You Don’t Need More Education to Land a Job in Tech

Image credit: Alan Levine
I’ve worked in tech for 15 years and regularly get asked for advice on how to get a job: what should I study in school, what should I put on my resume, and how do I prepare for the interview?  Usually my answers are pretty plain and generic, but one person had a unique situation which made me think more to write a genuine answer.

Here’s an anonymized and shortened version of an email from a concerned parent asking for advice for their child:

I can't thank you enough for taking the time to read over and consider my email.  My son Morgan is 36 years old.  As you can see by his resume Morgan took college courses and obtained his Network and Internet Security Specialist Program certificate but was never actually lucky enough for find work in the field.  He continued after that schooling working in warehouse jobs and the like.  He took  out a student loan and was never able to make payments due to minimum wage jobs.  He presently has a balance over 10,000 dollars, which I would pay if I was certain he could get into a course where he’d ultimately come out of it with a job.  He is ready to go to school but is uncertain in which direction to go.  He's a whiz at computers and very smart in other areas as well.  He just doesn't have the needed education.  He is more of an introvert and has a quiet nature and isn't one that could sell himself in an interview.  A short time ago when I asked him what he would like to do now he said, "all I want to do is sit at a desk and work on a computer.  I am willing to do anything to prove myself."  

My reason for writing to you is to ask you your advice on where to go next?  What kind of course to take?  Is there any company that you know of that would be interested in hiring and training a really nice, polite, eager to learn guy?

I wrote back with a long email addressing both the education and tips for interviewing as an introvert.  I’ll focus on the education part and save the interviewing tips for a future post.

I can appreciate Morgan’s enthusiasm and challenge finding the right job.  I admit that I was lucky.  I was interested in computers at a young age, got a Computer Science degree from a good school, and have had a fulfilling career doing what I enjoy.  Funny story though: I got my first summer job as a programmer through a friend of my dad.  So I will give you my advice as an outsider but know that it's just my opinion.  Free advice might just be worth the price you pay.

About jobs: I suggest he look into network administrator or system administrator jobs.  He'll have to target entry-level jobs which should be plenty interesting and get him going in the right direction for his career.  A Google search for "junior systems admin chicago" gave me some results that looked similar to what he'll enjoy based on what you described.  The more specific his interests are the better in order to find a position where he'll excel.  e.g. if he prefers Windows or Linux then target those postings.

About education: I don't recommend more training, at least not formal education.  I think Morgan should focus his time on getting a job that's close enough to what he wants to do so that he can pay the existing loans.  Going back to school for another degree might open up more opportunities, but it's risky financially.  Experience in the IT field looks better than more education unless there are job-critical skills that he still needs to demonstrate in job interviews.  That said, there might be very specific certificate programs that could be valuable knowledge and look good on a resume.  Perusing job listings can give him an idea of which ones are common for the jobs he's interested in.  

More on the topic of experience over education: any project's Morgan can do on his own time for fun can strengthen his resume.  Personal projects still count as experience and it's tuition-free.  I've worked with plenty of good people who don't have formal education but acquired the skills, interest, and passion for tech as a hobby.  He's probably already doing similar things and might be able to shape and focus them so it's a comprehensive project to tout on his resume and speak to in an interview.  The best managers know to hire people who love what they do even if they don't come in the door with every skill needed to ace the job. Passion can't be taught. See this article and this quote.

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