Getting started in IT: Years 0-4

Over the weekend, a really great hashtag came into existence, #FirstTechJob:


This in turn came from a great question about the requirements in job listings:


Please check out the hashtag, it’s a great sampling of the always humble, often mundane, beginnings of nearly everyone in IT. Some common themes were of course help desk support, managing printers and email systems, and managing or running ISPs (often including modems!). My, how times have changed. It did inspire me to talk a bit more about my journey in the hope that it may help some others on their own journey, whether they’re just getting started or have been at it for a while.

Getting Started


My very first professional job was working for a neighbor’s local PC business in the summer between high school and college. He sold then-high end computers (I think mostly 386s and sometimes 486s, but it’s been a while), with ISA graphics cards that took 30-60 minutes to render a single low-res frame, and needed assistance assembling them in a timely manner. The work itself wasn’t difficult – insert Tab A into Slot B, tighten Screw C – but I asked a lot of questions and learned a good bit about hardware. I made a few bucks, mostly spent at the local laser tag arcade, and most importantly was able to put “professional” work experience on my resume in addition to Wendy’s and KFC. Thank you, neighbor, for that first job!

After the first year of college, I lucked into a paid summer internship at a local engineering firm. The company’s owner was a friend from church and my Dad helped me get an interview – some of that was getting me in the door, but a good bit was getting me off my butt – and I was able to upsell my summer job and my schooling into experience. I did a number of responsibilities there over the next two summers. Migrating CAD files from an old unix terminal to the new NT 3.51 systems, then to NT 4.0; desktop support; network support; printers and plotters; and a bajillion other little things.

One memorable event was when Pittsburgh was struck by some severe weather (including tornados – a real rarity for that area!) and a lightning strike blew out the transformer outside our building. Always splurge for lightning suppression. Over half the hubs died and we got a fast track to switches. In 1997-98, that was ahead of the curve for many. There were of course many less memorable, but more important, things I learned. The most important was how to provide service and support to users and maintain a positive relationship. There were always trying people (I have actually seen someone stick a CD in a 5 1/4″ floppy and force the door shut, and it’s not pretty) but hey, I knew nothing about what they did, so why would I hold it against them for not being experts in my job area?

In spring of ’99, I was supposed to intern there again, but a hiring freeze changed that plan. I already had the college semester off and it was too late to schedule classes when I found out, so I canvassed and found two part-time jobs where I could maintain self-employment, my own schedule, and make money. I learned pretty quickly that I don’t want to be my own boss. That’s a lot of work, and sometimes I only had < 3 days of work in a week! I kept at this through most of ’99 and added “Y2K preparation” to my skillset. Note: you really want to retire before 2038.

In December of ’99, I found a full time job at a local IT consultant, except they weren’t local to me so I had to move. I am 99% certain the only reason I got the job was because I called the company every week asking if had openings and the owner decided it was easier to let me try a job on probation than to put me off anymore. Persistence pays off! This was my first full time, self-sustaining job. I stayed here for 3 years and did a little bit of everything: customer service was key to everything, large-scale OCR of court documents, web front-ends to said documents, Wireless WAN connectivity (pre 802.11b), and I really fell in love with network security.

Keep Going

That covers the first four years and a bit beyond, which gave me a really great foundation for the rest of my IT career. I would like to think I’ve done fairly well since then. These jobs may not seem like the kind of awe-inspiring jobs that everyone wants, but they were good jobs, with good people, and I appreciate how lucky I was to have them. I know it can be a struggle to get those first few jobs and years of experience, so if you can’t land a dream job out of the gate, know that you can find tons of other jobs that will benefit you and your career. IT is really diverse, and you may find something you didn’t know you were looking for; if not it will certainly help you with those “4+ years experience needed” jobs.

Good luck in your journey!