I’ve kept blog posts here primarily technology related, offering how-to or problem-solving topics. However, I thought it would be time to review my IT career over the past dozen years and try to offer advice or perspective on what has led me to where I am now and what I learned along the way. By sharing this, I hope that it might help someone just starting out or considering what to do next.
From Music to Computers
I was originally a music performance major out of high school. Three semesters later, I realized that, while I was a decent musician, there was very little chance I would make a living doing this. I looked around at my peers who were in their early 30s (or in one case 50s) working on a doctoral degree that would lead them to a teaching position. I realized that I did not want to be in school that long only to end up teaching. To those that are going this route, no disrespect to your decision, but I just realized it wasn’t the path for me.
I “transferred” to a community college and starting taking computer classes. I wanted to work on building, troubleshooting, and repairing computers. Growing up, my dad worked at Seagate, so I had a computer from an early age (this was in the early 90s, computers in homes were not that common, Internet access was through dial-up). While I didn’t program or doing anything beyond being a user, I did grow up using the command prompt a little, dialing into bulletin board systems (BBS) to play games and order books from the library. I still remember my dad telling me to type “win” at the DOS prompt to load Windows 95 (hotdog theme anyone?). But I didn’t know how they worked or what was inside the box and I wanted to learn.
I started on some classes to prep for the CompTIA A+ Certification as well taking management information system and programming courses. This is where I discovered I really loved programming, but I didn’t see that as my future in IT (looking back, I wish I had pursued programming). I felt my future was in systems administration in some capacity as I wanted to be hands-on. I finished my associates degree and managed to land a job before graduation.
Entering the IT Profession
For my first “grown-up” job, I started out doing phone support for Dell assisting home users with parts replacement and operating system reinstalls. While I quickly found out that I had no desire to do frontline support like this (especially over the phone), I had to develop the ability to troubleshoot issues quickly while maintaining a conversation with the person on the phone. I also learned my distaste for performance metrics, like resolution rate, average call time, repeat dispatch rate, among others. While I understand the importance of needing to measure job performance, I’m a firm believer in looking at someone’s whole performance that metrics can’t measure. In preparation for advancing my career, I completed my A+ and Network+ certifications.
Deciding that just talking people through issues wasn’t going to cut it (and not actually touching a computer), I starting applying for helpdesk positions. My thought process was that this was my entry into corporate IT to work my way to a sys admin. I applied and interviewed at a particular place, and while I didn’t get the helpdesk job, the company actually offered me a junior sys admin type role instead. Success! I bypassed the entry-level position to get the job I really wanted. I knew nothing about Active Directory, Exchange, SCCM, scripting, workstation imaging, servers, or printers (which are the devil by the way) but I got to learn on the job. The almost five years I spent in this role laid the foundation for the rest of my career as I learned the basics of enterprise IT.
Next I moved to a company where I was also a general sys admin. While the company was smaller, it was extremely well organized and had procedures and processes to follow. I learned about creating documentation for systems, virtualization, and getting free meals from vendor lunch-and-learns. During this time I completed the MCSA for Windows Server 2008 and 2012 as well as VMware’s VCP in Data Center Virtualization.
Gaining New Skills
It was at this point in my career that I decide in order to maximize my value (translation: compensation) I should specialize in something. I had been a generalist and my knowledge was “a mile wide but an inch deep”. I felt that gaining expertise in 1-2 technologies would lead to a consultant or architect type role. I got a job at a large company supporting Exchange and Lync. I knew very little about these technologies, so I lucked out again and got to learn on the job.
I spent the next 3 years immersing myself into these technologies and learning how to work with other groups in IT who had their own specializations. Coming from smaller environments, I was used to having full control to do whatever I wanted. Not the case anymore. Now there was change control and project planning. And meetings. I had never used my Outlook calendar this much before.
Exchange and Lync being the technologies they are, it was expected to learn and master PowerShell. Along with using PowerShell on a regular basis came script writing. I already had basic programming knowledge from school as well as previous VBScript scripting experience, so picking up PowerShell was natural. I also had some great mentors who took the time to teach me scripting norms and the right way to do things (remember, Write-Host kills puppies). During this time I completed the MCSE for Communications and Messaging as well as MCSA for Office 365. I also started this blog, publishing my first post in May 2014 and completed my bachelors degree at WGU.
Moving Even Higher
Finally, I had a specialization, now onto the next step of maximization (translation: compensation). I was contacted by a recruiter for a Skype for Business consulting position. I didn’t get it the job the first time, but I kept in touch with the company. When another position came open several months later, I followed up with the recruiter. This time it worked out, and I got the job. I had achieved my goal set four years earlier: maximize what I was worth by gaining specific skills and landing a consulting position.
Another goal for consulting was the opportunity to be exposed to multiple environments. I felt that the best way to gain expertise was to be exposed to different environments and scenarios. I viewed being in one environment would make you an expert in one thing: that environment. Gaining this additional experience and expertise eventually led to my current position as a field engineer with Microsoft. I specialize in Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams and assist customers with maximizing their environments to fulfill their business needs. I think it’s pretty cool to be working for the company that created the product that I specialize in.
As I started writing this, I intended to say everything I wanted to say in one post. Writing this out, I realize this is going to be a multi-post affair as I have a lot more to say! Check back in a few days as I release more articles on what I learned through my career and advice to any one new to the landscape. This post will be updated will links to the rest of the articles in the series.