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Making A Career Switch From Teaching To IT

Teacher at chalkboard

A young Physics high school teacher is hoping to make a career switch into the IT field. With a Bachelor's of Science in Physics and a concentration in Physics Education, Tom is debating completing a second bachelor's, this time in computer science.

His long term goal is to rise into a management role, but with no professional certifications or IT experience, Tom admits that this is very far off into the future. In the short term, he's interested in getting some hands-on experience in systems administration (preferably Linux) and networking, while pursuing some IT certifications.

We recommend that Tom dives into the project management area, which will serve him well in both the short and long term, along with any hands-on IT work he can find in his school district. And instead of another bachelor's degree, we recommend either a Master's in Computer Science or an MBA, both of which will make a much more positive impact on his career switch.

Dear Tom:

Given your background, I'm not sure that another bachelor's degree would make much difference in your perceived skills and knowledge as it applies to the IT field. If you do want to pursue another degree, I'd recommend going after a Master's in Computer Science instead. On the other hand, with long-term interests in management, perhaps an MBA with a focus in information technology makes the most sense. There are lots of good schools in the NYC metro area, so you should have little or no trouble finding something decent, possibly with an online curriculum or perhaps a mix of classroom attendance and online work.

Your teaching experience actually gives you a lot more project management experience than you might give yourself credit for, because teaching to a curriculum is essentially a form of project management, and each year's course of instruction represents a tangible and well-documented "project." I'd recommend that you go after the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

The reason I recommend the PMP over any other project management certification, is that it's a widely recognized and highly sought after credential in the IT world. The Project Management Institute (PMI), which administers the credential, describes it as "the most important industry-recognized certification for project managers." And indeed, the PMP is the top certification for IT professionals who specialize in project management. And it is often the standard against which other project management certifications are judged.

In addition, the salary statistics for PMP certified professionals are quite excellent. In the US, PMP professionals earn an average of 17 percent more than non-certified project managers, according to the PMI Salary Survey, Eighth Edition. This translates to a median salary of $110,000 for PMPs compared to $91,500 for project managers without a PMP.

My advice would be to stick things out with teaching at least long enough to earn your PMP, which may take 12-18 months, depending on how much time you have to put into this. Please be aware that many universities and community colleges offer courses devoted to teaching the PMP curriculum, which you can take advantage of.

At the same time, some part-time or summer experience in hands-on IT would be very positive for you. You'd need to find an area of expertise to dig into and develop, so depending on your school district, you might want to look into working on a technology refresh, operating system migration or deployment, or something else they might have set up as a series of summer projects. It might also be good for you to connect with IT admins working in your school district to get some tips and suggestions on making the switch from teaching to IT.

If you're looking to earn a professional certification in the areas of system administration and/or networking, take a look at our list of the best SysAdmin certs and the best networking credentials to see what interests you there. Since you're leaning towards Linux technologies, I would suggest the Linux Professional Institute Certifications (LPIC) or the Red hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) track.

My gut feeling is that you can do what you have set out to, providing you're willing to expend some time, effort, and money on developing IT skills and acquiring professional credentials.

Ed Tittel

Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications, including Tom's IT Pro, and is the author of more than 140 computing books on information security, web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.