For people trying to break into the IT or “information technology” field, the opportunities can feel vast — almost too broad to know where to start. IT consists of lots of roles beyond manning help desks, like cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data processing and management.
So what does it take to land an entry-level job in IT? For starters, having technical knowledge is just one piece of the puzzle.
Ahead you’ll find even more practical suggestions and advice from IT pros who understand how to get from inspired to hired. For an overview of the IT industry, be sure to check out our course Introduction to IT.
Narrow down your interests
Your first step toward a career in IT is figuring out what application of IT interests you the most, explains Kofi Friar, Senior IT Manager at Codecademy. Are you fascinated by cybersecurity and get excited about uncovering cyber threats or attackers? Or do you like to manage people and organize workflows? Or do you thrive completing hands-on tasks, like hardware repair?
“From there, try to get some exposure to IT,” Kofi says. For example, YouTube is a great resource for technical videos and tutorials that can help familiarize you with hardware components, he says.
You could also reach out to someone who works in IT, and ask about shadowing them for the day, or just picking their brain over coffee, Kofi suggests. “Try and set that up and see if that continual excitement of what brought you into it is still there,” he says.
Go to conferences
The IT world is very “community-driven,” says Austin Turecek, Senior Cybersecurity Analyst at Flashpoint (who has contributed to Codecademy’s cybersecurity courses). Attending IT conferences in person or virtually is one way you can expand your horizons and network with other IT professionals. It can be inspiring to hear from thought leaders in the industry and people are typically excited to talk shop in these settings, Austin says.
“People who are involved in computers and cybersecurity, especially at conferences, really love it,” Austin says. “If you go up to a presenter, and you’re like, ‘Hey, I thought that was a really interesting point. Could you explain it a little bit more?’ you’ll get into a 3-hour conversation, which can turn into potential connections for jobs in the future.”
If you’re not super confident in your in-person schmoozing skills, or just want to polish your online presence before heading to a conference, here are some tips for using LinkedIn to network.
Embrace your background
Career-switchers who want to make a change and get into IT might second-guess whether they have the “right” experience to get hired. “But one of the things that’s really great about IT is it’s open to a very diverse background,” Austin says. In previous cybersecurity roles, Austin’s colleagues were former professional football players, morticians, club bouncers, history professors — you name it.
Rather than stressing over every line on your resume, focus on emphasizing your soft skills (like creative problem-solving and communication) that could be relevant to IT. “I’ve been hired based, not on my technical skills, but my ability to understand problems and explain them in a simple way, as well as my personality and my people skills,” Kofi says. “Technical skills can always be learned.”
Get some educational training
IT tends to be welcoming of nontraditional educational backgrounds, too. Austin suggests looking into IT certifications that could boost your hiring potential.
Show that you’re eager to learn
You don’t need to have mastered everything there is to know about a field to get a job. In IT, there’s plenty of room for people to learn on the job. Kofi’s first job in IT was offering hardware and software support at his college’s help desk. The role enabled him to be a sponge: He learned how software applications work on computers, saw how certain issues affect hardware, and was exposed to servers and user account management.
Working in hardware and software laid the foundation for Kofi to get promoted within IT, and ultimately apply the same ideas and solutions to a large-scale enterprise. “No matter what level of technology you’re speaking at, I think that it’s good to understand the primary principles of IT,” he says. “Because whether you’re looking at security or project management, those foundational pieces will always be there.”
Contribute to open-source projects
Submitting code to open-source projects is a great move, even if you’re going for IT roles. For example, if you want to pursue cybersecurity, you could identify vulnerabilities in open-source projects that you submit code to and help improve, Austin says. “A lot of employers will see that as good experience,” he says. And if you’re looking for more hands-on practice to bolster your job applications, check out our cybersecurity Portfolio Projects.
According to Austin, there’s a misconception that people who work in IT can be dismissive or jaded, but those stereotypes shouldn’t deter you from pursuing the field. “IT is very much: You get what you put into it,” he says. “If you really show people that you enjoy the work and that you want to improve the work, there will always be someone who’s willing to help you grow.”
Kofi agrees that you should embrace a curious and beginner’s mindset: “If you’re curious and you’re passionate, take the time to explore that curiosity,” he says.
Want to work in IT? Start by taking our Introduction to IT course, which will teach you the core IT subjects, like operating systems and databases. You could also check out our Introduction to Cybersecurity course to learn the ins and outs of malware and network security. And for even more advice on how to kickstart a career in tech, head to our career center.