Hey Lifehacker, I am currently in year 11 and so I’m thinking about jobs for later life. I really love computers and have a passion for the technology that makes it work. To get into IT support or an IT role in a company, what skill sets do I need and how can I get a head start? Thanks, Aspiring Supergeek
The information technology sector has a dizzying array of degrees and certifications to choose from and there are numerous professional pathways to the top. Naturally, the first step is to take computer science and maths subjects as your electives — the sooner you start learning the basics of programming, the better.
Here’s some advice we shared in a previous Ask LH post that should serve you well:
If you’re looking to go beyond one specific project or specialty, or you want to learn a bunch of languages, it’s best to start with learning the basic concepts of programming and how to “think like a coder”. That way, no matter what your first programming language, you can apply those skills towards learning a new one (maybe in as little as 21 minutes). Even kids’ coding apps can be useful to start with.
For example, the first formal programming course I took (well, other than BASIC back in fourth grade) was Harvard’s CS50, which you can take for free. Professor Malan starts the course off with Scratch, a drag-and-drop programming environment built for kids that teaches coding basics and logic — while helping you create something cool — and then he proceeds to teach you C.
C is one of the most widely used programming languages — it’s essentially the programming equivalent of learning basic anatomy in the medical profession. C will teach you how a program interacts with hardware along with the fundamentals of programming at the lowest hardware level; stuff like debugging programs, memory management and how computers actually work. At the same time, you’ll be learning how to code efficiently for many other languages.
It also helps to have a visible online presence via either a personal blog or high levels of output on popular technology forums. You can also build your reputation by contributing to crowdsourced coding projects on sites like GitHub.
If you’re capable of balancing work with high school, seek out a part-time job in an electronics store. A retailer like JB HiFi, Dick Smith or Apple might not teach you very much about IT, but you will gain valuable customer service skills in a field that’s tangentially relevant.
We’re also going to throw this one over to our readers: how did you get started in IT and did you learn from any mistakes along the way? Share your stories with AS in the comments section below.
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