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Jobs in the Technical Age

by Oscar Sodani
March 11, 2003

Oscar Sodani is a founder of Help2Go and owner of Help2Go Networks, an IT consulting firm in the Washington D.C. area. Oscar holds the CISSP certification as well as industry certifications from Microsoft, Cisco and Novell.

The Internet has taken over the world, and computers have taken over the job market. At least, that's how it seems sometimes. I live in Washington, DC, where the majority of the few available jobs are high-tech jobs. If you know anything about computers, you have a good chance of getting a job in this city. If you are a computer expert, well, the sky's the limit.

Washington DC isn't the only city with a high-tech employment shortage. In fact, just about every major city in the world needs more computer geeks. And best of all, they are willing to PAY WELL for those geeks. So how can you get started in a high-tech industry like computers?

In this article, you will learn:

  • The different paths available for someone in the computer industry
  • Which path may be right for you
  • How to get started in your new career
  • Management!

The Journey Begins with a Fork in the Road

We're going to split up the computer job market into several categories: Network Hardware, Network Software, Support, Programming, Art & Design, and Database Administration. Let's take each in turn:

Network Hardware

Goal: A network hardware engineer at the top of their game will design, implement, and configure networks for clients. They will be experts with Cisco routers and a broad range of cable types and equipment types. A premier network hardware engineer can make up to $100,000 for their skilled labor.

Entry-level: An entry level position will be either a network lackey or a PC technician. A network lackey is someone who does the grunt work when a network is installed and maintained. Grunt work may consist of laying network cables, configuring client workstations to work with the network, and fixing annoying problems. A PC technician will be someone who builds, configures, and fixes PC hardware. For instance, if a modem or printer breaks, it will be up to the PC technician to fix the faulty hardware. Once you perform the basic tasks, you will eventually get to work with the larger network hardware, and learn how to install and configure them.

Get Started: A good starting point for a network hardware engineer is to learn how PCs work -- how to build them and take them apart. Get your A+ Certification, and when you get some experience with Cisco routers, go after the CCIE certification. There are many many books available to help you study for and pass these exams.

Network Software

Goal: A network software engineer at the top of their game will install, configure and maintain network servers and their operating systems, and network server applications. They will be experts in a particular field (i.e. Windows 2000, Solaris, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino) and setup systems that use those skills (e-mail servers, web servers, file servers, etc.). A premier network software engineer can make up to $100,000 for their skilled labor.

Entry-level: An entry level position for network software often lies in the support field. See the Support section below for more information. Once you are experienced supporting operating systems and network applications, you will be able to move up to the actual configuration of these systems.

Get Started: A good starting point for a network software engineer is to learn how PCs work and to use as many software programs as possible. Become an expert in the usage of Windows 2000, and then try to learn how Windows 2000 Server or Linux works. Your goal here is to achieve either a MCSE certification or a RHCE certification. Countless books are available to help you study for and pass these exams. Go to your local bookstore, get a comfy chair, and dive in!


Goal: A support specialist at the top of their game will manage a team of technical support personnel, tackling only the toughest customer problems and complaints, and will be knowledgeable with almost every software application under the sun. A top support specialist can also easily transfer into a network software engineer position. A premier support specialist can make up to $60,000 for their skilled labor.

Entry-level: An entry level position for support lies firmly in the company Help Desk. This will entail solving clients' computer problems either over the phone or at the client site. This is the best kind of entry-level position, because as a support specialist you will learn about every operating system and software application under the sun. In addition, you will also learn about hardware and network issues. Once you know how all of this works, a network software position is right around the corner.

Get Started: Because support specialists are in high demand, you do not need a lot of experience in order to procure one of these jobs. I think that this is the best bet for someone to break into the industry. A good starting point for a support specialist is to learn how PCs work and to use as many software programs as possible. Familiarize yourself with the Internet and all it has to offer. Achieving a MCP certification or a CNA certification. Again, countless books are available to help you study for and pass these exams. By the way, this is how I got my start!

We began our look at jobs in the Information Age with careers in Network Hardware, Network Software, and Support. Now let's turn our attention to the worlds of Programming, Art & Design, and Database Administration.


Goal: A successful programmer will lead a team of programmers into different projects, assigning the right programmer for each job, and saving some of the toughest code for his/herself. A good programmer will be able to solve almost any problem the company/client wants them to, and be proficient in several programming languages. A sought after programmer can haul in as much as $200,000/year for their work, and even more if the project demands special skills.

