Whether you are hitting your quarter life crisis, midlife crisis, or no crisis at all, deciding what you should be doing with the rest of your life can be terrifying.
But sometimes, the unknown can open up more opportunities than you once thought. Believe it or not, it might lead you to a job in IT. If you just read this and thought, “that doesn’t sound like me,” you might want to think again.
Take Rebecca Baca, who was not exactly the cookie-cutter image of an IT professional. At 27 years old, the single mother mostly had experience in the food industry, and was not what people would call a computer whiz.
But in order to better provide for her child, Baca decided it was time for a fresh start. She enrolled in a Cisco Networking Academy class in 2003 and never looked back. “When I started, I couldn’t even attach an email,” she said. “It was ridiculous; I didn’t know how to work Excel.” Now, Baca is the first woman in her organization to be promoted to project consulting engineer.
Ty James, on the other hand, knew he loved computers ever since he was a little kid. After working as a computer technician for a few years, he is now a Cisco Networking Academy instructor for 11th and 12th grade students. “I’ve always loved working with computers,” he said. “Back in the '90s when home computers were evolving, I got into that in high school. It's really just been a part of my life since then.”
So, do you have what it takes to make this kind of career move? Presented by Cisco and in tandem with CEO John Chambers' speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, we're bringing you the qualities that you REALLY need in order to succeed in an IT job. And believe it or not, calculator watches and a love of all things 1 and 0 are nowhere to be found.
1. You Are A Computer Whiz. Or, You Have No Idea How To Use One.
This story is told time and again by people in the IT realm. “During my studies and when I was at my job, I met people from all walks of life,” said Angel Gavidia, a previous Cisco Networking Academy student. “Some people were English majors and irrigation specialists... [and] all these people came from previous careers that had little or nothing to do with technology in general.”
However, Gavidia himself has always been a bit of a tech fanatic. “Ever since I was young, I was always playing around with electronic systems. Back when computers were just as simple as word processing with the green screens, I’ve always wanted to tinker around with that.”
Whether you go gaga over gadgets or have barely even touched a computer mouse, people with all kinds of backgrounds can find themselves in IT.
2. You Are Creative
Creativity and problem-solving are not mutually exclusive skill sets. As Baca says, “Every robot has a manual." In other words, solving technical problems -- and thinking ahead to predict potential challenges -- requires creative thinking.
This truly means that artistry and technology can exist in the same world. Gavidia, for instance, is the only IT personnel in his family; with an accountant for a father and a seamstress for a mother, it may seem like an unlikely familial connection. However, his sister is a multimedia artist, and the two find some common ground in their lack of commonalities.
Leaders in IT have long known that hiring creative people -- and providing them with a collaborative, flexible work environment where they can unlock their creativity -- is essential to true innovation. As Baca explains, “When there is technology, but no creativity, you box yourself in.”
3. Puzzles Are Your Jam
Every Cisco Networking Academy alumni mentioned the same thing when we discussed what qualifies someone to be an IT professional: a strong curiosity. “I think that [IT] is something that they can grow into and learn to enjoy," says James. "Especially if they enjoy analytical thinking and reasoning, and if they enjoy learning how to solve problems. That’s what this is all about. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of figuring out ways of doing things and solving new problems.”
To current employers, being a good problem-solver is just as important as having technical skills. A 2013 study commissioned by Microsoft found that problem-solving is one of the top traits required for the fastest-growing, highest-wage occupations of the next decade. While IT skills remain important, companies are always looking for employees who have strong oral and written communication skills and can solve problems on the fly.
4. You Have To Be Ready And Willing To Learn All Different Kinds Of Things
“Anyone can be technical; you just have to be able to read," says Baca. "You have to grasp the technology and be able to apply it in different situations.”
Shraddha Chaplot, a hardware test engineer currently doing a six-month rotation in Cisco's Services Innovation Excellence Center -– or a “greengineer,” as she more succinctly calls herself -– is a perfect example of how creativity and a hunger for learning are the most essential ingredients for success in IT.
“I’m not doing the same thing every single day,” says Chaplot. “I really want to try to influence as much as I can and learn as much as I can because that’s how I’m going to be able to make a difference.”
Chaplot also reinforces the fact that you don’t have to fit a certain type of mold to be in IT: “Innovation is not just something that is for a particular age group or a particular expertise level,” she says. “This is for everybody.”
5. You Are A Good Communicator
As both a computer technician and a teacher, James knows that communication is key. “A lot of people may think of someone going into IT as stereotypically not the best communicator,” he said. “But that is a misconception. What the workforce needs right now is someone who does have those communication skills, and who can present what they are doing to people who are not in IT. Along with the tech skills, they certainly need business skills as well.”
Gavidia echoed these sentiments when discussing his own experiences in school. Although he struggled with his studies at certain points, he realized that discussing what he learned with others is what really helped him excel: “When you start explaining [the material] to someone else in your own words, you are essentially reteaching it to yourself and making the connections so that someone else will understand it.” He went on to explain that his pathway to success really lay in these inter-student communications, and that “teaching my peers, collaborating with my peers ... was my biggest achievement.”
The bottom line? There is no one way to approach a career in IT: even if you don't necessarily check all of these boxes, you just might find your niche in an exciting, constantly evolving industry.