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Haleth's avatar

Can I have some career advice for a friend?

Asked by Haleth (19538points) October 25th, 2014

One of my friends is feeling discouraged about her career. She’s REALLY computer-savvy- teaching herself to code, has built several custom computers, and does troubleshooting for all her friends and family. But right now she’s working at starbucks (and hates it there) and she has drifted around a couple similar jobs for the last few years.

A guy I know made an amazing career for himself after dropping out of college. He worked at radio shack for like five years, while teaching himself computer skills in his spare time. Then he worked nights at an IT help desk, and now he’s a high-level programmer for a government contractor. A bunch of his friends worked for the company, so he had some help. I’m picking his brain too, but it seemed worthwhile to ask you guys as well.

What can my friend do to get started? Most of the IT help jobs I’m finding require previous experience or at least an associate’s degree. She’s ready to leave starbucks and find a job that will start a career, as she works toward her degree. She knows so much, but all her work experience is food service related. Any advice?

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5 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

I can’t say exactly how to get started on an actual, paying job in IT, but I can suggest one thing she can do with some of her spare time that will definitely put her closer to that. She should look for and join some of the various online computer question forums where real people write in with real problems concerning application questions (tons of Excel, Access and VBA forums) and questions regarding Windows in general, hardware questions and conflicts, etc.

I can personally recommend MrExcel.com and Bleeping Computer, as two forums that I stroll through from time to time.

Joining such a group and answering questions will help her keep abreast of what kinds of problems a lot of real users face, and how to respond helpfully, diplomatically and in comprehensible ways to some of the complex and mundane issues that are out there.

In addition, and belying my first sentence, she could seek work with a temp agency who will help to place her for the various starter-type positions that will give her actual on-the-clock experience for her next level job.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

She may have to stay at Starbucks until she gets some qualifications (or at least has started studying) to back up her hands-on experience, but until she starts studying she’s stuck where she is. As you say, most places want those paper qualifications or to at least see she’s working towards getting them. She has to take that first step. She can then see Starbucks as a means to an end. It helps provide the money that allows her to study. It would probably help if she could work in a company like Radio Shack or something at least loosely related to the field she wants to work in.

If she can get any testimonials from people she’s worked with (even unpaid) to fix up their computers etc. That would help.

2davidc8's avatar

I heard that a new perk at Starbucks is that they will pay for her education! Go find out the details.

Another option is to volunteer her services (technical skills) at a non-profit. Once she proves her abilities there, she may be able to turn that into a paying position there or elsewhere.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I’m curious as to where she is geographically. I have no computer expertise whatsoever, but I have the distinct impression that anyone possessing the skills you’ve listed is snatched up in a big hurry out here.

funkdaddy's avatar

I was basically where your friend is when I decided I didn’t want to be a waiter forever. Maybe something here will resonate with her?

For me it took two tries to get to something I really enjoyed, but went something like.

- drop out of school as an MIS major to have some fun (or because I’m a big idiot, your choice)
– wait a lot of tables, have a lot of fun
– decide I don’t want to be a waiter forever
– put “Customer Service Superstar” on the top of my resume and start applying to help desk positions for anything I thought I could learn quickly
– get a job at a small software company that wasn’t going to find people that already knew their particular set of software anyway
– support that software on the phone all day, figure out what it means to work in that sort of setting, ask tons of questions during my “off” hours, sign up for anything they’ll let me do, get promoted to actual technical staff (quality assurance)
– decide QA wasn’t my thing and go back to waiting tables Friday – Sunday while I took any freelance web development gigs I could find M-Th and taught myself (not that hard to get started)
– get better until I have more options while paying the bills with as many shifts as I could cram in around the edges.
– rinse and repeat with “get better until I have more options”... if you stop getting better things get hard, it’s easier just to keep learning

I would imagine Starbucks is a little like waiting tables, she has other time if she decides to do something else, and it’s flexible enough to accommodate, so first thing would be to identify what portion of IT she really either finds enjoyable or has an aptitude for and make that her center, then try for to get her feet wet with anything that touches that while getting better.

Tips would be
– build a “portfolio” proving your work… depending on what she chooses that could be custom boxes and servers of her own, a github account (code samples), references, a blog, or her own product/game/service/etc…
– Small companies tend to care less about degrees and more about skills, below a certain size they don’t have an HR/hiring gatekeeper that just checks credentials for applicants without understanding the requirements
– an awesome portfolio trumps any set of hiring requirements
– many IT communities are absolutely awesome about sharing knowledge, once you learn the basics people will share the rest for free all day long

I wish her luck.

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