We often get quite a few posts about networking and general IT careers, so I thought I would write a post that will hopefully answer most of your questions if you're looking to start out in IT. If IT doesn't interest you, or you have any other burning question then please feel free to ask, I'll be happy to help! Most of the info below is biased towards networking, but still useful for those in any entry level IT role.

If you're looking to start a career in networking, you've definitely picked the right choice. All other IT roles would be irrelevant without networks, and network engineers are the rock stars that build and maintain the only things that matter.



Where do I start?

There are quite a number of roles available today in networking, roles that just weren't there a few years ago. Now you can choose to specialise in security, cloud networks, service provider, storage, wireless, voice over IP, and so on. So which is the best starting option? It all begins with Routing & Switching, period.

Security engineers may get paid a lot more than 'vanilla' network engineers and wireless guys get the girls, but all those technologies rely on the routing and switching engineers' bread and butter. You cannot be successful as a network engineer without understanding the fundamentals of how networks work. You may be able to build a complicated firewall configuration, but if you don't know why a host isn't responding to an Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) request then you're only going to be 50% as effective as the guy who knows how to do both. There are a lot of guys (and girls) out there that know how to do both and you'll be competing with them for the best jobs.



How do I learn about networking?

First and foremost, networking is not a job where you can complete a certificate and never have to open another book ever again. Not if you want to be a successful network engineer anyway. Network technology is constantly evolving and staying up-to-date through self-study is important, so be prepared for a journey of life-long learning. That sounds worse than it is, but if you're doing something you enjoy, it's a breeze!

There are literally thousands (maybe millions) of resources online that can help you learn about networking, and you'll find every one of those sites will aid you by explaining a technology in a way that no other resource does. There is no single definitive resource for network learning except maybe for reading Requests for Comments (RFCs), which define the standards we use, but I wouldn't recommend that study route for anyone!

Ask questions and ask as many as you need to. There is no such thing as a stupid question. What's stupid is trying to do something you don't know how to do. That's applicable to all walks of life, but it's super important in networking, where an innocuous change could have disastrous consequences.

You can also use the certification guides from any of the major vendors and work towards an industry recognised certificate, which will teach you 99% of what you need to know, which I'll go into in more detail next.



What certificate should I take, Do I even need one, Should I get a university/college degree?

Do you need a university/college degree?

This may be contentious, but from my own personal experience (and opinion), no. For me, a 4-year course is 4 years hands-on experience wasted. I do not have any sort of computer related degree, but I have over 15 years of network experience and a handful of certificates and it has NEVER held me back when applying for a role. I have also interviewed many candidates who have computer related degrees (and you do see this as a requirement for a lot of jobs nowadays), but if they don't know how to do the job needed of them then they won't get the job, degree or no degree.

All about certificates

You do not need a network certification to get started in networking. Certificates are great, but they really need to be backed up by experience. That's not to say you shouldn't start your certification study straight away, you should absolutely go for it, studying and getting hands-on with live equipment is the absolute best way to learn.

There are many entry-level network certificates out there, and some of the most popular ones are Cisco CCENT / CCNA and CompTIA Network+ .

Which one is "the best"?

I would say that although the Network+ certificate is useful, the CCENT/CCNA is one of the most important network certificates you can acquire. The Network+ is very useful and does cover some topics that the CCENT/CCNA does not, but the CCENT/CCNA covers everything that the Network+ does and teaches you how to administer Cisco networks. You would be hard pressed to find any company in the world that does not use Cisco equipment in some capacity, and what the CCENT/CCNA lacks in comparison to the Network+ will be picked up as you learn anyway.

From an employment point of view I've never seen a job that required a Network+ (that's not a slight against those who hold it), most require a CCNA as a minimum for even slightly more experienced roles. And looking further forward in your career for a moment, most jobs are handled by non-technical recruitment consultants that don't understand the difference between BGP & EIGRP, they only know that the CCNA you hold ticks the boxes.

There is one caveat to the certification route. Demonstrable experience. On a technical interview, it doesn't matter to me whether you have certificates or not. If you can show me you know what you're doing, that's what counts. Although not required for entry level roles, don't think a lack of certificates will hold you back in the future if you know what you're doing.

For any role in IT, you need to have (in order of importance):

1. A good attitude.

2. A willingness to learn. This is really important for entry level roles.

3. Personality. You don't need to be the life and soul of the party or a social hand grenade, you just need to be a guy or girl that I can work with. Show me it during the interview.

4. Experience. I don't need you to know how to configure a DMVPN for your first job, but if you know how ping works or how you configure the wireless on a home router, tell me! It all counts.

5. Certificates. Not important for entry level roles.

6. Your favourite sports team. This may or may not influence the entire interview process.

7. University/college degree. If you have one, more power to you. However (and remember I'm speaking from personal experience), this has never been relevant to any interview I've sat or held.

How Long Will It Take?

It all depends on your aptitude. There is no set time to pass any exam, do it at your own pace and make sure you understand the content enough to do your job well, not just to pass the exam.



OK, I'm all set, What type of job should I go for?

This question always makes me smile. I think Richard Branson said, “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”. If you think you can do the job you're applying for and can pass a technical interview based on the job requirements, I say go for it! Then again, I like a little bit of crazy on my team.

If you know next to nothing about networking or IT in general or perhaps lack a little bit of confidence, you'll be best served by looking for roles that don't require experience.

It can sometimes be difficult to get into entry level networking roles so if you're not immediately successful when applying, keep your chin up. It happens to the best of us, and sometimes still does. My view is that a company that doesn't recognise a good attitude and passion isn't worth working for anyway. Good bosses recognise these attributes and a good boss translates as a good place to work.

As mentioned, I'm happy to answer any questions on anything that isn't covered so feel free to ask!

Best of luck!

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