Congratulations on landing your first IT job! You must be excited and nervous at the same time. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many people feel overwhelmed when they start working in the IT field, especially if they don’t have a lot of experience or formal education. But don’t let that stop you from succeeding and growing in your career. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your first IT job and learn as much as you can.
It wouldn’t be good for me to hand out tips if I didn’t experience it myself, so allow me to give you a little background on me. I started my first IT job without any formal education other than high school and only personal experience through my own experimenting with computers throughout my life.
When I started this job, I was about 28 years old and working as a desktop support technician. Within the company, this was a fairly general role. I was setting up desktop and laptop computers for employees using Symantec Ghost and later Microsoft SCCM. I would also act as a middle man for off-site networking and server teams by racking and connecting servers and networking equipment. Some work with Cisco phone systems and softphone software.
Fast-forward many years, I’m still with the same company, and I’ve held various IT roles since then. Presently, I’m a solutions architect, helping the company find creative solutions using technology. I also provide expertise on a few things such as information protections tools like Microsoft Purview and endpoint management using Microsoft Intune.
The advice given here is based on my experience over the years and how I was able to grow my career.
1. Take Notes
This may sound obvious, but it’s very important to keep track of everything you learn and do in your job. You’ll encounter a lot of new terms, concepts, tools, and technologies that you may not be familiar with. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also write down the answers and explanations you get. You can use a notebook, a digital app, or whatever works best for you. Just make sure you organize your notes well and review them regularly. This will help you remember what you learned and apply it to your work.
I have and still do make heavy use of OneNote, where I have notes going back many years, which I refer back to often. I also use a to-do list to keep track of what I’m working on and what is outstanding. This helps me stay organized as many times I will be shifting throughout the day, week and month to various different projects and tasks.
Don’t be afraid to use the internet to research topics that run across. Whenever I would hear a new term or technology that I didn’t already know about, I would research it online to get a better understanding of it. There are plenty of online resources that can help you learn about IT topics, such as blogs, podcasts, videos, courses, books, etc. You can also use online forums, communities, and social media to ask questions and get feedback from other IT professionals. Reddit and Twitter are usually good resources, if it’s about a Microsoft topic, check out the Microsoft Learn site as well. Just be careful to check the credibility and accuracy of the sources you use.
One of the best ways to improve your skills and knowledge in IT is to learn on your own. You don’t have to wait for someone to teach you or assign you a task. You can take initiative and explore topics that interest you or are relevant to your job. You can also work on personal projects or challenges that test your abilities and creativity. This is where a homelab comes into play, exploring technologies in a safe environment like your home is a great option. Set up virtual machines and servers to explore different software, tools and solutions. Self-learning shows that you are motivated, curious, and eager to grow in your field.
Your employer may set you up with an account for an online learning platform such as CBT Nuggets or Udemy, be sure to ask about that. If not, you can always do this on your own. If nothing else, YouTube is also a great way to learn.
Certifications are great as well and your company will likely reimburse you for the cost once you pass. Don’t overlook these, as they can be vital to your next IT role, but they are not the end all be all either. You will want to gain some experience along with the certification.
Homelabs are great, and I have used one a lot in my career. You can get evaluation versions of Microsoft Server, which can be used to create Active Directory servers as home. You can expand into the cloud with the Microsoft E5 Developer Program with is free or use free credits on Azure and AWS. This is just one example, if networking is more your thing, you can find decommissioned Cisco switched on eBay fairly cheap or use simulation software such as Cisco Packet Tracer.
4. Find your niche
IT is a very broad and diverse field that encompasses many different domains, such as web development, data science, cybersecurity, cloud computing, etc. You may not be able to master all of them, but you can find one or a few that suit your interests and strengths. Finding your niche will help you focus your learning and career goals, as well as make you stand out from the crowd. You can find your niche by experimenting with different technologies, taking online courses or certifications, joining online communities or events, or talking to mentors or peers.
5. Connect the Dots
Understanding how technologies connect together not only helps you troubleshoot them when something goes wrong, but it will also help you stand out in the crowd. I’ve also taken time to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Many times a solution that the company uses involves many parts, knowing how they work together is very valuable.
These are some of the tips that can help you succeed in your first IT job. Remember that learning is a continuous process that never ends in IT. You’ll always face new challenges and opportunities that will require you to adapt and grow. But don’t be intimidated by that. Instead, embrace it and enjoy it. After all, IT is a fun and rewarding field that can offer you many benefits and possibilities.