Planning Your Journey in IT

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Introduction

This post is text from my eBook/guide Making IT Happen.

You’ve decided you want to work in IT, but now you must plan your future. In order to formalize a game plan for what technologies you want to work with, you’ll need some insight into several aspects of the paths available to you. There’s crossover between certain fields but you need to think about what interests you.

Today in IT, having a wide range of skills is preferred. Even in smaller companies, there are many technologies in use. Every job in IT requires several skill sets. This doesn’t mean you need to learn “everything” or every detail about every type of technology. It also doesn’t mean you can’t have a specialty or specialize later in your career. For now, it’s all about planning. Ask yourself- What interests you about IT? Is it building desktop computers? server infrastructure? networking? cloud technologies? Or security? Don’t worry If you are unsure what each entail. I will provide enough detail about each so you can begin planning which path suits you. This will help you decide what education and training to do. It’s worth noting the beauty of the IT industry is there’s always room to grow. With enough experience, you can change your path along the way.

The primary fields which I will cover in this post are Systems Administration, Networking, Cloud Technologies, and Security. As I mentioned earlier, the industry is extensive and within each of these fields are specialties which have their own additional job titles and roles. The fields I cover are the most relevant regarding getting into the IT industry or finding an entry-level job.

Quick note on coding and development. While this is a separate field, software development and coding are becoming an essential part of the IT landscape. Network automation and the Security fields use programming languages for various tasks.

Python is by far the most popular language today in terms of how integrated it is with several key facets of IT. For example, the new Cisco CCNA exam covers elements of Python and network automation. What does this mean for the IT professional? You’d be foolish to ignore Python completely, but you by no means need to be an expert. Knowing the very basics and having the ability to look at a script, make changes to it, and understand what it’s doing are the most essential.

Systems Administration

Let’s first start out thinking about the most general path- Systems Administration. This is the default landing spot for most people. When people look into the IT industry, they see themselves as a “Systems Administrator”. In IT, the term “Systems” typically refers to a server of some sort. Whether that’s physical, virtual, Windows, or Linux. In this role you’ll oversee the server hardware, server deployments, and anything installed and running on them. Systems Administrators need to monitor and maintain all the servers, including storage and optimize their performance. Depending on the organization, the Systems Administrator can also oversee all the IT infrastructure (Including the network).*

Some typical tasks Systems Administrators perform throughout the day:

  • Check server logs or alerts
  • Expand disk volumes
  • Monitor hardware resources of servers- CPU, RAM, Disk
  • Install new servers
  • Update and perform patching on server operating systems.
  • Install in house or 3rd party applications on server for end users -Maintain user accounts -Maintain access to resources- File shares and applications
  • Responsible for email and email related services

Networking

Next, we have Networking. This is another very popular route (pun intended). The titles “Network Administrator” and “Systems Administrator” are often interchanged with one another. This is the case as in some organizations, they handle both the systems side and network. It’s also because you can’t have the server systems or anything without a network. Because to this, folks on the path for Networking often bundle the Systems Administration path with it. I recommend doing so when first breaking into IT. This makes you extremely well rounded.

Network Engineers supply a stable and robust network. Switches, routers, firewalls, and wireless are key factors to networking. Also, be prepared to learn about VPN’s and connecting branch offices along with remote access workers.

Here are some typical tasks Network Administrators perform throughout the day:

  • Configure switches, routers, and firewalls
  • Monitor network traffic
  • Maintain VOIP networks
  • Install and configure wireless networks
  • Analyze network performance
  • Maintain integrity of the network security

Cloud

Cloud computing has been in on the rise for some time now. Almost every company has some aspect of cloud computing in production. Whether it’s using software apps, offsite backup storage, or the entire server stack, the cloud is rapidly changing how we as IT professionals think and work. We are in a unique time regarding jobs and cloud. The skill sets required for the cloud heavily rely upon systems and network administration. Oh, and of course, every solution you deploy in the cloud must be secure. This path requires knowledge and expertise of servers, networks, and security. As more and more companies migrate services to the cloud while maintaining at least some infrastructure on premises, the result is what is known as a hybrid cloud. In these scenarios’ IT staff must manage both the on-premises network and the cloud. Your path forward should be to gain knowledge and practical experience in the other areas of IT, then grow your knowledge into the cloud. Many colleges and online training vendors have courses centered on cloud computing but will start off with the fundamentals of systems and networks.

As you gain more knowledge of the fundamentals and are interested in the cloud, I recommend selecting one of the major players- AWS, Azure, or GCP and dive in. By choosing one of them, you’ll set yourself up to succeed with them all. From my experience, all the cloud vendors have the same core services. By knowing the core services on one platform, you can move to any of them.

Tasks that Cloud Engineers perform throughout the day:

  • Manage cloud storage- S3, Azure Blob, etc.
  • Identity management and access
  • Set up virtual networks and secure access
  • Migrate services to the cloud- Active Directory, Email, etc.
  • Monitor resources in cloud- Storage, Compute, and Network
  • Analyze metrics for billing or services such as auto-scaling

Security

As a society, we’ve never relied more on technology to live our daily lives. This trend will not stop soon. Every house, car, and individual are as connected than ever before. With all this connectivity, comes risk. The evolution of malware, data breaches, and ransomware have made it such where cybersecurity plays a major role in IT today. No longer can you have a simple firewall or anti-virus program. There needs to be a deliberate security approach to how each individual and businesses handle security. Security has several layers. One thing to quickly note is-security in IT does not equal hacking. I often have people ask me how to do I become a hacker? This is only one minor element of the larger puzzle. Again, there are layers here. For example, vulnerability scanning and reporting is huge in security. This may not sound as exciting as hacking, but it’s worth learning and exploring if you’re interested in security.

With cybersecurity importance trending upward, it has become the most popular field in IT. Choosing this path is a solid choice going forward. Security is like cloud computing in that typically you need to have some technical ability to obtain a job in the security field. Having said that, there are tons of opportunities to explore such as analysts. The same rules apply whereas you grow your foundational knowledge, you can branch out to specific areas of security such as a penetration tester.

These are some general task’s security professionals perform daily:

  • Plan, implement, upgrade, and monitor security measures for the protection of computer networks and information -Ensure security controls are in place that will safeguard digital files and vital infrastructure
  • Respond to computer security breaches and viruses.
  • Scan and report vulnerabilities
  • Mitigate cyber threats via physical and logical controls

Closing

No matter which path you are looking at, think of learning the fundamentals and building your skills from there. At this point you should have enough general information to look at training and educational opportunities to pursue.

If you liked this post please be sure to check out my site where you can purchase the guide. Making IT Happen

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