can and should apply for CCNA level roles. That was the point after all wasn't it or have I gone mad? You learned the material, spent time using live Cisco routers and switches and then you passed the exam thus proving Cisco think you are good enough to be a CCNA. You pass your driving test you can drive a car on your own. You pass your pilots exam you can fly the plane. You pass your medical degree you can treat patients.
The above role is looking for a CCNA level engineer who can support a LAN, monitor the network, deal with faults etc. I imagine they have some sort of network monitoring tools such as HP Openview or Solarwinds which will ping if something breaks. I also imagine that you won't be the only person sitting there since it is a major automotive company. The chances of you going there and on the first day having sole responsibility for their network are remote indeed.
I would imagine you would spend a few days getting to know their network and then as you learn their procedures you will be given more responsibility. I would also imagine that they have senior network engineers who will be there to deal with any major outages should they occur. Never in a million years would they have a CCNA engineer start on the job and expect you to manage their ten million pound network while they all go off to the pub!
The reason why you wouldn't apply for that contract is that you think you would never get it or that you would be out of your depth. The truth is that you would probably do just fine and you would quickly learn lot of interesting technologies and become a valuable member of the team. After around six to twelve months you may want to move on for a different or more challenging contract. The money you earn would give you and your family a great lifestyle including great holidays, a nice reliable car and a better quality of life. Your may even be able to take extended breaks so you can spend time with the people you love.
Is what I am saying really so hard to believe? I would apply for that contract myself if I didn't run my own company.
The Experience Gap
If you are working in a factory and then pass your CCNA you may have a challenge when it comes to showing your experience. Most companies don't want to be the ones to let you lose on their network if you are a novice. They also don't want to spend time training you in case you leave.
Here are the options I advise.
1. Get experience any way you can. If you can find a training company who will train you they may be prepared for you to come back and assist training other students. You can help set up the equipment, help the other students and then clear up afterwards. If you do this you can ask for a reference to use on your CV. I'm sure we would be happy to help you with this at Networks Inc. as we hate wrapping up cables at the end of a course.
2. Go for contract roles. It is ten times easier to get into IT contracting with less experience. As a contractor you are an expendable resource who can be called in for a few weeks or months and then leave once a job is completed. For the above role on Jobserve they want you for 3 months. If there is more work and they like you then you may be asked to stay. Otherwise you will leave.
By the end of 3 months you have earned around £11400 and you can either slot into another contract (taking your experience with you), take a break or pay to gain some more qualifications.
3. Find a low level support job or contract. If you can get one with at least some sort of networking aspect it is far better. Get 3 to 6 months experience and leave for something more interesting. Do not stay any longer because you will not be learning anything at all and will be in danger of becoming a walking zombie (I have met a few).
Most IT people I have met have fallen into the role. Most have no certifications and have no plans to take any. They think that they don't need to take any exams and even if their employer pays for them to go on a course it is just a nice break from going into the office. They will never take the exam associated with the course.
I have met thousands of IT employees and generally the attitude towards self development is fairly poor. Even those who work at the cutting edge of IT services just learn the minimum they need to know to carry out their jobs. The thought of studying in their own time is ridiculous to them. This is why you are going to have the advantage, because you are keen to learn and highly motivated. Right?
I know of many telecoms companies in the UK (I won't name any) who are actively looking for Cisco CCNA level engineers. They aren't too worried about experience since they provide their own training for new joiners or offer on the job training. They are looking for motivated people who will look smart, be polite to their customers, give 100% effort while at work and go the extra mile. If you fit that profile you only need call the HR department or network manager and ask if you can come in for a chat about possible roles.
Do you know what the worse case scenario is when you apply for a contract or job? It isn't somebody coming to your house and breaking your legs. It is them saying 'no thanks' or 'not at the moment.' If you get knocked back then seek feedback, make an adjustment and move forward. There are many many IT jobs and contracts out there and one has your name on it.
I come back to getting a qualification. A person who takes the initiative of studying and passing their CCNA or other certifications proves that they are a self starter and are willing to learn. Once you have passed work on any experience gaps you may have and get a reference if possible, even if it is from your training company. Apply for contracts and jobs (about ten per day) and actively seek out local companies who have an IT department.
I wish you the best with your studies and job hunting efforts.
About Paul Browning
founded Networks Inc. Ltd who have been
teaching Cisco courses in the UK since 2002.
Customers include BT, Shell, British Army,
Jaguar, Ford and many many more.