Why should veterans get into a career in IT?

Why should I choose IT as a career path? The scope of IT can be intimidating to most people. It’s stigmatized as being a profession owned by the super geeky and introverted smart people. I’ve literally watched the eyes of soldiers and doctors alike glaze over in front of me when I explained to them what I do for a living, yet weirdly enough I can guarantee that the jobs soldiers and doctors have are far more complicated than what I do. Let me explain why.

I fell into doing IT because I love technology. The more I learned, though, the more I realized it’s not a complicated career. What makes it sound so intimidating? It’s the jargon. Point blank. Jargon makes IT sound stupidly complicated. Granted, there’s a reason for that jargon. Much like the jargon the military uses, it’s designed to be exact and communicate a precise message. Much like learning the jargon any soldier uses, the IT jargon comes with time and use.

So, what is IT? Let’s boil this down.

Customer Service

The bulk of IT work is nothing more than working with other people. It’s a team effort. I mean that in every literal sense of those words. You won’t be working with only your immediate co-workers on your IT team, you’ll be working with everyone in the business. You’ll be standing aside the line worker on the factory floor, the marketing personal, the accountants, the engineers, and the CEO. You are their trusted advisor. You are the invisible superhero that lives in between the lines.

You listen to their problems and their suggestions. You connect with them. You teach them. They teach you. Everyone works together to solve issues.

 

Puzzle Solving

I don’t like the term problem solving when it comes to IT. Problem-solving makes it sound like there’s always fires to put out and issues to take care of. Unfortunately, in the IT climate of today, that can sometimes be the case, but it’s not always true. I like the term puzzle solving because it’s more accurate. There’s always a puzzle to solve.

For example, in a deskside support role, you will constantly be figuring out why there’s a problem with a user’s PC. Sometimes there is a legitimate issue. Sometimes the user just messed up. If it’s the user’s fault, you have to play the role of a tech therapist, let them down gently, and coach them through their mistakes. If it’s a computer issue, you need to triage the PC, figure out what the issue is, and create a solution.

To offer an anecdotal side story, I once had to solve why a computer on a factory floor kept disconnecting from the network. I spent hours trying to troubleshoot this PC. IT workers have a lot of really neat tools to help them solve problems. One of those tools is a meter for network cables that will give you information like the SNR if that cable is terminated, which port of the switch that cable is plugged into, and the length of the wire. It turns out that the network cable that connected this PC to the network was about 20 feet longer than it should have been. Network cables shouldn’t be run more than a certain length. Once that maximum length is breached, there is no guarantee that the signal will make it from point A to point B without any issues. This can especially be a concern in a manufacturing environment because these environments are noisy. That noise can interfere with network cables.

As an IT support analyst, your puzzle solving skills are pushed to the limit. You’ll need to figure out odd issues that not only solve technical problems but psychological and workflow roadblocks as well. For instance, if you need to upgrade a conference room, do you go with a projector or a television? Why would you choose one over the other? How is that going to integrate with the rest of the environment? How is it going to work for a presentation? Where should it be placed on the wall and why? Is it bright enough? Is it to bright? How do you integrate the presentation PC? If you were giving a big presentation in that room, how would it affect you? If the old automated electronics no longer work, how do you upgrade them and make them future proof? Which product do you go with and why? What’s the best way to get a visitor’s presentation on to that TV or projector? Why? How do you account for vendors with strange devices? Is that smart TV you want to put in the conference room secure? Does it need to be? Does the conference room table need to be re-positioned to better serve the new setup?

Every. Detail. Matters. You need to be meticulous. You need to anticipate every question and concern.

I can tell you from experience, that when you get it right, the reaction from people is amazing!

Before I continue to the next session, I want to provide you with another anecdotal story from an awesome IT book called ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. This is an amazing story that not only exemplifies the type of puzzle solving that IT people do but also the creative solutions they come up with on the fly.

In that book, the author was trying to diagnose an issue in a network. I believe this happened back in the 80’s. As it turned out, the author was witnessing a hack on his network in real time. He was literally watching an attack taking place on the computer in front of him. Networking technology was much more rudimentary back then. He didn’t want to simply disconnect the network cable. He wanted to catch the perp. Obviously, he couldn’t let the attacker steal any information though. So, he came up with this brilliant idea to jingle his car keys over the top of the networking cable terminal. This introduced enough noise into the line that it corrupted the data that was being stolen without disconnecting the attacker from the network. There is a lot more to that story, and if that piqued your interest, I encourage you to read that book, but this is an amazing example of an IT worker that had to solve a problem on the fly with an amazingly creative solution.

 

Discipline

IT is nothing but discipline. Even though you need to have customer service and puzzle solving skills, above all you need discipline. If your career is in the IT field, you will be learning new data for as long as IT remains your career path. It’s structured. It’s discipline.

I won’t spend much more on this section because it’s that simple. IT is literally nothing more than a whole lot of static data that you piece together to solve puzzles and use your people skills to communicate your fixes.

For example:

  • An IP address contains 4 octets
  • There are two IP block ranges by the standard that are typically reserved for private network use
  • Wireless networks are strict international radio standards. These fall in the 802.11 specifications with specific sub revisions such as 802.11B, 802.11G, and 802.11AC.
  • The TCP/IP network protocol has a strict four-way handshake to initiate a connection between two computers before any data can be transmitted.

That’s all jargon. It may or may not mean anything to you, and that is okay. The fact is that you can Google all four of those things and learn them easily in the next hour. You could pick any one of those things, spend a day reading about it, and become an expert. That’s because IT is nothing more than static data. You learn the small pieces and put them all together, and I guarantee you that it’s a very easy process.

Like any other career, IT has its ups and downs. It’s a rewarding career, though. I want to step out of character for the rest of this article and explain why I have loved doing IT work. I (the writer of this article) have been an IT support analyst for years. I love the work. Every day has new puzzles for me to solve. Every day is rewarding. I love being able to go home at night knowing that I kept that business running, that I helped calm a few people down and fixed their issues. I love being that silent superhero of the organization that everyone calls on when there’s an emergency.

As an IT support analyst, I’m a jack of all trades and a master of none. I get to design and teach classes on how to use applications. I get to solve big and small problems alike. I get to be the person that the rest of the IT teams depend on. I get to be the soldier at the front of the business that has to crawl through a facility to find and fix broken wires, sit at people’s desk and fix their computers, install and configure new servers, help design new data systems with the ops managers, and sit next to the CIO during a big presentation making sure everything goes smoothly. The pressure can be heavy at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

If a career in IT seems appealing to you, reach out to www.veterantransitionmission.org for more information. A coordinator will help answer your questions and walk you through the process of starting your new career path.