Today we are talking about IT careers. In the last 15 years, I’ve met several people that wanted to get started in IT while switching from other industries and roles. The common question has always been: “Stefano, where do I start?“. There is an education aspect, related to where you can get the skills to work in IT and one that is associated with which role you should target.
The reality is that this space completely changed in the last 20 years and today getting a career in IT means nothing given the number of potential paths we have. IT used to be a niche that was dominated by computer programming, but not it has blossomed into a full-blown industry with numerous specialized avenues. Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to go anywhere without encountering one form of technology or another. Most career paths will call for a little tech expertise in the relevant software and applications before you can move forward.
In this article, let’s find out how you can start a career in IT and examine all the different ways you can develop your interests.
Understanding the IT landscape
IT is a vibrant and dynamic industry. Sometimes, keeping up with all the latest developments and innovations in technology can be overwhelming. But for some people, this is exactly what draws them in—and you might be one of them. And who could blame you? Today, information technology is the backbone of business, healthcare, finance, entertainment, and more. With the introduction of automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, the demand for IT expertise is only going one way: up. Now, you may be reading this and doubting your interest because you do not have any background in IT. Don’t be disheartened! The beauty of IT is that it’s accessible to literally everyone.
To start a career in IT, you can choose from hundreds of online courses, coding boot camps, and specialized training programs. The doors are wide open, regardless of whether you are a recent graduate, a mid-career changer, or just someone eager to learn.
Why you should consider an IT career
Technology is changing every single industry in our world and that should be a great reason for you to consider an IT career. 10-15 years ago having a career in IT meant going to work in a tech-focused company, today technology and software are everywhere and it’s easy for you to build your IT career in the automotive industry like in the energy sector, just to make two simple examples. The average salary in the IT industry has been growing in the last 10 years and today, based on your preparation and location, working with technology will often give you the ability to pick the company and role you want. There are current trends, starting with AI, that will likely accelerate the need for companies to invest in technology.
Leaving aside the fact that IT roles are in big demand, I believe you should pursue a career in IT if you like change and are motivated by learning new things: in this space, everything is constantly changing and you will be constantly learning new skills. I am not talking just about specific programming languages or databases, most technological changes have consequences in our economy and in the products we use. Think about the changes brought by cloud computing to our digital life or how AI could change how we interact with information.
Moving into the IT industry from a different career path
In the next few paragraphs, we will cover job roles that might sound too technical for most people that don’t have an IT background (e.g. software engineer, product manager) but the reality is that moving into IT doesn’t have to start with a complex role that requires a computer science degree. If you don’t have technical skills, but you have operations, marketing or sales skills, my suggestion is always to consider roles where you can easily apply your existing skills to an IT role.
An example of this could be a technical support role or Sales Engineering – in both cases, you usually get to learn basic/intermediate IT skills but at the same time, you spend most of your day leveraging sales and marketing skills. Soft skills are also a big component of these jobs, sometimes making them the perfect choice for people that don’t really see themselves working only at a computer. There is always strong demand in the market for positions that require technical knowledge but that are not comparable to advanced IT roles.
If you are considering this shift, I would suggest keeping reading this article to familiarize yourself with the potential paths in IT and then spend time looking for resources to start learning and training: there are online courses that target specific job roles (e.g. Google has a few paths for IT customer support professionals) or generic platforms where you can learn the exact skills you will need.
IT career paths
There are many nowadays but most of them are usually related to well-defined areas like software development, devops engineering, product management, cyber security, data management, technical support and machine learning. AI is definitely the new big category here, and we will dedicate some time to it later. If you are new to the IT world all of this will appear to you as tens of job titles that share similar skills and requirements if they belong to a specific category (e.g. Software development). It’s impossible for me to cover every specific aspect of the IT career in this article, but I will keep publishing more articles about it and Anthropos itself is developing products like Job Simulations that allow you to discover what a job role is about even before considering it for your career.
Job Simulations are hands-on environments that let you play in specific job roles while learning new skills and test yours.
