How did I get where I am in IT?

UPDATE – I have recently revised this post as of November 2016.

Spurred on by reading a similar blog post on Adam Fowlers blog (go have a read: How did you get into I.T.?) I decided to do a post of my own about how I ended up where I am today.

I’m relatively lucky in that I wanted to know from a fairly early age what I roughly wanted to do. Computers and technology were a big part of my life growing up, because that’s the industry my Dad was in. I honestly don’t know his title, but I’m pretty sure it’s something along the lines of “Systems Analyst and Engineer” (he hates the engineer part…doesn’t have enough extra toes for it). So the internet was connected at our house from as early as I can remember, computers were a part of everyday life – I remember using the Encyclopaedia Britannica on CD when I was about 6 or 7…there was no Google back then! Typing assignments became common practice at the age of about 10 and when the internet was accessible (read: I was able to use it without getting in trouble) for pretty much everything…the world opened up!

I didn’t quite know what I wanted to be until I was around 12/13. Before then, I wanted to be a marine biologist (because that was the fad in those days) or a palaeontologist (Jurassic Park, wooo!). It wasn’t until I was heading towards my last days of primary school and in my first days of high school that I started to think of what I really wanted to be…and I really did like what Dad was doing and it turns out I was kind of good at it!

Studied Computer Studies all through high school, but also did Multimedia studies as well (because who doesn’t like to use CAD programs!), and excelled at both. It was somewhere around middle of high school that I was trying to work out *what* in computer science I wanted to be. I still didn’t have much of a clue. I know I wanted it to be something to do with technology and computers, but that was as far as I got.

Finishing high school, put in my university requests through UQ, QUT and Griffith. Waiting for that OP to come out so I’d know where I was going.

Strike one. And I vowed it would be the only one…

My OP was pretty bad. I know my parents would like to think it was because I was distracted during my final two years of school (Alex, also known as Mr GirlGerms, came along at the beginning of 2001) but what *really* screwed me up was video games. Specifically, Diablo 2. Totally addicted, lost many many many hours to that game and it’s what really did me in. So I received an OP 13. Smack bang in the middle of the score range. And most definitely not a score that would let me in to any of the three universities that I’d applied to for a Computer Science/Information Technology degree. (I should also point out that video games are still a weak point for me…far too many hours spent on a range of different games and genres and I’ve been a WoW addict for the best part of 10 years now.)

I was upset, I was devastated, but looking back on it – it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

So I took 6 months off…and worked pretty much full-time at my casual position at McDonalds. I’m now very much of the opinion that everyone should do this. Take a fairly low-paying job, work at it for 5-7 days a week for at least 6 months to give you a better understand of *why* you’re going to do further study to really appreciate it.

So after 6 months of being a (close to) full-time McDonald’s employee, I then decided to get off my arse and go and do some further study to help my chances of doing something that I actually enjoyed. So I went off to Southbank TAFE in 2003…and dragged Mr GirlGerms along with me for the ride. So we did a Certificate IV in Network Management and a Diploma of Network Engineering. I really enjoyed the networking side of the things we did, but a lot of the course was centred around the average skills your general IT tech will need. Building servers, building authentication, designing networks, coding websites, troubleshooting skills, soft skills (such as how to write an email that doesn’t come off as passive aggressive). All of these things were extremely useful, looking back on it, as they were the building blocks from which my career started.

After finishing the course, it was then time to find a job. This is probably the most important lesson I can pass on to anyone looking to get into the industry, especially today. It isn’t *just* what you know. It’s also very much who you know. You can be taught almost everything you need to know to fill a specific job role, provided you’ve got the basics. What it then comes down to is personality and whether you’ll fit in culturally – and the more people you know and the more people who are in your network, the more people who’ll be in a position to say “Hey, I know someone who’d be great for that job!”.

So I landed my first gig, an entry-level Helpdesk role, at University of Queensland through a fellow TAFE student. They heard about a position that was going, they recommended I apply, their boss told my (eventual) boss that I came recommended and I had a very informal interview. It was an IT job, and to me, that was what mattered. It was in the field I wanted to work in and it would offer me skills and training to do what I loved. So, less than 3 days after my interview, I started working at UQ in a casual capacity 3 days a week. Within a few months, that changed to 5 days a week (due to colleague going on long service leave) and then I was offered a 12 month contract, which I quite happily signed. All in-all, it was good and I was quite happy.

During my first year, it was suggested that I study towards a degree – not surprising, considering I worked for a university. So in February 2006, I started on the long hard journey that is studying part-time/working full-time towards a Bachelor of Information Technology at QUT. I was lucky that they counted my TAFE study towards my degree, and I received a year of credit.

After that first year, another colleague resigned and his position was advertised for. I applied, and (through talent or sheer luck!) I landed the job. A nice pay bump and a full-time permanent position. Wooo! My title was “Information Technology Officer”, which (in my eyes) sounded pretty darn snazzy. So that’s the position I was in and that’s the position I stayed in for quite some time – all the way through to 2010.

