Need guidiance from pros already into the game

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Hi, I am a United Stated Marine stationed overseas since 2003, majoring in Information technology with National University. I am still an idiot in the field and thats why i joined this group. To get a glance of what to ecpect in the future. I am asking for your help in guiding me through whatever field you specify so i can have an idea of what to expect. please start from the scratch as i am still taking IT classes and would like to know more about this field. Explain what you do and how you do it? how lucrative is your job and what do you think is the best area to specify in. If i don't stay in the military i might decide to get a job as an IT (?) in the future. So please help me educate myself while am still in college. Thanks

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Well, first off… Congratulations for serving in our Armed Forces.

You’ve asked a very broad question, so I’ll give you a broad answer first, and my specifics later. The first thing I can tell you is that very few of us have followed any sort of straight line to get to our respective positions today. I’m not getting rich, but neither am I doing badly. The key thing with this is that you have to enjoy this sort of work or it will drive you up the wall.

The key elements are:
- Interest in solving problems
- Helping others
- Making money (notice this is last)

Areas you can work in are constantly changing, but here are some generalizations:
Desktop/End User support
Server management (general)
Database Administration
Network Administration (The actual switches, routers, etc.)
Network Security (my field)
Computer Security (partly my field)
Web page design
Internet application development (e-business, etc.)

What I’d suggest to anyone is to first learn the basics, and take every opportunity to learn other things – whether or not you thought they applied to your current situation. By this I don’t mean to study everything in depth – you’d drown. But when you encounter something new, learn enough about it to understand where it fits into the overall picture. That way over time, you’ll start seeing the puzzle pieces fit together to form a picture – and from that you’ll start to get an idea of what areas interest you and those that don’t.

By way of example, I got into security because someone else was trying to hide his incompetence by asking folks in other divisions to do his work for him – and the request came back to me by a roundabout route. Just not the sort of thing you can plan on – but can certainly take advantage of.

I’ll post other, more detailed stuff later – right now I’ve got work to do.