While your IT path might be more or less technical, depending on the area you pick, it’s important to understand that every company applies its own interpretation to these roles: being in technical support might look very different for a tech company and a logistics one in terms of technical skills you need. There is common IT knowledge that you will always need (e.g. how the DNS system works) but then you will pick up specific IT knowledge based on your industry and company.
On that note, the diversity of this industry is also a strong reason behind why so many people from different fields are interested in making a career change. Even if you do not have any background in IT, you are still capable of bringing something unique to the table. As you reflect on how you want to start a career in IT, I hope these distinctions help guide you towards a path that resonates with your skills and interests.
Software developers and engineers are responsible for developing software and digital products. They could be working on our favorite mobile applications, like Facebook and Instagram, or building complex proprietary CRMs that power global enterprises. Software development is a board term with plenty of subfields, and many people start a career in IT here. After all, it covers the creation of just about anything that you can find on your computer, mobile phone, and smart technologies. Once you’ve completed a course here, you may have learned enough to discern wether you really want to become a software engineer or developer, or if you want to proceed into another branch.
Here’s a look at where this career path might take you if you’re interested in sticking to software:
Front-end, back-end or full-stack developer
Front-end developers create user interfaces. These are the parts of the application that are visible to us, as users. On the other hand, back-end development is all about writing the back-end logic that powers the applications and elaborates the data to be presented to user. This distinction can be there for specific companies while in others you will find the role of the full stack developer, an engineer that can work both with front-end and back-end technologies to build a software application.
If you are just starting in the world of software engineering, I would suggest to experiment as much as you can and try to “start” learning as much as you can about building software without considering the front-end and back-end distinction. There will be time to do that.
Mobile development and IoT (Internet of Things) platforms
Mobile developers are specialized in mobile applications development for platforms like iOS and Android. The skills required are similar to the ones for software engineers, but of course you will have to learn how to write software for specific platforms like iOS. Mobile developers are usually working side by side with other developers and that’s why mobile can be considered a specialization of the main role and something people sometimes consider after getting an intro to software development.
IoT developers are still a small niche compared to other roles. Their job is about collecting data from devices and sensors that we use in several contexts from cars to industrial plants.
Network administration and cybersecurity professionals
Network administrators used to be a lot more popular in a pre-cloud computing era. These people are network experts and they are in charge of designing, monitoring and building networks of various types. These professionals oversee data transmission, troubleshoot connectivity issues, and monitor network performance to prevent downtime and disruptions. Through their expertise, network administrators ensure that data flows seamlessly so that everyone else in the organization can operate at their best. It could be the networking of a data center or the WiFi connectivity inside a large organization. When companies started adopting the cloud more and more, their role evolved and become even more specialized.
Cyber security professionals have a variety of skills that allow them to identify threats in networks and applications. Cyber security is a large discipline itself and within it we can find people with strong software engineering skills like great experts of networking.
The demand for cybersecurity experts is on the rise, and for good reason. Cybercrime is a stark reality of our digital age. Hacking, data breaches, and cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated and prevalent. To put it simply, cybercriminals are working overtime to exploit vulnerabilities in our interconnected world.
As businesses and individuals alike become more reliant on technology, the demand for skilled professionals in network administration and cybersecurity only continue to increase as we race to ensure that we our data, interactions, and networks are safe.
Data analysis and data management
Data analysts know how to plow through the mountain of data that is generated on a daily basis, transforming all that raw information into valuable insights and allowing others to make data-driven decisions for their success. They empower others by collecting, processing, and interpreting data. Their work involves analyzing trends and patterns, and is foundational for strategic planning, resource allocation, and identifying growth opportunities.
This a good example of an IT area that is well diversified and employs millions of people across very different industries: every company, no matter its industry, needs people reading and managing data for the business. In many cases we find data analysts to leverage large and complex CRMs or ERPs and these system are everywhere.
