This week's career advice request comes from a mid-20s entry-level IT worker from the U.S. who has just recently landed his first "real job" in IT, despite having graduated in 2010 with a business degree in Computer Information Systems (CIS). Despite his current position title as an IT network administration associate, he reports that most of his work involves data entry and maintaining data in an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system (SAP, perhaps?), with an upcoming charter to maintain his company's e-commerce website starting later this month.
He's the only full-time IT person on staff at his company, a wholesaler of HVAC equipment that currently draws on IT staff from a sister company when additional resources are needed. Although he doesn't come right out and say so, I get the feeling (with which I concur) that his current situation doesn't offer much room for growth or learning, unless his interests happen to coincide with the current "crisis du jour" or whatever hot projects might come down from on high for him to handle ASAP.
Alas, this is all too typical in SMB operations, where they lack a full-blown vision of (or organization for) information technology. While some people enjoy, and even thrive, on the managed chaos so typical of one-person or short-staffed IT operations, not everybody is temperamentally suited to work in such circumstances. I believe this is more likely to be the case for this young person than not. He's simply hoping for more engaging and meaningful work.
Entry-level certs to boost your IT skills (and increase your pay)
If caught in such a situation, then, what to do?
First, don't panic. Second, do what you can to keep things running, and learn what you must to deal with the work (and occasional crises) in front of you. Third, keep thinking about what you'd rather be doing instead. And fourth, start taking some steps to transition from where you are to where you'd like to be (or at least, to what you'd like to be doing).
In this case, my correspondent expresses an interest in databases, and possibly also the technology areas of Microsoft (MCSA and MCSE), healthcare, mobility, and data centers. These are all great areas, where there might even be some opportunities to dig into more than one or two of them, yet still find some synergy between them.
Given his current work with ERP, and the strong possibility that this means SAP or Microsoft analytics/business intelligence, I'd also have to raise the question of whether either some kind of SAP or Microsoft SQL Server certs might not also make sense as well.
Given that he's not yet earned any certifications, I'd suggest he might want to start with Network+ and Security+ from CompTIA, just to get himself started.
After that, he could either start into MCSA/MCSE (recommended focus: Server 2012 R2 and possibly then any of all of Server Infrastructure, Private Cloud, Data Platform, and/or Business Intelligence) or take one of the technology/platform directions (healthcare, mobility, data center, and business intelligence) as his next point of departure.
There will be no shortage of options from which to choose, so I'd advise him to pick whatever interests him the most, and also, to invest as much time and energy in learning and certification as he can comfortably commit to over the next 18-24 months. With some certs under his belt, and some learning to back them up, he's probably going to be surprised by the number of doors that open for him to explore.
Another of my regular interlocutors just finished his CCNA, after earning A+/Network+/Security+, and an MCSE on Server Infrastructure. Shortly thereafter he found himself fielding 5 job offers in the New York suburbs (about an hour's drive from the big city), with about 25 percent pay increases. What's more, the new job involves commensurate boost to his responsibilities and engagement at a new employer.
This young man is fated for a similar experience, if he can make some choices, and then put in the time, money, and effort to boost his professional chops.