When I first started out in Enterprise Information Technology, a lot of times people would ask me how I landed the job I had. I had virtually no official training, I had very few hookups in the industry and I was a younger kid. This is a list of 10 things that I did and would do to land myself a job – so without further adieu, here we go:
1. Clean Up
Not surprisingly, there is a stereotype of nerdy people (and not all IT people are nerds mind you, but the misconception is that we are all a bunch of nerds) that they dress funny and don’t practice proper hygiene. Maybe people just think that we sit around all day playing video games and just can’t find time to shop for pants that aren’t high waters or shoes that aren’t velcro. I’m not trying to say that all IT people are like these, but take a look at yourself in the mirror – is your hair long and messy? Are you thinking about getting a sleeve of tattoos? Are your nicest pair of shoes a set of New Balance white velcro shoes?
Something that I had a lot of trouble with (and I still think it sucks), is that people base a lot of their initial opinion on you based on how look. First opinions, often incorrect, are the ones that tend to stick. If you can land a job interview and you show up wearing jeans, casual shoes, or plaid flares that are 2 inches too short and white socks – with your hair looking like you just rolled out of bed, people, and especially potential employers, are going to have a REALLY hard time taking you seriously. It doesn’t cost a fortune to look nice – certainly you could spend a fortune if you have it laying around, but it really isn’t that expensive to find a pair of nice slacks, a button up shirt, maybe a tie or a bow tie (these really aren’t that nerdy anymore), some black dress socks and some decent looking dress shoes. I could put together a really nice, professional outfit for under 50$ at Kohls.
Do yourself a favor – find some decent looking clothes and a nice pair of shoes. If you want a nice pair of shoes that will last quite a long time, I highly suggest checking out the clearance section over at Allen Edmonds. Stay away from the Penny Loafers, Boat Shoes and Driving Shoes, and get yourself a pair of Oxfords, Wingtips or Dress Boots. Don’t forget to wear dress socks with these shoes – white shocks just won’t cut it.
The other important part of this is that if / when you land a job, don’t stop being clean. It’s a bit of a lifestyle change really – you need to transition out of being a gamer kid living in your mom’s basement to a working professional (and once again, I think it sucks, but it is just the way is).
If you need a serious style overhaul, buy “A Well Dressed Gentleman’s Pocket Guide“.
Lastly, you don’t need to stop being you – I have always dressed slightly unique and perhaps a little eccentric and I can still look professional while still maintaining quite a bit of my own style. Cardigans, sweater vests, vests, bow ties, fun dress socks, suspenders – most of this okay if you wear it right.
2. Get Passionate
The problem with a lot of IT people is that for them, it’s a just a job that pays the bills. At an interview once, I heard a story about a guy on the network team who went to the companies datacenter and made a firewall change, and then left the datacenter to go out to lunch. Meanwhile, the IT team is getting alerts about networking having all sorts of problems because of this firewall change – so they call the guy and let him know that he made a problem. He promptly tells them that he is on lunch and will fix it when he is done with his hour lunch. This is a problem to me – this shows a clear lack of passion and caring about your job. Something that sets a good IT person apart from the masses is one that cares about the users that are being served. I can’t help but care so much about whether or not someone that I have no idea where they are, who they are, why they are using one of our sites is having a good experience and that the system is up and performing optimally. I love being the first person who notifies the team that I’m taking care of an issue that we may have gotten an alert about. I care about whether or not our servers are working properly and if our storage systems are optimized. I think that is the mark of a good employee.
If you are looking for a job in IT because you think you’ll make a lot of money and it’s just a nice fat paycheck, you’re not going to get very far. You need to care about it and you need to live it. Most IT jobs are going to be 24/7 on call rotation. If you have a problem with that because you just don’t think that will work for your lifestyle, than it’s probably not the job for you. I’m on call 24/7, but I’ve set our environment up in such a way (because yes, I care so much) so that it’s extremely resilient and I rarely have to do much work after hours, other than standard maintenance and updates, and even those are non-interrupting to end users.
Get passionate about it. Care about it. Mean it. People can sense when you are passionate about it or whether or not it’s just some job to pay the bills. This doesn’t mean you have to be on your computer with your email open non-stop, but if you get that email at 9 P.M. about there being an issue and you have time to take a look, do it. Don’t wait for someone else to handle it – you do it.