Database systems, SQL, and data visualization: common tools you will use
If you are interested in data analytics, then consider taking a course in one of these softwares or niches. Database systems, like Oracle, MySQL, PostgreSQL and others are everywhere and something you need to be able to really use as a data engineer or data analyst. Now, to actually retrieve the data from these systems so that it can be manipulated and analyzed, analysts use the Structured Query Language (SQL). They could also use data visualizations tools like Power BI and Tableau to turn their insights into visuals. This way, the results of their data analysis are easy to understand and impactful.
Data engineering, data analysis, machine learning, and AI
Data analytics is just the tip of the iceberg. Later down this career path, you may find yourself working with concepts closely related to data engineering, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. These are exciting new fields, especially in machine learning and AI.
If you are familiar with ChatGPT and interested in how it works, it’s a kind of AI that is supported by a Large Language Model (LLM). This has changed the way machines process and respond to our prompts. By extension, it has transformed the way we interact on the internet, like in customer service and content creation roles.
A bonus perspective: Preparing for the AI revolution
LLMs and advanced AI technologies has redefined how engineers interact with information. These technologies let machines to comprehend context, generate text, and perform tasks that we once thought were things only humans could do.
As AI continues to evolve, data engineers are in a unique and exciting position. They are the ones who get to see where the line between human and machine intelligence starts to blur.
Data analysis serves as a foundational step in this AI revolution. This is because the insights gleaned from data are then used to guide the development and optimization of AI models. As data analysts convert more information into insights, they contribute to the knowledge base that fuels the AI-powered future.
With such a formal-sounding title, it may be easy to think of data analysts as bookish individuals who just focus on crunching numbers. But they are actually playing an important role in modern organizations and in the future of technology.
IT project management and product management
IT project managers lead the execution of tech initiatives from start to finish, ensuring they align with goals and deliver tangible results. These individuals have one foot in the tech industry and the other in business.
While this is generally considered a senior role, it may be the most realistic option for you if you have a strong background in business and want to transfer those skills when you start a career in IT.
Another blended management role in this space is IT Product Management. IT product managers create digital solutions that attract users and solve a real-world problem for them.
They also oversee a blend of different teams, making sure that each department accomplishes their role in the process of creating a new product that would satisfy the needs of their target users and meet the demands of the market.
One common misconception is that a product manager’s job is completed after the product is launched. However, an IT product manager still has tons of work to do. They have to monitor the performance of the product, get feedback from their users, and improve their offerings so that their solutions can be competitive in the long run.
What’s the difference between project management and product management in IT?
IT project managers focus on finishing technology projects within specific timelines and budgets. They plan the scope of the project, define the resources they need to carry everything out, and ensure teams work cohesively to meet objectives. Their expertise lies in orchestrating project elements and delivering results efficiently.
If you thrive on coordinating complex projects, meeting deadlines, and ensuring smooth execution, project management might be your calling. It suits individuals skilled in team coordination, risk management, and project planning.
Meanwhile IT product managers oversee the entire lifecycle of digital solutions, from conceptualizing it to improving it after it is launched.
If you are more passionate about shaping user-centric digital products, keeping an eye on market trends, and collaborating with diverse teams, then this might be more closely aligned to your working style once you start a career in IT. This role is for people who are passionate about user experience, product strategy, and creative problem-solving.
Cloud computing and DevOps
Cloud computing has completely changed the way companies build and ship software and services online. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google all offer popular cloud computing platforms used by millions of developers and companies. If you decide to specialize in a cloud/devops career you should expect to master a good amount of software engineering skills in addition to system administrator skills (managing servers, Linux/Windows environments etc).
The DevOps discipline is pretty much connected to the idea that your developers are now deploying code directly to the cloud and DevOps Engineers help them manage the entire process, often taking care of security, policies and processes to do so. To be honest every company does DevOps in a slightly different way, but the skills you will need are similar.
Most people working in cloud and DevOps have started as software engineers or sysadmins – today there are thousands of resources to start studying cloud and DevOps. The most important cloud providers have ton of free courses and documentation available.
