Earning your CompTIA A+ certification is a great starting point for people who know they want to get into IT. But before you can get to that moment, how do you figure out if you like the work, or where in technology you might want to specialize?
“Do you want to help people fix their computers, or do you want to figure out how enormous companies get information around six continents in a second?” Logan Murphy, an IT consultant who helps IT pros understand the ins and outs of technology, said he asks this question of people who are interested in IT but don’t know where to start. Here, he shares some ideas on how to start out in IT without much investment and see what grabs you.
1. Investigate Bugs
You can start right now, on your phone or computer. If your computer’s doing something weird, Murphy said, look it up.
“It sounds hilariously simple, but the only difference between someone in IT and someone who’s not is that one is comfortable Googling the problem and doing something with the results,” he said.
The skill successful IT support workers share is the ability to watch or read a instructions from the internet and put them into practical first steps.
2. Tinker Around
Scrounge up second-hand computer parts and try taking them apart and putting them back together.
“Cracking open old computers and getting used to the way things are put together is 90 percent of a support job,” Murphy said.
In broken and discarded desktops, search for the RAM, the fan and the hard drive and figure out how they work together. Use caution, and don’t investigate your new find with a fork. If you have access to an IT service desk, ask if you can inspect the gear. Write down the model numbers and look up how different tools work.
“Get used to the way things work together,” he said. “It’s good to be able to walk up to a modem or router and know where things go in and where things go out.”
For extra credit, buy some second-hand parts and see if you can build a computer that works. “A project like that is the easiest way to get comfortable with what you’re doing,” Murphy said.
3. See Who Needs Help
For experience on how computers can be networked, keep an eye out for nonprofits and community groups with aging computers and limited resources for maintenance.
“As someone who spent time at the Boys & Girls Club growing up, I know the computers there were very old and needed care, and it was not a place with a huge budget,” Murphy said. Volunteering can get you familiar with computers, projection equipment and audio gear driven by technology.
“It’s probably not going to be a paying job, but you’ll get experience that you might not get anywhere else,” he said.
4. Find People Who Want to Talk About IT
Look for opportunities to talk about technology. If you’re in a class where an IT person comes in to fix something, ask what’s being done to solve the problem. If you’re social, find LAN parties or gaming nights where people who like IT get together, or register for the next meeting of your local CompTIA Association of IT Professionals (AITP) chapter.
After meeting enough people and trying out different projects, you’ll start to understand if you want to go for that CompTIA A+ moment or if technology is something you’d rather do as a hobby.
“If you want to get paid to do IT work and you have that amount of drive where you’ve run out of things that are free to learn from on the internet, that’s when you start thinking it’s worth saving up and getting a CompTIA A+ certification,” Murphy said.
Wondering if IT is right for you? Take our quiz to find out!
Michelle Lange is a writer and editor living in Chicago.