Ask LH: How Can I Switch From Being A Chef To Being An IT Pro?

Dear Lifehacker, I have recently left an unfulfilling career as a chef and I am moving on toward a career in IT. I have recently finished a Diploma of IT and now I am working towards an undergraduate degree in ICT as a business analyst. I also work a mundane kitchen job to help cover expenses.

My question is: how do I best market my existing skills and newfound educational success to find an "in" to the IT industry? Do I need certifications? Are high marks and no job better than above average marks and an unrelated job? Should I put a lot of effort into vacation and graduate programs? All suggestions appreciated!

Thanks Reformed Chef

IT Chef picture from Shutterstock

Dear RC,

Finding the right balance between work and study will obviously depend on your financial circumstances. In an ideal world, you could quit your kitchen job and throw yourself completely into your studies, but we're guessing this probably isn't feasible. All you can do is utilise the free time you have in the best way possible, which means hitting the books when you'd rather be out having fun.

At the same time, don't overdo it or you may run the risk of burning out completely -- you can read some tips on how to address 'burnout' here and here.

On a related note, most managers are unlikely to be swayed by your individual marks for each unit of study. Instead, their decision will usually be based on your real-world experience, people skills and grade point average. In other words, if a particular subject is giving you grief, it's probably not worth killing yourself to get a high distinction. As long as you keep your average up, it shouldn't make much difference to your employment prospects.

Gaining relevant certifications certainly can't hurt your chances of employment; you just have to go for the right ones. In short, the value of certifications goes up with the difficulty and experience required to get them.

For example, if the certification requires nothing more than paying a fee and taking a quick test, it probably won't improve the heft of your resume by a huge amount. (That said, a low level certification can still be a good way to get you a foot in the door if you're starting near the bottom.)

Our US colleague Alan Henry offers the following advice on choosing the right certification:

It’s those higher-level, industry and position-specific certifications that are the most valuable, and while the lower level ones shouldn’t be dismissed, they don’t make you stand out as much as they may have a few years ago. Will an A+ or a Net+ help you get the edge over someone else? Maybe, but someone else with experience or knowledge they can demonstrate in an interview can easily edge out someone with little more than a cert to their name.

It's also a good idea to check the LinkedIn profiles of people in positions you’d like to aim for. What certifications do they have? Likewise, take the time to peruse ICT job listings to see which professional certifications are common requirements.

You can also join relevant industry groups on LinkedIn and start firing questions. The more real-world feedback you get, the better informed your decision will be.

When it comes to marketing your existing cooking skills, treat it as a garnish instead of being part of the main meal. Keep it brief on your resume and then expand on it at the job interview. For example, you could highlight your proven ability to work under pressure and to a schedule.

To demonstrate a passion for business technology to prospective employers, it could also be worth launching a blog. We think The ICT Chef has a nice ring to it!

If any readers have additional advice of their own, please let RC know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Don't do it. You will be just as unfulffilled in IT, if not more.

      Agree with @shamowfski

      It will destroy your soul, I'd rather be doing something creative.

        Yup: a large proportion of the people I know in IT are either looking for a way out, or have found a way out (one became a boat builder, another went and did genetics, another is doing a Ph.D. in creative writing, and yet another is becoming a forensic specialist).
        Technology can be awesome and fascinating, but most of IT industry isn't.

    I'm actually working on going the other way.

    You can have my spot if you want lol. Depending on where you are aiming for I have found over the past 8 years that the long term career within the IT industry is becoming increasingly shaky in terms of stability.

    Wish you all the best.

      Hahahaha.. When I read this article, I immediately thought.. I want to go the other way as well! XD

    Whatever happened to show IT kickstart courses? Excom and Dimension Data used to offer them, you'd get your A+, CCNA,and MCP, and they'd hook you up with a recruitment firm to help you find a job. Cost about 11-15k, so not cheap, but not as bad as Uni, nor as long (they only took like 3 months).

      that sounds interesting. I'm currently doing IT, but have not had a chance to get those certs

    As others have said, don't do it. I used to be a chef myself, and then decided to get into IT. IT sucks. It sucks a lot more than cheffing.

      Can you please be a little more specific? As a Chef I'm looking for a fallback career when I burn out at my mid-40's. From reading around its the support roles you should avoid because of ... well the public.

      I've done a Cert IV in Networking with the possibility of doing a Diploma. I could make something out of it if I wanted to I'm sure.

        Yes, it's mainly the support roles that suck. But IT in general sucks. Even from a programming perspective where you have next to know contact with the general public, you have to deal with managers who know NOTHING about IT or programming. They give you extremely unrealistic deadlines, expect you to do things that just aren't possible etc.

          Thanks for the reply, it's something to think about at least. When I was first starting out in kitchens everything seemed to have a unrealistic deadline. Work a little harder and you can bust that plate out and feel that euphoric rush doing so. However in I.T. I doubt that's achievable. Only so much you can type in a minute, only so much sleep you can miss ...

          Surely network admins or db managers don't have such shitty deadlines? People in that sector surely would know whats achievable and what isn't.

    I disagree that IT sucks. I have worked in IT for nearly 20 years, in many different roles,
    What is not clear from the question is which area of IT - system administration, desktop support, development, even business / systems analysis.

    Presently I am working as a developer (for 6 years now) which has its ups and downs like any job, but I still enjoy coming to work most days.

    One thing that generally stands out in the IT field is the successful people have a passion for technology and working with people and technology. If you don't have an interest in technology outside of work then you will struggle.

    @poweredbyme - I agree that there is little opportunity for creativity in systems administration. In development I get to do system design from the database up to UI, there is creativity required through the entire stack.

    Last edited 08/05/14 8:26 am

    Why has that cross-dressing chef left the tap running and what does he have in mind for those salad spoons?

    Agree with @bpearce

    Be clear about what you think you will be doing as an ICT professional and the reality.
    I fix issue on servers ( Systems Engineer ), tracing the root cause and fixing them excites me. And I like doing this day-in day-out. I like the challenge that the machines throw at me everyday, and completing the challenge is a good feeling for me.

    I made this switch 8 years ago and it was the best decision I could of made. I now have time to spend with friends and family during weekends and public holidays. IT may still require some odd hours but with most of mine I can do this from just about anywhere with an internet connection.
    As for promoting yourself to potential employers I can tell you that being a chef in the past worked in my favour. After being hired I was told by my management that one main reason I got the job was due to the following:
    1. Chefs are used to working long hours
    2. Most have strong team skills both following and leading
    3. Most are good under pressure
    4. Good work ethic
    I went into a job having zero experience and zero training and was quickly promoted based on these skills alone. Everything I know about IT has been learnt on the job or from self study and training courses.
    Do I miss cooking? At times yes but I now cook at home for fun which is something I rarely did when I worked in the industry.
    Good luck

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