Lastly, do the stuff no one else wants to handle and get passionate about it. We have a certain web application that is written in a pretty obscure programming language and no one wanted to take responsibility for it because no one in our company knows this programming language (it was written by a vendor). Nobody ever updated the server or really even touched it. I took it upon myself to learn quite a bit about that language, how it works, what it needs server side, and pretty much took ownership of that server. This is important because, once again, it shows that you care.
3. Don’t Lie on your Resume
There are some people who think that because they know something about a particular brand of software or hardware, that suddenly they know everything and are an expert on it. I’ve found that a lot of times, people interviewing want you to explain your experience with the things you write on your resume. For example, let’s say you’ve played around with Windows Server – don’t suddenly claim that you are an expert on Windows Server – unless of course you really are an expert. If you’ve installed VMware Workstation once or twice, don’t claim that you suddenly know all about VMware – there are a lot of products out there revolving around VMware that are MUCH more in depth than Workstation. Make yourself look good, but don’t lie to do it.
Most of the time, within about 5 minutes in to an interview, the interviewer will know whether or not your legit or a full of garbage based on how you respond to some of the questions they ask you.
Do yourself a favor – don’t lie on your resume.
4. Don’t Be Cocky
So you know about networking and storage – you’ve worked with a few vendors and are considered pretty well versed with them. That’s great – now don’t be cocky about it. A lot of IT people who have a little bit of experience suddenly think they should be paid 200,000$ per year and that they deserve a job because they have that experience.
Fact of the matter is when someone comes in to an office with that kind of attitude, the interviewer is turned right off. You are supposed to be in there selling yourself to them and more or less convincing them to hire you – not that they suddenly owe you a job.
There is a distinct difference between being confident and being cocky. You do need to be confident (provided of course that you do know your stuff) and confidence is different from cockiness in how you present yourself. Cocky people tend to act snobbish, as if the job they are interviewing for is somehow beneath them. Confident people tend to go in there with their head and eyes up, ready to see what they can offer the company and the company can offer them. Cocky people go in expecting to be immediately hired. Confident people go in hoping to be immediately hired but are just thankful for the opportunity. Cocky people go in with a set amount of money in their head for compensation, confident people have an amount in mind, but it depends on the work environment, benefits, systems infrastructure and management style.
The best thing you can do is go in with a humble, yet confident mindset.
5. Find your niche, but don’t limit yourself to it
There are tons of different systems that power an information technology infrastructure. There are things like networking, storage, servers, software like SQL Server or hypervisors like VMware or Hyper-V. Find out which one you understand the most thoroughly – and then pick up lots of little things about the other ones.
The economy right now is such that companies are not doing a lot of hiring – why hire 3 separate pieces of a team when one person can do all three? For example – networking, storage and servers are the backbone of most companies infrastructure – why hire a storage engineer / admin, a network engineer / admin a systems engineer / admin when there are people out there who have a very good understanding of storage and a moderately good understanding of networking and servers? It’s good to find a niche and to become an expert at it, but don’t pigeon hole yourself in to a corner by only sticking to one area of expertise.
A good example of that in the systems administrator’s word is the server operating system market. There is basically Windows Server and Linux. Some companies are Apple heads and use Mac OS Server (though I have yet to see a company that does). There are, in a lot of places what we like to call a “Windows Guy”. The guy that has been using since like… Windows 3.1 and refuses to ever use anything else. They see Linux as an inferior operating system and won’t touch it. There are also the opposite – the people who believe ONLY in GNU / Open Source and won’t touch Windows. This is no good – don’t limit yourself. If you feel like you already an expert with Windows Server – learn Linux. There are various applications that it can do just as well as Windows without the added cost. Same with the Linux guys – if you think you’re an expert with Linux, learn Windows Server – there are things that Windows Server does exceptionally well.
Find what you’re good at and what you love, and then expand to new things.
6. Get Creative
Most people don’t think of information technology as an art – or really as anything creative. That really is not true. When designing a system infrastructure, it takes some pretty serious creativity because there are far more than one way to make it work. There is nearly a limitless amount of things you can do – you could use HP servers, you could use Dell servers, you could use a number of storage vendors and a number of different network and storage area network protocols and cables. There is ethernet, 10 gigabit ethernet, fibre channel, Infiniband, there are server companies all over the place, you could even build your own servers if it’s cost effective enough. There are blade servers, rack mount servers, 1U rackmount servers, 2U rackmount servers – there is quite literally an infinite amount of ways to do things.
Don’t be afraid to have an opinion on things – it’s not bad to be opinionated about things, but be sure that you do research and know what you’re talking about. Opinions start out based on experiences – you can’t just say that you don’t like Seagate Hard Drives because the name is funny. That won’t cut it and if you tell a potential employer that, they will just scratch their head and go “huh”.