Entry-level: A programmer that is just starting out will often be in the bowels of the company. To work your way up, you must show an amazing amount of skill -- otherwise it may take you many years to garner enough experience to be entrusted with the higher-level coding. Luckily, it is very easy to get a job as a programmer these days -- the market is starving for people with any kind of skill. A good prospect can start at $40,000/year. Once you get your foot in the door, however, it will take hard work and a lot of talent to become an expert in the field.

Get Started: Starting as a programmer may be the easiest path to take in terms of searching for employment. Most companies are willing to train their new employees in different languages -- all you need is a little bit of experience and an ability to solve problems quickly. If you are new to programming, try learning a simple language like Visual Basic. It will give you the techniques you need to learn the harder languages. After you master VB, it will be best to learn C++ or Java. There is great demand for both of these languages, and the demand will continue for quite some time. Programming languages do not become obsolete -- once you learn how to code effectively in C++ or Java, that knowledge will take you through many years of lucrative employment. To get started, try purchasing Visual basic, or download the freely available Java SDK. From there, a solid tutorial book should get you started.

Art & Design

Goal: An accomplished computer artist/designer will be working on major multimedia projects. They will design web sites for large corporations, or design the user interface elements for software programs, such as a multimedia encyclopedia or a computer game. Designing logos, web sites, and multimedia projects can be very financially advantageous, as you can make anywhere up to $150,000/year doing this sort of work.

Entry-level: An entry level position in art & design will consist of doing the grunt work for the designers you work for. You will code HTML according to the web site design specified, or you may be asked to make logos or graphics in a certain style. There is still some creative flexibility, but the major design styles are created by the boss. An entry-level position in this field will garner a salary in the mid-20Ks.

Get Started: To learn how to design will take a combination of formal instruction and a great creative mind. There are many design schools that will teach you how to use the tools of the craft, i.e. Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Director/Flash. Learning HTML will nicely supplement that knowledge. Books are available for all these products, but they can be very expensive to purchase. Taking a class and supplementing that will real-life experience is your best bet.

Database Administration

Goal: A DBA (database administrator) at the top of their game will manage a large, critical database of information for a company. This may include human resources information, a database of sales information, and even real-time tracking of information linked to the company's web site/intranet. Administration consists of total management of the database, which includes design, coding, and backup and disaster recovery plans. A DBA in a large company will usually head up a team of programmers responsible for the 100% reliability and function of that database. A DBA can make up to $125,000 for their tireless efforts.

Entry-level: An entry level position for a DBA will be some kind of database programming. This can include, but is not limited to, SQL code, Java, CORBA, and links to web sites through ODBC or JDBC. A entry-level database programmer will make more initially than a standard programmer, but the top of the ladder can come very quickly. Expect to start at $50K.

Get Started: Becoming a DBA isn't easy. You will need to start at the bottom rung of a small company, and rise up to administer their database before you will be able to prove yourself. The best DB products to orient yourself with are Oracle, Sybase, and Microsoft SQL server. They are not easy to implement in a home environment -- the best bet is to take a class or training session to get hands-on experience.


When you start to become successful at the path you have taken, you will soon be offered a management position. The reason: employers try to fill those management positions with people who have good technical skills to back up their experience. However, most technical people will prefer to stay in technical fields, leaving the management positions to those who are good at administering employees and do not understand how the company's IT works.

Eventually, you should make the decision to move into management, but be careful not to do it too early. Becoming a full-time administrator can rob you of those much-needed technical skills, and therefore make it hard for you to advance into a higher management position. Once you are in management, you will probably stay in management, so make sure that you have reached the pinnacle of your field before you take that crucial step.

At the same time, you mustn't wait too long before you make your move into management, or you may be labeled as a pure "techie". When team leader and project manager positions make themselves available to you -- take those positions. They will allow you to gain valuable managerial experience while still working on the latest technical projects.

My path? I started out in support and eventually became a Help Desk Manager. After a couple of years of solid managerial experience, I moved back into the technical world with a position in network software, and after a few years administering servers, moved into network programming position.

Everyone must take their own path. Technical people and those that are less tech-inclined should certainly diverge in their paths. Examine each -- find out what you enjoy most, and then grab the bull by the horns and get that job. Learn all you can on the side, and continue to push forward. The opportunities are there -- good luck!

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