Sometime during those 5 years, my position was “broadbanded”, which means that instead of sitting over just one pay scale, it sat across two. In order to reach the second higher pay scale, certain abilities, skills and education/training requirements needed to be met. I finally managed to met these in October 2010. I’d proved that my skills were up to the challenged and I’d passed a milestone (more than half way!) through my degree. So another pay bump, another title change – this time to Senior IT Officer. I’m pretty sure I asked if I qualified for seniors discounts at that point…

Stayed with UQ for another year and a bit and then decided that it was probably time to stretch my wings. I’d been with them for nearly 7 years. It was time for a change of scenery.

As part of my university studies at the time, one of the assessment pieces was to write a cover letter and resume for an advertised job. Rather than make the whole thing an exercise in futility, I decided to use it to my advantage. I wrote one cover letter and one resume and I submitted it to one employer based on their ad. I was a bit picky (probably still am) and knew what I was looking for in a job and this seemed to fit my bill – bigger team, bigger systems, more to manage, more responsibility, and a new experience – GUBBERMINT.

So I applied for a government position and was lucky enough to score an interview. Now, I’ve only been interviewed three times in my life – once for McD’s (doesn’t really count, because at 14 they just want to make sure you’re going to show up and look presentable), once for my casual position at UQBS (which was an extremely casual affair that ended up with me meeting the boss and the team) and then my official interview for my full-time position at UQBS, which was a full formal interview, with a panel and questions. So this latest interview scared me somewhat – I was a little rusty and hoped I’d do well. Even went out ant bought swanky clothes to make sure!

So my interview, apparently, went well. I was told, prior to going in, that interviews that are really short are bad – it means they don’t want to waste too much time on you. On the other hand, interviews that are really long are good – it means they want to know more about you because they’ve already made up their mind regarding you. My interview went for two and a half hours. I felt rather good about it, but still (being pessimistic) didn’t hold out hope. I received the call saying that I’d got the job and was ecstatic. This was a job I’d earnt on my own – it was through my own writing skills, my resume and my own interview skills that I’d got this job. It was definitely mine.

My new (and current) role – Windows System Administrator. Those last two words are the important ones and the ones that I’d strived towards for a few years. While I studied to be a network administrator, over the course of the years, my love had shifted towards systems and *that* is where I wanted to be. I’m sure if I’d landed an entry-level NOC job as my first job, I’d probably still be in networks, but I didn’t. So now I’m doing this – and “System Administrator” is a label I wear with pride!

Looking back over it, I’m extremely happy where I am, but it was (at least at the beginning) a bit of a topsy-turvy way to get here. But I don’t think I would’ve got to where I am without those rough beginnings – if I’d gone to uni straight away, instead of going to TAFE, I don’t think I would’ve had the opportunities that I had. I came out of TAFE after 1.5 years with hands on skills that could be put to good use immediately, and I wasn’t looking for a high paid job – I was looking for ANY job that could make use of my skills. I honestly think that would’ve been different if I’d studied for 3 years at university. I should also say that having a healthy interest in what you want to do is vital – one of the reasons I was initially hired at UQ was because I was passionate about IT…and I still am! If I had to do it all again, I’d do it the same way – because it’s given me so many more opportunities.

I’m also extremely grateful to the people who I’ve kept in contact with along the way who’ve helped my career – my teachers at TAFE, my first boss at UQ, my colleagues at both UQ and in QLD Government, the numerous people I’ve come in contact with at Microsoft & via social media – you guys are the ones who’ve opened my eyes, keep me grounded and helped steer me towards where I am today.

I should clarify that copious amounts of sugar were also involved in getting me where I am – you need energy somehow. Also lots of yelling, swearing and bashing of head on desk. That, and a strong hope that I know what the hell I’m doing – Impostor Syndrome is a *bitch*.

UPDATE – As of November 2016, I’m still working for Queensland government. I’ve been in this position for just under 5 years now and I’m still loving what I do – and still learning so much. I finally completed my degree – was award my Bachelors of Information Technology (QUT) in the middle of 2014, just over 2 years ago. I also completed my MCSA in Windows Server 2012 R2.

It meant that, at the end of it all, I came out with:

  • a Cert IV in IT (Network Management)
  • a Diploma in IT (Network Engineering)
  • a Bachelors Degree in Information Technology
  • a Microsoft certification (MCSA:Server 2012 R2)
  • and the most important part – 10 years of experience in the industry

I feel incredibly lucky to be in the position that I am now, with the knowledge and skills I have, as well as the contacts that I’ve made.

I’ve also been lucky enough to be a speaker at a few conferences (Ignite Australia & Ignite New Zealand), as well as receive an MVP in Cloud & Datacenter Management, due to my work in the technical community (through Twitter, my blog, Reddit and speaking at various events).

So – that’s the story of how I got where I am! And I’m still going!

2 thoughts on “How did I get where I am in IT?

Leave a Reply