The only thing that stops a lot of people from getting into IT is a false belief that technological competence is something one cannot learn. But the truth is everyone can become a high-level IT professional with enough commitment.

1. Invest in good education

The number one decision everyone who thinks of getting into IT should make is whether or not to get a degree. An IT professional does not necessarily need one. There are easier and cheaper options available, such as IT certifications. But if you are after a long-term successful career and want to be considered for senior positions sometime in the future, it is still better to get a degree first.

Sure, four years is a long time. And not everyone is ready to embrace (or get back to) the challenges of student life. Tons of homework is hard even with reliable writing papers, and sleepless nights spent studying are not fun either. But a degree is a ticket to top-level positions and, unlike certification, it cannot expire.

2. Choose your speciality wisely

IT is an umbrella profession. No one can become a true professional without choosing what to specialise in. Even schools that offer IT education expect students to know what they are going to focus on in their careers. Sure, it is perfectly fine to change one’s speciality at some point down the road. But try to pick your initial one wisely.

At the moment, some of the most in-demand IT specialities include:

  • Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a smart and very popular choice of specialisation at the moment. Good cybersecurity specialists are more sought-after than ever because of the global shift toward remote work.
  • Data fabric. IT professionals who are competent in data management architecture are also in high demand. And they will remain so in the foreseeable future.
  • Privacy-preserving computation. Top organisations are always on the quest for good privacy-enhancing specialists. It is a good alternative (or additional specialisation) to cybersecurity.
  • Cloud-native. Cloud-native has been popular for a while. It is the approach that maximises speed and agility. So a skilled IT professional whose speciality is cloud-native will not be out of a job.

3. Learn the basics of everything beyond your speciality

At the same time, every professional should know at least the basics of what is happening in the IT industry beyond their speciality. It is impossible to be good at everything. But having some idea of how things work makes cooperation with other IT specialists easier. 

Employers often expect teamwork from candidates for IT positions. Knowing what the people you work with do helps mutual understanding a lot. No need to try to become a guru. But do not stop learning things once you have chosen your speciality.

This is why no IT certification can replace a full four-year college degree. It is unthinkable to cover everything there is to cover in several months. So college-educated IT professionals have the upper hand when it comes to outlook and versatility.

4. Get an in-demand IT certification

But IT certification can still open a lot of doors. And it is a nice addition to a degree, especially for people who graduated years ago and might be a little behind on what is going on in the IT labour market at the moment.

The key is to pick the right certification depending on one’s interests and career plans. Some of the most in-demand ones are certified data professionals, AWF certified cloud practitioners, certified cloud security professionals, and certified information security managers. But not all of them are a smart choice for a beginner. Keep your current skill level in mind.

5. Understand the relationship between what you do and business

Even outstanding IT professionals often lack understanding of the business side of their job. This can become a problem when they are applying for high-level positions. Sure, most employers are looking for someone exceptional at what they do. But they also want someone who knows why they are doing it (from the company’s perspective).

No one expects an IT specialist to be a business pro. So regardless of what organisation you work at now, talk to other people there and ask questions to understand at least the basics of major business processes. If nothing else, it will help during the next job interview. And it also tends to increase employee engagement.

6. Work on your soft skills

Finally, any professional, including an IT specialist, should never neglect their soft skills. There is a common misconception that people who work in IT need nothing except to be competent at what they do. This is not true. 

Sure, most IT professionals work with computers more than they do with people (and it is not even close). But they also need the same soft skills that everyone else does. Most major companies expect their IT employees to be team players, have decent communication skills, excel at time management, and handle conflict well.

Try to read on these topics and talk to Human Resource Development (HRD) professionals at your company. They can organise communication or conflict resolution training for employees. And, above everything, welcome feedback from your colleagues, even if it is not always positive.

Is all the hard work worth it?

It most definitely is, especially money-wise. A senior-level software engineer can expect to make about $200,000 a year; a computer network architect or an information systems manager can expect about $150,000. 

But there is basically no limit, especially for in-demand specialisations akin to cybersecurity. And thanks to how fast-paced and agile the IT environment is, it rarely gets boring. Anyone with enough dedication, willingness to learn, and genuine interest in how technology is changing the world can succeed in IT.