Occasionally I am asked by someone what should they, or possibly their child, do to get a job in the IT industry. The question is often asked with the hope that I will suggest a course, book, certificate, or some other finite “do-this-and-get-that” task that upon completion will qualify that person to do IT work. There are many great courses, books, certificates, and other such things that will help a person start their IT career, but that is not what I advise people to do.
Build a single site fault tolerant IT service for yourself at home.
I do not care if it is hosting a web service, email, game server, VoIP system, or whatever else you determine is worth having. What the service is is not important, but how the service is designed to tolerate a failover situation is.
Here is what you are going to need:
- 2 servers running the hypervisor of your choice.
- 1 server for shared storage (preferably 2).
- Software (start with a free Linux distribution like CentOS, Fedora, or Ubuntu).
- 2 managed switches capable of supporting VLANs and trunk ports.
- Time, patience, and an appreciation for learning.
There are plenty of resources available for learning how to build, configure, and administer your environment with. The knowledge is available to you online for free, especially with many open source solutions.
The hardware can be expensive, but look on eBay or build it yourself one component at a time. You do not need top of the line hardware, so there is nothing wrong with buying used and old equipment for dirt cheap prices as it meets your requirements. Ask friends and family members in the IT industry if the organizations that they are working for are getting rid of any old equipment. You often can build a nice home lab from the decommissioned systems of others.
Here are the requirements that you will need to design your environment to handle:
- The service must be delivered by virtual machines on redundant hypervisors.
- The applications must be able to deliver the service even if a virtual machine is down.
- The network must be able to operate even if a switch is down.
- If you have two servers for storage the data must be available even if one of the shared storage servers is down.
Now here is the final requirement: You must do this all in 1 year. The design, the acquisition of the various components, the implementation, the testing, and all of the work needed to complete this project must be completed in 365 days. That might sound like a lot of time, but anyone attending school or working a full-time job will soon learn that it is not (if you do not have a job nor attend school your project must be completed in 90 days). IT projects are tough especially if you have to learn all new skills, technologies, and methodologies from scratch in order to complete them. You might have to work weekends and nights to get this project completed on time.
This will not be an easy project to undertake for a beginner, but it is not meant to be easy. This project is meant to train you into thinking of IT as a career focused on service, and not as something that you can learn through a course, from a book, by obtaining a certificate, or other such task. It will also teach you that IT is a complicated science and a sophisticated art. You might not like IT once you start this project. There is nothing wrong with discovering that a career in IT is not for you. In fact, you will save yourself a lot of suffering if you discover that IT is not your true calling sooner rather than later.
If you stick with it though, and if you can complete this project in the one year timeframe you will benefit in two ways:
- When you interview for that first IT job you can talk about this project and your new employer will know that there is a person with some depth and substance behind his or her resume. Do not underestimate how powerful this is in acquiring a job! Good IT professionals can quickly sniff out the real deals from the fakers.
- You will have worn many IT hats. Server, network, database, and applications administrator. Architect, project manager, and business unit manager. Most important of all though is that this solution is meant to support your own private needs, so it will teach you what it is like to be the end-user of an IT service that at times fails to work. My experience has been that having a spouse rely on this service will certainly improve your IT skills at an accelerated rate!
Complete this project before you get a job in IT, because it is not the paycheck that makes someone an IT professional. What makes someone an IT professional are his or her skills, knowledge, experiences, and work ethic that justifies getting a paycheck in the first place. Too many amateurs get into IT thinking that it is an easy job that pays well, but it is only the professionals who stay to do the hard work that does indeed pay well.
IT pays well because not everyone can do it. Complete this project, and you will know whether or not you can be an IT professional too.