Like many people who end up working in the technology field, I haven’t learned everything I know from a textbook.
There’s a lot to be said for real world experience, and that’s especially true in the current world of Information Technology. These days, technology is in a constant state of flux, with new software releases driving hardware advances; with constant demand for gathering more and better information; and with new malicious software outbreaks around every corner. Clearly, if you don’t keep up, you’re going to be left behind.
That being the case, though tech school and book learning are essential to provide a good grasp of the fundamentals and to give context for solving problems, it’s never REALLY going to prepare you for the real-world experiences of being a technician in 2015. The world of IT is a vast ocean of subject matter and the tech school curriculum is only a short cruise in an outdated vessel; it doesn’t have the capacity to dive into the 20,000 leagues beneath you.
In tech school, we were taught the basics (computer components, security measures, and basic programming language – which, for the record, was COBOL, which came out in the 1960s!). It wasn’t until I got my first job as a tech did I really understand how integral computers were to the business world – and that’s the great divide between school and real life.
So, as a public service announcement to those interesting in entering the field, here are a few things that fall under the heading of “what they don’t teach you in tech school.”
First up: How much proactive work you’ll be doing.
The best IT companies rarely operate in the “break/fix” mode, where technicians simply react to outages and tech crises, as I believed would be the case. I wasn’t prepared for all the proactive work that goes into working for a Managed Service Provider, where most tasks involve monitoring, upgrading and keeping an eye on possible issues BEFORE things go off the rails.
Second: How much business owners and managers expect of you.
Before Real World (BRW), I imagined that – when outages did occur – I’d be able to save the day by walking into a company and typing in a few lines of code. But In Real World, (IRW), what mostly happens is that there’s a laundry list of things to do to remedy a problem. All the while, owners and managers are reminding you how much money it’s costing them when their systems are down. Once, someone told me the company lost $40,000 for every hour their computer systems were down. I’ve never forgotten that; such pressure was never addressed in tech school.
Third: The importance of redundancy and the steps that must be taken to ensure business continuity.
BRW, I thought email – for example – was simply a way to communicate with others. IRW, it’s clear that email is a vital business tool that helps facilitate productivity. Missing this distinction is major mistake because, to a business owner, it is the bedrock of his or her organization. If email servers are not functioning (or backed up), and business continuity is interrupted, consequences can be dire. The same holds true for any server a business uses; a method of quick recovery and data loss prevention in case of failure is imperative. That was glossed over in tech school.
Finally: How fast technology would evolve, driving constant change in your personal knowledge base.
I graduated just a few years ago, but even that recently, no one knew how fast, for instance, the Cloud would evolve. These days, Microsoft releases new workstation operating systems (and server operating systems) about every four years, forcing us to relearn all the nooks and crannies of the new OS.
So, while there’s a lot they don’t teach you in tech school, it’s enough to get you started in the field of Information Technology. After that, as you’ll learn on the job. It’s all about constant learning in order to proactively keep technology humming, so businesses can achieve their goals.