Machine learning and AI: they could bring even more opportunities
AI (Artificial Intelligence) is a giant trend nowadays and I am sure you have been reading articles talking about the job market challenges it will create down the road. I definitely think AI is a tremendous opportunity if you are getting into tech today and there will be more and more new roles created because of it. When we say AI what we really need to talk about though is machine learning: developers can train algorithms on large data sets and get to what we call AI today. Of course the process is much more complex than that, but it should give you an idea about the skills involved. Software development, data analysis and data management are the main ones.
If you want to start learning about AI and machine learning there are thousands of free resources. One of the most famous courses in this space has been created by Andrew Ng and it’s available on Coursera or directly on YouTube.
Needless to say this is a very technical career path in IT. If you don’t have a CS degree you can still consider it but expect to spend time studying the fundamentals of it.
Tips to start a career in IT
The most important thing about building an IT career is to consider that you have thousands of free courses available for free. Nowadays there are all sorts of courses, from bootcamps to video lessons and interactive exercises. In this last part of my article I am sharing some famous resources – free and paid – that can you get started with your IT career.
Learn by doing with simple example projects
Learning to code is like learning a musical instrument – practice makes perfect. Start small by creating simple projects that apply the concepts you’ve learned. Build a basic website, create a calculator app, or craft a mini-game. As you tackle these projects, you’ll grasp fundamental concepts and gradually enhance your coding skills.
The Odin Project is an open source curriculum that helps you hone a comprehensive skill set for web development, from the front-end to the back-end. The site is easily accessible, with each lesson divided into its on chapters. This is just one example of the many resources you can find online to learn by doing.
Below there are a series of famous resources to start learning any more about software development, DevOps and really any type of technology we have covered in this article:
Learning Computer Science with Harvard CS50
Harvard’s CS50 course is one of the most renowned computer science courses available online. It offers a comprehensive introduction to programming, algorithms, and data structures, laying a strong foundation for your IT journey. David Malan, the professor teaching this course, is a truly engaging educator and has consistently found ways to make this subject matter appealing through the years.
Start with a familiar face: Google!
Google’s IT courses cover a wide range of topics starting from fundamental concepts to more specialized areas. They have been designed to be accessible and user-friendly. Aside from the brand recognition and authority it has built in the tech space, Google’s courses offer plenty of flexibility so that you can learn at your own pace.
If you don’t have a ton of tech skills and want to start with something easier, I definitely suggest the IT Support certificate.
Consider investing in paid learning resources
While open source curriculums and free resources are often supported by a vibrant community of like-minded IT professionals, you may have a desire to financially invest in your education. If this is the case, then look into the following sites so you can see what is best for you:
Udemy is an enormous library of courses, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to pick up the IT skills you want here. These lessons are taught by industry professionals and are purchased individually. This is a good option if you want to learn a specific skill, but you are not sure about committing to a long term program to start a career in IT just yet.
Pluralsight is like Udemy, except that it focuses on technology and IT skills only. You have to pay a monthly fee to access a library of courses that teach you how to use different tech tools and languages. They’ve got resources across coding, software development and IT certifications.
If you’ve decided on start a career in IT and you already know the exact path you want to take, then you need a platform that can give you a variety of skills to learn at an affordable price. That’s where Pluralsight steps in.
Probably one of the most famous e-learning solution for someone that is starting from scratch. Treehouse has ton of learning paths for web development and I always like their approach: you will build things while learning and you will enjoy a lot of very professional videos where they teach you both theory and practice.
Coursera is like a passport to higher education without leaving your home. It collaborates with the world’s top universities and institutions to offer thousands of courses, especially in IT.
You can enroll and finish most classes for free, but you do need to pay if you want to complete graded assignments or get a course certificate.
Codecademy offers interactive lessons where you practice as you learn. It’s perfect for hands-on learners who want to start a career in IT by coding. While it does have a free version, the pro subscription unlocks an exciting variety of features and projects that would be super helpful for your progress in coding.
Cloud Academy is a famous e-learning platform specialized on cloud technologies. It offers a vast set of content for AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure and it publishes new content every month.