When you decide to enter the IT field or to fine-tune your skills so you’ll excel at the IT job you already have, there are some specific questions to ask yourself. Answering them will help you choose the right educational institution and determine which skills you need to enter a field or advance in your current career:
- What type of educational system (online training, real-world classroom, 4-year program, 2-year program, certificate program, or other option) will work best with my lifestyle?
- What specific degree or certificate is required (or advantageous to have) in order to reach my chosen career goals?
- Do I require a degree or is real-world, equivalent experience sufficient?
- Assess your resumé – what is my current level of IT knowledge and expertise?
- What specific new IT skills do I need to take my career to the next level?
- Am I interested in learning computational theory or learning real-world, coding skills?
- Do I want to learn online, in my pajamas, in the comfort of my own home, or do I prefer face-to-face interaction with peers and instructors?
- Do I thrive working one-on-one with an instructor, or in a large lecture environment?
- What can I handle in terms of time and expense?
- Will my current or potential employer pay for any of my education?
Choosing the right technology school can be a daunting task. Advertisements for schools blare from almost every web page and television. No school is right for everyone, so you’ll want to consider your specific educational and career goals carefully.
Depending on the IT market you’re interested in, different aspects of a resume may be more important. For instance, in areas of IT that require general development, maintenance, or security (such as programming or system administration), experience is king. Jobs may list “a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience,” but pursuing a degree without gaining real experience can actually be counter-productive. Similarly, exam-based certifications are generally necessary only in proprietary-specific positions, such as those using Cisco, Microsoft, or Novell systems. While higher positions, such as project management, Management Information Systems, research, and executive roles, usually require degrees or special certificate course programs.
If you’re just out of high school, then of course a 4-year or community college probably makes sense. If you’ve been in the job market for a while though, your path begins to twist and turn. Some of the best IT professionals around started out with degrees in accounting, the humanities, or even music, but realized later on that their IT hobbies could become a more lucrative profession in the long run. Some return to school to get technical degrees, but these folks are the exception, not the rule.
Many professionals who began careers in another field are able to secure tech jobs through professional courses, certificates, and participation open-source projects or technical support internships. Before you take the plunge in a different direction, assess your current resume to find out where you stand, figure out where the gaps are and fill them. Even though you may not have begun your career in IT, you’re still in good shape. It’s often better to showcase successful experience in several different skills, rather than guru status in just one.
In recent years, Computer Science enrollments in traditional 4-year universities have declined sharply, while online trade school IT enrollments have increased. This is largely because traditional CS curriculums are based more on computational theory, and less on building real-world, practical skills. In the information age, core computer programming skills and experience have greater value in the industry than theoretical knowledge and university identity.
This has opened up a world of opportunity for those who are unable or unwilling to go the traditional university route. If you only have time for courses after the kids are in bed, or love the idea of learning from home, you’re now able to earn an online IT education that will rival any established brick-and-mortar institution. Of course, not everyone considers this solitary lifestyle so grand, preferring to interact face-to-face with peers and instructors. Know thyself. Before you choose a school, determine whether you learn-by-doing best, or do you need to know comprehensive details up-front in order to progress. Make a list of your requirements and preferences.
Finally, for most of us, time and money are a concern. Getting a traditional degree may be your first choice, but simply not an option, because you can’t afford to leave your job, or are unable to circumvent your kids’ schedules to drive to a physical campus. Taking realistic stock of your constraints can help you to narrow down your options. However, those constraints don’t necessarily mean that an online program is your only option; many universities and community colleges have adopted curricula in a blended format, to offer more flexibility.
If you’re in the process of gathering information in effort to make an informed and practical IT education choice, good for you! We have a team of kind and knowledgeable student services people at O’Reilly School of Technology available to answer any further questions you may have about our school and the O’Reilly School of Technology approach to education. Call them at (707) 827-7288 (M-F 8AM to 5PM PST), or email at firstname.lastname@example.org