Bob

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  • Backbyrner
    As a former submariner I "fell into" IT as a profession about ten years ago when I got out of the Navy. Like Bob I learned a bit about a lot of things before finally settling on network operations and network security. My path has been one taken largely through opportunity resulting from being in the right place at the right time. I had some of the skills required of the next job and then quickly learned the rest on the job - stepping stones. An enthusiastic and quick learner who has demonstrated an ability to acquire new skills quickly is not often overlooked in an organisation when jobs come up for grabs. I started out delivering computer training for popular software packages (MS Office, WordPerfect, Lotus SmartSuite, etc) but also aqcquired skills in multiple areas by "osmosis". This was my first stepping stone to the next job in IT Desktop Support, then Systems Administration followed by Network Administration and so on. The very nature of ICT means that it is constantly evolving and any job you may start out doing may not even exist in 5-10 years. As Bob pointed out, just poke around for a while doing all manner of IT-related jobs until you find a particular area that interests you and then specialise. You may also wish to consider gaining some industry certification such as MSCE or CCIE in additional your University degree. These could take you further than a Uni IT Degree alone because they are more product specific than a general IT Degree (they also tend to be more up-to-date than most university degree topics). Don't expect to get wildly rich doing this type of thing but you can certainly make a comfortable living. Good luck and above all have fun because life is too short too spend a third of your life doing something you hate!
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  • Bobkberg
    Ok, as promised, some specifics about what I personally do. As the saying goes YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). Administer/maintain firewall configurations - that is opening services as specifically requested, and (rarely requested) closing down unused holes as I find them. This is more or less routine work. What's a little tougher, but more interesting is to keep the configuration as "clean" as possible, since when someone creates rules, they don't always look to see if there's something similar, but instead, just adds another rule onto the end of the list - resulting in poor operation. Analyzing firewall and other logs looking for signs of trouble, or trying to figure out how and where a given problem is coming from - fun if you enjoy solving puzzles with no official answer. Maintaining and monitoring an IDS (Intrusion Detection System). IDS's are notoriously chatty/noisy, since by default they report EVERYTHING that could conceiveably be an attack. It can be tedious to analyze the false positives (crying "wolf") to reduce the noise, but it's very educational, and will reduce the number of events that the IDS reports to those more likely to represent an actual problem. Auditing & Penetration Testing - This can be fun and/or tedious depending on what you find. The worst networks are the most fun in terms of all the problems you can find, and point out to the customer/management. But it also requires that you keep up on all the tools available - many of them free or inexpensive - some VERY pricey. Accompanying this though is writing detailed reports that the customer can understand and use. Set up and maintain Remote Access systems, VPN's (Virtual Private Networking) for many small companies. Clean up spyware and viruses from systems so badly infected or infested that the normal methods don't work. Working with other IT folks to help them install and maintain their systems in the most secure manner possible while not interrupting the flow of business. Hardening existing systems, (computers, servers, firewalls, wireless, etc.) to reduce risk wherever possible. Being involved in troubleshooting "unknown" problems to determine their general nature. In many cases, I've dealt with problems in which it wasn't immediately obvious whether the problem was configuration, security, or what. That should be enough to go on for the time being. I'll be interested to see what other folks post. Bob
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  • BlueKnight
    First, let me thank you for serving our country, especially during these times. Bob's points are excellent as usual. If you enjoy challenges, solving problems and helping people, IT would be a great career for you. Don't expect to get rich in IT though. Most of us make a comfortable living. Like Backbyrner, I fell into the IT field, but 100 years ago. I wanted to be a cop but ended up working in a BofA ERMA Center to pay for college... before I was old enough to apply for law enforcement jobs. When BofA sent everything to San Francisco, I found myself looking for a job and ended up working as a tab machine operator for the DMV (I told you it was 100 years ago). After that I ended up working for a service bureau where I was quickly promoted to computer operator. Watching the programmers at work piqued my interest, so I taught myself Assembler programming with a little help from our Sr. Programmer. That got me promoted to Programmer and within another year I was promoted to Production Supervisor. Since then, my curiosity, combined with my desire to keep learning, has put me in virtually every position in the IT field including IT Manager for 8 years. That was fine, but I like being in the trenches better. My recommendation to someone like you would be to check out every area... Talk to the people who suppout your network and ask about their work, talk to the desktop support folks about their work. Visit with the application development folks and find out about what they do. The same goes for security and other areas. The IT field is like a huge jigsaw puzzle. Each of the pieces (IT disciplines) is but a small part of the overall picture. When you learn how they all fit and work together, you can see the whole picture. That overall knowledge will help you in whichever position you choose to work in. Knowledge of the business you work in is also essential. Currently, I'm working as the technical lead supporting criminal justice systems. In the last job I had, I wore many hats but my favorite areas were systems programming and network administration (including LAN/WAN construction). Unfortunately my position was eliminated and I ended up where I am now. Fortunately, my skill set is widely varied and I was able to utilize my experience for this position. So... use your curiosity and investigate all areas to find which interest you most. If you want to enjoy your work, you need to do what you're interested in, not something that pays more but is boring or that causes you grief. Read as much as you can about technologies, products etc. And like Backbyrner suggested, consider technical training that will lead to certification to compliment your education - it will all work together. Considering I had no intention of working in IT, it has been like a 39 year hobby so far. I enjoy it tremendously and I get paid for it. And I did eventually get into law enforcement, but as a reserve. Life is good. I wish you the best of luck for the future. If you need more info, don't hesitate to ask. Jim
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  • HumbleNetAdmin
