The IT industry’s explosive growth, high wages, and desire to narrow the gender gap are positively affecting its female (and male) workforce. There simply has never been a better time to start a career in technology.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer and information technology is projected to increase by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024. This growth is faster than the average for all other occupations and is expected to add about 3.9-4.4 million high-paying jobs during the same 10-year period.
From research scientists and network architects to security analysts and developers, there are a myriad of opportunities awaiting those who learn the skills and earn the credentials needed to make a difference in tech. However, while there is no one magic algorithm that is guaranteed to set you on the path to success in information technology, those who have gone before are confident that given the right attitude and the following effort, it would be hard to go wrong.
Understand discrimination and don’t let it stop you.
Unfortunately, systematic equality isn’t yet the norm for women in the IT industry. Women working in IT positions still report gender inequality and discrimination at a higher rate than the overall average among employed women. Just this year, high profile accusations and lawsuits regarding such discrimination in the workplace have been filed against some of tech’s biggest names, with Google and Uber at the forefront.
Knowing discrimination exists and being prepared to move past it doesn’t mean you should blindly accept it. Be aware of discrimination directed at yourself or others and fight against it. Stand up for yourself and others. Have the courage to follow HR procedures and work through the problem appropriately (without becoming an HR problem yourself).
Because there is always something new in IT, there is room for you to find your place within the industry, regardless of your skill level and experience. In fact, according to Mischel Kwon, the founder and CEO of IT security consulting firm MKA Cyber and former director of the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), “It's really easy to get started in technology today because we need so many people.”
Get your feet wet and try a little bit of everything.
“I was actually originally an IT person,” Kwon said. “I started as an assembly programmer. I did a lot of different kinds of work. I did operating system programming, I did network programming, I did administration—I did everything!”
If at first you are not exactly sure what branch of IT you want to gravitate toward, don’t fret. Try things out, get what experience you can from related disciplines, and take those skills with you as you move on. Keep in mind, there are many different branches of IT you can work in.
Find an IT mentor.
Seeking out a mentor can be a great help. The right mentor will help you determine where your skills and interests intersect with a career, can offer insight on career paths and help you understand how to start your own journey, and may even provide additional contacts and resources to help you network. As John C. Crosby once said, “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”
Join professional groups.
Participating in professional organizations is a great way to find mentors, make friends, expand your network, and advance your skills in the tech industry. And while some organizations require membership dues, many members consider the fees worth the support they receive in turn. If you are not sure where to start or what your focus should be, give the following organizations a shot:
Plot out your career path.
Consider where you are in your career right now and where you would like to be in 5, 10, even 30 years. In doing so, remember . . . everyone is different. Do not compare yourself to others.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What education (degrees, certifications, etc.) is required to enter this industry?
- What steps can I take right now to ensure success and happiness in the future?
- What long term goals can I start working on?
- What will I need to perform my best?
- What do I need to get ahead?
- How will this impact my family and others in my life?
Plotting your career path is a great thing to do once you’ve decided you want to make a career change, but remember that this is not a one-and-done type of activity. Continue to ask yourself these types of questions and make sure you’re still on track to achieve your goals.
Once you have determined your entry point . . . act.
Just as there are many career paths in IT, there are many ways to enter the field. Some begin their career with an internship, some with a degree, certifications, or both. If you opt for the latter, or some combination of degree(s) and certification(s), make sure to not break the bank in the process. Consider a respected yet affordable entry point like one of these programs.
“I did my life backwards,” Kwon said. “I was a geek first and then I went back to school and got my degrees when I was older. And when I went back for my degrees, I went back because I felt like I had hit a ceiling and I needed those degrees to be more than that girl in the middle of the night sleeping on the disk drive and reloading the programs on the mainframe.”
Stay relevant—expand your skill set.
It is not uncommon for seasoned professionals to hit a ceiling halfway or three-quarters through their career. Once you get to a certain point, you too may find that an advanced degree or updated certifications are required to break into the C-suite.
In an effort to prepare for advancement and be ready when the time comes, keep your skills sharp by furthering your education, participating in professional associations, networking, and volunteering. Remember, like a dull saw, a dull mind is not very useful.