The array of options for technology training can be daunting, especially for people looking to break into the world of information technology jobs. Training centers often hype the opportunities in IT, even as they underestimate (or ignore) the challenges of finding a position as a PC technician or programmer.
The hype sometimes leads to hasty, ill-considered career decisions. The technology sphere is vast and, while MCSE certification is an asset for network engineers working in Microsoft environments, that doesn't mean you need an MCSE to work as a Java programmer. All of this argues for a well-researched, thoughtful decision when looking to enroll in an IT training program.
Here are the steps to take when considering technology training and education options:
Quick and Easy? Don't Be Conned
To put it bluntly, there is no fast-and-easy route to a $70,000-per-year IT job. A decision to enroll in a training program should start with an evaluation of your own skills and desires -- not with a marketing pitch about jobs for those with technology training. "The first question people need to ask themselves is, 'What am I good at and how good am I?'" says Ilya Talman, president of Roy Talman & Associates, a Chicago recruiting firm specializing in IT.
What's Right for You?
Scores of training programs emphasize classes to earn an entry-level IT certification, such as the A+, but that's not the right route for everyone. "They can become a PC tech, or maybe a help-desk person, but this is not going to catapult them into the top reaches of the IT hierarchy," says Talman. "The more complex the subject matter, the higher the upside." If you're early in your career (and if personal circumstances allow), consider a bachelor's degree in an IT-related discipline. Those exploring a mid-career transition may want to explore other options, such as a techno-MBA. The diversity of IT jobs means you want to make sure the training is appropriate for your goals.
Don't Rush into a Decision
One way to get a sense of your abilities and interests is to take a class or two, rather than enroll in an expensive IT program targeted at acquiring a specific certification. Online classes let you explore topics as diverse as networking, Linux, Web development and C++. Community colleges and continuing-education programs at universities are another source for reasonably priced classes. Aside from allowing you to test the waters, these classes may help you make contacts who can then help you decide on a long-term training plan.
Talk to Students and Instructors
Once you decide to take the plunge and enroll in an IT program, ask school administrators for the names of alumni who are willing to speak to prospective students. "Interview people who have graduated," Talman recommends. "Is this person a success? How much of this person's success is due to the training?" Students are often the best source on training's effectiveness and helpfulness in the job market. If the program is wary about providing student names, ask to attend a class, and then chat with students afterwards. Instructors may be helpful, too, by providing straight answers about what students do once they complete the program.
Ask About Career Assistance
Some technical trade schools have an established record in training students, notes Gene Kirchner, vice president of T. Williams Consulting, a strategic staffing consulting firm based in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Does the school have an active career placement center? "That's something they absolutely have to ask," Kirchner says. "Some schools will shine in that area, and others won't." Limited assistance, of course, may translate into limited opportunities.
In the end, you want to believe in your decision, whatever it is. "Try to figure out, realistically, what will make you comfortable and happy," Talman says. "Picking the wrong field is probably more dangerous than picking the wrong school."