Starting out in IT

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I had a marketing e-mail hit my Inbox the other day trying to sell me some courses that the sender offers around design, a profession normally associated with creative talent but requires a lot of experience in developing it as a skill. While this was not an overly uncommon occurrence what was interesting was part of their marketing spiel detailed the authors own learning journey (which mimics mine), which is essentially trying to figure it out for yourself, and how some people prefer more of a guided learning journey.

Why I found this interesting was because my opinion on most professions in IT (and I assume a lot of other professions) require a blended mix of both formalized, guided learning as well as a finding your own way experience. It is a lot easier to sell yourself when you can show both types of learning and after going through hiring process recently it would be a lot easier to assess candidates if I could publicly see what they are capable of. So let’s take a look at what organizations look for in IT candidates, particularly graduates, and what you can do about it.

IT is a Craft

IT, and a lot of other careers, require a craftsmen journey but unlike historic times, the beginning of this journey can be multi-faceted, the middle of this journey can be winding and long, and the end of this journey should almost never be reached (IE Always keep learning). What I mean by this is in many IT (and other?) professions I believe there are three components that influence someones ability in their field: knowledge, skill and passion.

Your knowledge is your foundation and traditionally is your focus through all stages of formalized schooling, including University / College. Knowledge is what you learn about your craft - it’s principles, rules, methodologies and requirements. A good foundation of knowledge is what you need to break into your industry and get started. There are many ways to acquire knowledge such as guided learning, trail and error, reading and exploring to name a few. This is what most people attend University for and unfortunately, to be quite frank, organizations and the structure of the workforce require more than this.

Which brings us to the second component that influences someone’s ability in their field, skill. Skill is your experience and is developed with practice. It’s applying the knowledge you have gained to produce something related to your craft. Skill takes time and practice to take your theoretical knowledge to produce practical outcomes and if you are in University, it should be something you do right now. Take your newly found knowledge and practice it to develop your skills.

Finally, the third component that influences someone’s ability in their field is passion. Passion for your field has a bearing on how well you obtain knowledge, as well as how much your skill improves. It’s important to note that passion does not mean working 18 hours a day, but the time you do spend learning and practicing your craft should be totally dedicated to that, and not thinking about something else.

The organizational view

So why is this important? Because organizations use these three components to assess a candidates worth and impact on the organization. From the organizations perspective, an individuals knowledge, skill and passion provide the answers to the questions that most organizations ask when evaluating candidates:

  • Do they know what they are doing? (Knowledgeable)
  • Can they do it quickly and efficiently? (Efficient and Effective)
  • Can they adapt and grow to provide additional value? (Adaptable and Evolving)

When you are first starting out it can be relatively easy for an organization to assess your knowledge, but very difficult to assess your effectiveness and adaptability. The good news is you can leverage the Internet and specific communities to provide evidence by being public with your practice, contributing to the community and putting yourself out there.

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The introvert steps out

Now if you are an introvert like me, that last statement probably made you queezy and you reached for the close window icon. Hold off on that thought before you do that and think about it this way:

If you have your profile, your work and your experience out on the Internet and crafted the way you want, you will need to talk to less people.

Reread that last bit. If you have a presence on the Internet for everyone to see and are looking for opportunities then organizations can make assessments that they are more confident about. When organizations are more confident about a candidate, the less they need to rely on interviews and other techniques to assess your value.

So what can you do to help convey your Knowledge, Skill and Passion? Be public with the work and side projects you do through:

  • Blogging - Get a wordpress site and write about your experiences, things you have learned, work in progress.
  • Github - Set up an account on Github and share your code. It doesn’t have to be pure code either, art, sound and music you want to share with others (with limited restrictions) can be posted here too.
  • Community Sites - Contribute to popular community sites, such as Stack Overflow by both asking questions and helping others.
  • Twitter - Do the same on Twitter, follow people you share work interests with, share what you are doing, ask questions and contribute to the conversation
  • LinkedIn - Establish a strong LinkedIn profile with an elevator pitch explaining what you do and what value you bring in plain English with minimal industry terms
  • Link all your accounts - Link all your accounts together, link and promote your twitter, blog, LinkedIn, Github etc. Anytime someone hits one of your profiles they should be able to get to any of the others
  • Keep a regular schedule - Try to post as regularly as possible. Use the schedule feature in Wordpress to keep blog posts spread regularly. Come up with 10 or 15 interesting thoughts, topics, things you have learned etc and use Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to schedule them over a week.

Building up your online presence, especially as a graduate, is a very important part of building and evolving your career.

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