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You're probably aware that the Information Technology (IT) industry is all around us - from the latest computer games to computer-generated animation in blockbuster films; from the programs that enable you to buy books over the Internet to the satellites that allowed NASA to drive Path Finder on Mars.
Behind each of these technologies is a wide variety of jobs and people who put it all together and make it work. What you might not know is that there are all kinds of career opportunities in IT for individuals from all walks of life.
Take Debbi Atkins, for instance. Atkins had been working full-time for 15 years with the police force in Richardson, TX, when her family convinced her it was time for a career change.
"I heard about Microsoft certified training from my mom," Atkins laughed. "My family did not want me in the police force anymore. They thought it was too dangerous so they were constantly encouraging me to consider a new career."
Atkins thought the high-tech field sounded interesting, so she went to a Microsoft Authorized Academic Training Program (AATP) orientation, attended a few high-tech career fairs, and spoke to local recruiters. Realizing how much opportunity there was in the IT industry, Atkins enrolled in some basic technology training courses.
"I had no previous experience with computers," confessed Atkins. "But I studied really hard and learned quickly. Within three months, I had the first certification as a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP)."
"The most challenging part of the training was the actual courses, but it was also difficult to make a career switch at 37," Atkins said. "I'm a single parent with a 5-year-old daughter. That made finding time to study extremely difficult."
Now Atkins, a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, works as the Windows NT Administrator at MobileStar Network Corporation in Richardson. "I love my job and look forward to going to work everyday," she said. "There are constantly new challenges to face because the technology is continually evolving."
"I never give the decision to make a career switch a second thought," Atkins said. "My pay at the end of 15 years in the police force was the same as my entry-level position as an MCP. There is so much opportunity and the rewards are well worth the sacrifices it takes to get trained."
Kathy Kaufman of Arlington, MA, was a professional artist and single mother with children approaching college age. She realized she couldn't afford her children's college tuition with her salary at RPM Consulting, an internetworking consulting company based in Columbia, MD. She investigated several careers and started looking at network computing (developing systems that enable computers to communicate and share information).
"I had no computer experience -- I couldn't even run Word four years ago! But I knew this was an area in which I would be needed, be paid well, and be valued as a woman," Kaufman said. "Employers are looking for people who can learn the technology, but also communicate well."
Kaufman enrolled in an AATP course in Boston and began developing skills for a new IT career.
"I was waking up at four in the morning to go to work at RPM Consulting," Kaufman said. "I worked until 8 a.m. and then went to school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then I went back to RPM for a few hours. It was exhausting, but I did it!"
Currently a Systems Engineer/Consultant at a consulting firm in Boston, Kaufman says that not only does she love what she's doing, but she is "absolutely certain" that she can now finance her childrens' college education.
Construction worker Daniel Lariviere, of Gloucester, Ontario, was 28 years old when he fell two stories through a hole in the roof at his work site. After spending nearly four years in rehabilitation, Lariviere was assessed as having 30 percent overall disability for the purpose of determining pension benefits.
Although he needed to return to work, Lariviere knew he couldn't go back to construction. He attended a vocational assessment program, where he discovered the world of IT.
"Frankly, I thought that at 32 I did not stand much of a chance of having an IT career," Lariviere said. "I had no experience with computers - I didn't even have one at home. My outlook changed after only a few weeks of working on one."
Lariviere started with the basics, such as data entry and word processing, and eventually enrolled in more advanced computer courses. In December 1995 he took the Microsoft Certified Product Specialist (MCPS) exam and passed.
"This was a decisive moment for me," Lariviere said. "I knew I could overcome my disability and take advantage of the technology training to begin a career in the IT industry."
Now a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Lariviere has been working for the past two years for Andersen Consulting, a global management and technology consulting organization. "The fact that I was working toward my certification was a big factor in getting the job," Lariviere said. "This is an industry of recognition. Microsoft makes the exams difficult and people who see the credential know that you know your stuff."
In order to help people take advantage of technical training for jobs in the IT industry, Microsoft has developed the Microsoft Skills 2000 IT Career Loan with the help of Servus Financial Corp., a leading provider of private credit education loans based in Herndon, VA. The low-rate, competitive loan program provides one easy step to apply and access funding for training at Microsoft ATECs and AATP institutions.
The time it takes to get trained for a new IT career can vary depending on your previous technology experience and knowledge as well as the amount of time you spend studying. The salary for an entry-level IT position typically ranges from $30,000 to $40,000, depending on many factors such as the level of the employee’s
You can develop entry-level skills through a 4-6 week full-time instructor-led training course or choose from other training options such as self-paced and online training. After completing the course and passing the MCP exam, you are qualified for entry-level jobs ranging from support specialist to network administrator.
Sound interesting? Check out the Microsoft Skills 2000 Career Aptitude Tool to see where you might fit in the IT industry.