Career Coach

Career Coach is a column that gives IT professionals a chance to pose questions about training, certification, salaries or any other career-related issues to eWEEKs panel of IT managers, hiring and training experts.

Dear Career Coach: I am 53 years old and have had extensive experience in customer service over the span of my career, most recently in the airline industry until 9/11. I will be going for certification in A+/NET+/MCSE from a technology school. What are my chances of getting into the industry at a decent salary? Eventually I would like to concentrate on security. --Wes

Brian Jaffe

Career Coach: BRIAN D. JAFFE

Stories of age bias in the IT industry are not hard to come by. That makes your situation of trying to find an entry-level position armed with certifications and no experience that much tougher. (See the Career Coachs thoughts about certification on Feb. 28, 2002).

The chances of meeting your goals (finding a job in security, paying a decent salary, with no experience) are pretty thin. Security is a highly specialized area, requiring a high degree of technical proficiency and experience. If this area is your objective, you may find that certification for product sets like Cisco and Checkpoint provides a lot more value than A+.

An alternative path that might yield better odds would be to take advantage of your background in customer service. After all, a good portion of IT revolves around service and support activities. And try to turn a potential weakness (your age) into an asset. Your years of experience in the work environment, professionalism, maturity, etc. might be very welcome in some IT environments.

While theres no certainty that age bias exists in IT, its hard to ignore the stories. Some of your contemporaries have suggested that, in order to even get interviews, theyve had to shave years from their resume by only including the most recent jobs and omitting telltale dates (like college degrees).

Brian D. Jaffe is an eWEEK contributing editor and an IT director in New York City. He can be reached brian@red55.com.

Judy Brown

Career Coach: JUDY BROWN

You are correct that it could be an age discrimination issue. As someone who went back to school in her 40s in the technology area, I would say there is nothing like experience. Certification without experience is probably not going to get you much further than entry-level jobs. It would not necessarily get you into security. But looking into customer support positions in specific technology areas may be a good choice. If you could couple your customer experience with new knowledge, you should stand a better chance of a "decent" salary.

Judy Brown is an emerging technology analyst at the University of Wisconsin System. She is also director of the Academic ADL Co-Lab and an eWEEK correspondent and Corporate Partner. Her personal Web site is at www.judybrown.com.

Larry Shaw

Career Coach: LARRY SHAW

In the post-Internet boom period and post-9/11 period, the demand for entry-level technicians has become less intense. Applicants for good positions are more plentiful. The most critical factor that you are facing is one of experience. Most shops are much more demanding of real-world experience in networking, application and operating system support than in basic education. Certification from a tech school is certainly a positive factor, but on-the-job experience dealing with issues is far more important.

As a tech school graduate, you may well find yourself in an entry-level position until you can prove your ability to deal with technical issues and resolve operational problems.

Larry Shaw is PC coordinator for Nordstrom Inc. He can be reached at larry.shaw@nordstrom.com.