What's the best way to move up in IT? I'm aiming towards network/systems administration. I've been in the field of network support for a little over 3 years, mostly dealing with microsoft servers. What would be my best move? Should I get any kind of training/certification or go back to school? What's the hot area right now? Any help I'd appreciate. THanks.

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First off – I need to pick a few nits with some of your assumptions – nothing personal, just being really clear.

When you say “network admin” to me that means switches, routers, hubs, firewalls, load-balancing systems, some actual systems/servers like DNS, DHCP. When I refer to file, print, database, applications servers, desktop workswtations and such, those are generally handled by sysadmins or DBAs. I realize that there’s a lot of overlap out there, but when I see the terms “network” and “Microsoft” used in the same sentence, I get testy.

The second thing that gets my attention is your query about “what’s the hot area right now?”. There are so many hot areas it’s not funny. My concern is that you’re chasing the almighty dollar (or whatever currency you use) without much thought as to what lies beyond the next horizon.

I would suggest for long-term career growth, that you find something that you’re good at, keep up with the field in general with some of the many free news feeds available (in case something comes up that strikes a chord within you), and concentrate on being the best possible person you can be at a chosen area.

In my case for example, I understand the mechanics of building web pages, but I don’t have the artistic talent or inclination required to do a really good job of it. So I stay away from that professionally – no matter whether or not there’s money in it. If you spend your time chasing money, you may advance here and there if you appear to be working in a field in which there’s a scarcity of talent, but then when more serious expertise is required, unless you’ve worked at it steadily, you’re going to be out in the cold – or at least the cool.

One of my personal pet peeves (relevant to your question, I hope) is when people ask me “How do you get into security? That must be a really hot field”. When I start telling them how, they lose interest because it involves work, and learning new areas of knowledge.

There is no magic “cookie” that will instantly qualify you to make the big bucks in any area. I know of a number of frauds that seem to do well money-wise, but they depend on constant movement so that they’ve always got a fresh audience to whom they sound good – until the audience discovers that they’re farming out the work to others and pocketing the overcharges.

Hopefully you’re not that type either.

I realize that I’ve not given you exactly what you’ve asked for. Hopefully though, you’ve now got some serious food for thought on which to base the rest of your career.


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  • Davidm16
    There is no best way. There are many good ways and the way you choose will depend on many things; your character, personality, field of interest, education, ability to develop meaningful relationships with people and leadership skills. I've coached co-ops, as well as other young professionals, to pursue their interests, always continue personal growth and development which can include training/certification as well as going back to school, and to perform at the best of their abilities at whatever job is assigned. Practice this consistently and I garantee that the money will find you. You won't need to look for it. The most important thing is to do what you enjoy because you will be doing it for a long time. People in fields that you never thought about make a lot of money doing what they enjoy and it shows. Don't worry about the hot area right now because by the time you get up to speed and become highly competative in that area, it will no longer be the hot area. When you know your field of interest and have a plan on how to develop yourself in that area, find a company in a growing industry to which you will provide your services. I've seen the best-of-the-best work for 'rust-bucket' companies and go nowhere because the company said they couldn't afford to pay them any more. If you intend to stay with a company then pick a company in a growth industry. If you've continued your growth and development, but still find your career and salary moving sideways at a particular company, leave. Don't job hop. Good Luck!
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  • Wickedstick
    First, kudos to Bob. I'm sure many of us have the same pet pieves when it comes to people using title which imply one thing but their duties are completely another. Side note - I recently saw a security offering where the requirements were to have one of the following certifications: CISSP; GAIC; ISSA; CCSP; MCSE. MCSE??? Are you kidding??? Anyway, to answer your question, if you're seriously looking to get into networking (switches, routers, etc) then I would start taking some Cisco classes. I'm not pushing Cisco for any reason other than the majority of companies use Cisco, they're the leader in that market and they're not going away any time soon. Besides learning how to configure their gear, their classes also teach you the fundamentals you'll need to know about TCP/IP and networking, regardless of which vendor you ultimately choose. What makes a person really good at their job is not so much their ability to configure a switch or router (even newbies can eventually do that) but their ability to recognize particular traits of a problem just by hearing what the problem is - without even touching any equipment. Knowing networking is not about knowing any particuler vendors equipment but truly 'knowing' networking - how does TCP/IP work, how does a packet start from a PC and get to it's destination, what happens at each node as it traverses the network, etc. So, I guess I'd say take some classes and learn TCP/IP.
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  • Sonotsky
    A tip of the hat to Bob (long time no write!) and to the other respondants to this question for their excellent viewpoints. To "goretech": I'm going to hit you with yet another "this is the way I see it" replies. :) I've been in many, many different areas in IT for the past 11+ years: I've been a UNIX (Solaris, AIX, Linus) sysadmin; a Windows sysadmin; a UNIX/Windows sysadmin; a DBA; a network administrator (as per Bob's description of the term); a programmer/analyst; an application support analyst; customer support, from retail on up through C-level executives in IT outsourcing contracts. I consider myself quite fortunate: I've built up an awesome skillset that has saved my and my empoyer's ass on several occasions. I have only one certification to my name (RHCE, which has probably expired by now), yet I continue to get more satisfying and better-paying jobs. That being said, I'll give you some advice: don't put too much stock in the education and certification requirements that you see in job descriptions. Often times, employers will put absurdly high qualifications into the job descriptions to discourage a flood of resumes from applicants far underqualified for the "real" job. Don't be afraid to take less money than you were hoping for, if the job is in a company that has a good corporate atmosphere and the role is challenging and rewarding. You'll be much happier with a job that's not boring to you. Don't be afraid to leave one job for another, if you honestly feel that the newer role is more your style; but never ever base the decision solely on money. Shorter commute, better benefits, more responsibility, more prominent title, the ability to wear jeans on Friday - all of these are reasons why I've left one employer for another. It's just happenstance that the money went up - even if just a grand or two - each time. When you are invited for an interview, research the company in question. In the vast majority of cases, it impresses the hell out of the interviewer if you know details about their products/services, recent financial results, or press events/news bits - assuming all are positive (don't be saying, "man, your last quarterly results really blew", unless you can formulate a plan to help them out). In the interview, don't come across as desperate - "I really, really want to work for you" smells of kissing up or of something fishier. Act like you're doing them a favour by showing up for the interview, but take it down a couple of notches from that level of arrogance. The "cool customer" usually sticks in the interviewer's head after you leave. If the company you're going for has a datacentre, ask for a tour - it shows interest; but don't say much while you're whisked around, just soak it all in and look interested. As for "hot areas" - to paraphrase Bob, pick a card! You already have 3 years in IT, and experience with MS servers. Market yourself as a Windows sysadmin! If you get into a company that has a UNIX/Windows mix, hang out with the UNIX sysadmin(s) and learn from them, or ask for outside education under the premise of cross-training for the purpose of backing the UNIX guy up when he goes on vacation. Worm your way deeper into the IT organization where you are. The more you look over people's shoulders, the more likely they are (on average) to teach you more. The more you learn, the more you can put on your resume as "experience". Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps. (P.S. - hope I didn't ramble on too much there) Cheers
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