    Foguno I would like to also say great job and thanks for serving our country. I served a five year stint in the Army my self and understand the sacrifice and commitment needed by those who serve in our armed forces. I also would echo statements by previous posters on the wide variety of career paths that working in the IT world includes. First and foremost is not to chase the money. There are many career paths in IT that pay very well, however it also depends on the organization that you work for and location. I fell into IT by accident although I had learned of my love for computers in 1983 while playing around with a little basic programming on a Commodore VIC20 when they first came out. Then I went into the Army and never touched a computer again until 85/86 when I took a Electronics Technology course in a votech. I bought a cheap used Packard Bell from a pawn shop and soon had it tore apart for upgrades and just to satisfy my curiosity of what was going on inside. That was like opening a black hole. I soon started building computers and doing upgrades and repairs as part time business. Upon relocating to another area I could not continue with the Electronics Tech class so I enrolled into Computer Information Systems degree program at local college in 97. Finally got my AS in 2003 and I am still working on my BS. Also in 97 I took a job for a large resort in the are were I relocated to as a Condo Maintenance Engineer (sweet name for a painter, plumber, repair type person). A little over a year latter when I got my first raise, I was screaming mad and about to walk out, but kept my wits about me and went to the HR Director and had a talk. Since the resort was rather large and also dealt in real-estate and construction, they had a decent sized IS dept. I explained the HR Director that I was not happy with my raise, what my career goals were and that I was now looking for a job in the career I was pursuing, and that I wanted the opportunity to get my foot in the IS dept of the organization, even if it was only as an intern or voluntary. I soon had an interview with the IS Director to see if there was anything I could do, and instead of getting my foot in the door I fell through it face first. About three weeks after I had talked to the IS director someone in the IS dept turned in there resignation to go elsewhere I filled their position in PC support making $8hr. By the time my position was eliminated in 2002 following 911 I was a PC/Network Analyst (assistant network admin/In charge of supporting all PC?s in the company) making 17+ and hour. It took six months to land another job in the IT field, and I did so as a Network Administrator. Now one thing you have to keep in mind, is that depending on the size of an organization will have a lot to do with how many hats a employee in a given position in IT will ware. In a large organization, they may employee a net admin, network engineer, systems admin and network or systems security personal, where the Net Admin works in supporting the network switches, hubs, cabling, logon accounts and what not on a LAN and maybe a WAN, systems administrators roles are for the servers and Engineers for Routers, firewalls, VPNs, WANs and internet connectivity. I am lucky to land the position I now have as a Network Admin for a small corporation (about 80-90 employees). The organization is very dependant on its IT infrastructure and it has to be up 24x7. I am the sole administrator of a network consisting of 17 servers, two firewalls, two load balancers, two routers, two internet connections (one 1.5mb Ethernet over fiber and the other a T1). Among those servers are four webservers, three terminal services servers, and exchange server, two Linux/BIND DNS servers (four external internet), four NAS servers and others. I am lucky in that I ware the hats of a network admin, systems admin, security administrator and network engineer. Now I am no where near to being an expert in any of those areas and have more knowledge in some then others. But I am in a position to venture into a IT career specifically into one area or, as I desire to stay in a position with the challenges and opportunities that I have in my current position. One of the problems that I have (because we are in the middle of nowhere), is getting the compensation out of them that I am worth and deserve. I am making 41,000, about 8-15,000 less that I should. However that is the only thing that keeps me from 100% job satisfaction. I like were I work, what I do with a passion and the challenges and opportunity that it has provided. Mind you, the seeking for 100% satisfaction is there, and, I have given it 3 years, but if they don?t come around with the fair compensation I will seek better opportunities elsewhere. So, with all that rambling out of the way; my point is, do what you like, don?t chase the money (if you don?t do what you like and make good money, you want be happy in the long run). Find what it is in IT that ignites your fuse and pursue that. Seek opportunity for gaining experience and getting your hands dirty; seek education weather it is through college curricula or training and certification, or both. The important thing is knowledge gained from hands on experience; at least that is my 2% worth. Good luck The HumbleNetAdmin
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  • Csmric
    Semper Fi! As with many of the other repliers, I fell into IT work. While attending college in the late 70's after my first tour in the Army, I got interested in computers. My first computer was a TI-99 that I programmed in Basic. My first project resulted in a little guy who would "dance" on the screen by moving his arms and legs in an up/down motion. This initial project took me approximatley 5 hrs. My path into IT began because I was the only one where I worked that knew anything about computers. Consequently, I became the "computer guy". They sent me to classes and I learned more. When I moved on to another job, my experience and training enabled me to become the computer guy at the new place where I got to spend more of my time on computers and received more training. This cycle continued for several jobs until i was able to secure a full-time job in IT. I am now the Network Administrator for a small county govt in Montana. I am responsible for everything from installing new PCs and software to wireless installations, 6 servers, the website, desktop suport for 80 computers, budgeting for all IT needs and advising department heads on future IT implementations. Obviously, this also entails providing a secure computing environment for my users and planning for future upgrades and replacements. I don't make a ton of money, but I love my job. I get to do something different every day (unlike if I had specialized in a sub-field of IT) and the challenges of doing "more with less" are fun! Everyone else is correct! Do what you like and the rest will follow. Good luck and let us know how it works out for you. Ric, CSM, USAR (ret)
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  • Aljay165
    SEMPER FI Foguno! I served from 92-98 starting out as a C-130 mechanic, ending up an aircrew member. I got out and began contracting as a metalsmith for large aircraft overhauls. It payed O.K., but traveling the country every three months got old pretty fast. I looked around for jobs with airlines, etc. but came up empty; I didn't have my A&P license before I got out, and an Air Worthiness Inspector wouldn't sign off after I got out without tons of expensive school. I never did find that "once a Marine, always a Marine" line the recruiter sold me! (HaHa) Anyway, my Dad has been in IT forever and urged me to move in that direction. I took a job with a small division of GE on a support desk (ended up being warranty support for retail extended warranties, not what I expected). I picked up a study book for the CompTia A+ and studied my butt off for a couple of months. The amount of info in there was unbelievable (at the time, I barely knew how to turn a on computer). I went down and took the test, passed it, and started looking for a job. I had a few interviews, and took a job with a manufacturer of fare collection devices. Really cool. I had access to these locally made imbedded devices, the Electrical Engineer who designed the boards, the guys who programmed in C, C++ and Java, everything. I worked on the LAN and traveled around installing these devices, the back office computers (Windows 2000 Server, Oracle 8i) and the front-end computers. It was a lot of fun, but after a year they wouldn't give a raise (the dot-com bust happened right after I started, and they knew there wasn't much to choose from in IT). After that I pretty much went out on my own, maintaining small networks, home PC's, etc for about four years. I did a lot of contract work during that time as well, mostly phone support for field technicians, project rollouts and installations for large corporations, etc. I go through all that to tell you I am working for a small support firm right now, installing and maintaining Windows networks (mostly Small Business Server 2003). I enjoy the work, but there's plenty of it. I have learned a lot of things, and realize I don't know much at all. If I were to give any guidance at all: 1. Get that degree!!! A lot of people say you don't need it to work in IT, and that's true. You do need it for the INTERVIEW, though! 2. Learn the balance. I have gone into these jobs with the Gung-Ho Do-Or-Die spirit, because that's what needed to be done. Besides, my employers will respect that dedication, right? Not likely. I learned that you set a standard for yourself like that, they'll expect you to keep it even if noone else does. BURNOUT comes quickly working 6-12's or more month after month. Good luck Devil Dog!
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  • Bobkberg
    I've already put in my $.02 worth for the topic, but I wanted to say to everyone who has contributed here... This has been one of the best, heartwarming threads I've ever seen. You folks are awesome. Bob
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