When documenting, be creative. When designing networks, be creative. When have an interview, be creative and set yourself apart by that.
7. Get Visible on the Internet
One thing that I recommend to people is to get visible on the internet. Start a blog, like this one that documents your experiences with things and how you made things work. Get on LinkedIn and get some contacts going on there – once again, don’t lie on there, but get on there and get visible. Don’t post selfies of yourself doing a duck face, but post professional and meaningful things about the industry and what sets you apart from the other dorks looking for jobs. Post your opinions and more importantly, why you came to the conclusion you did. If you have little experience, use it as a learning journal – that’s what this site started out as.
Another thing I recommend people do is to build yourself a website that has some of your information on it. Mine is over at http://www.bradleygagnon.com – domains are cheap, web hosting is pretty cheap, and designing / building a site like that just adds to your creative abilities and your tech savvy. Again, don’t lie on it and once again, don’t put selfies or cat pictures on it – it’s a professional profile of yourself and you are attempting to sell yourself to potential employers. Mine has my resume on it, but it also builds on my resume by having a lot more specifics. Make sure it’s modern and user friendly and not something that looks like it came from 1999. If you’re not sure how to do this, learn it (expand your niche… remember?).
8. Stay on top of Industry Trends
What is the current Intel Xeon processor generation? What are the most common types of storage area network protocols / types? What is the current memory standard for memory speeds in newer servers? What does ECC mean? What is “read caching”? What does NAS mean? What is NFS?
You need to stay on top of industry trends – depending on what field you are going in to, you need to know what’s out there. If a potential employer asks you an interview question specific to their environment, you need to have the knowledge to be able to answer it. If they ask “We are thinking about upgrading to a fibre gigabit internet connection, what do you think?”, you need to understand what this means. If you are looking to be a storage engineer and you ask about their environment and they say the are using EMC VNX, you need to know all that this entails, even if you’ve never used EMC products. If you are looking to be a systems administrator and they ask what the best process is to migrate from Red Hat Enterprise 6 to Red Hat Enterprise 7 is, you need to know all that this means.
It’s a constant thing that never goes away. Things are constantly changing and you need to know what’s out there. For most enterprise IT teams of any size, upgrading and improving the systems infrastructure (software and hardware) is a constant thing. It doesn’t stop. We upgrade things all the times – servers, storage, networking, Windows Updates, vCenter Server, ESXi and Linux to name a few – you need to know as much as you can about the trends with each thing that you are responsible for and then some – and don’t get lazy and start slacking. Keep up with them.
9. Learn to communicate
Alright, let’s face it – it’s pretty hard sometimes to talk to people. I’m not much of a people person nor do I enjoy talking that much. I love writing and emails because I don’t really have to “talk” to anyone. Either way, learning to communicate is pretty important – especially when you have ideas that you need to articulate out to co-workers or to your boss. If you can’t seem to spit out what it is you are trying to accomplish, people will have a hard time working with you – you need to able to communicate clearly and quickly what you are doing, what you are hoping to accomplish, etc…
This one really kind of goes along with getting passionate and caring about what you do. When you really care about something, it’s really easy to talk about it. I get really in to conversations about anything having to do with the industry because I care about it.
When I make any changes in anything having to do with our infrastructure, I document it out and I email the entire IT Team exactly what I’m doing, how long it’s going to take, if there is any possibility of any kind of alert or downtime – even if these people have no idea what I’m talking about, they still get the email. It’s important that you be able to communicate clearly. Some people are born with that skill, but for most of us, it’s something we need to learn.
10. Don’t pull the Recruiter / HR Person’s chain
If you are not interested in a job, tell them as soon as you know. If you are interested, tell them. Don’t sit around thinking about it for 3 weeks – make a quick decision and go with it. You never know, this recruiter may never want to work with you again or give you a bad reputation with other companies if you don’t answer the phone, are a jerk, etc…
For the most part, these people are trying to help you. Sometimes, I’ll admit, they are a little annoying and overzealous (I’ve told them before that I’m not interested in a job that they may have and I still end up getting more calls about it, and how it’s a big salary increase, etc… and I have to tell them again that I’m just not interested… again). Here is – don’t piss them off or burn the bridge with them. Be polite, respectful and friendly when either taking a job or refusing an offer.
Try not to mention your gaming habits on your resume – even if it’s a hobby. That is looked at poorly by most companies.