I'm interested in making a transition from a finance career to one in IT, most likely sysadmin with a focus on network security although that may change as I get my feet wet.

I have some light VBA programming experience (I realize VBA is not considered a "true" programming language) and have been teaching myself a bit about scripting through the Headfirst Programming and Java books.

My knowledge of Operating Systems is nonexistent but I love to learn. I have above average intelligence and fairly pronounced geek-like tendencies.

Specifically I'm hoping for guidance on the following:

  1. Is it possible to make the transition to IT without a comp sci or IT degree?
  2. If so, what type of entry level job would put me on the correct path toward an eventual sysadmin or network admin type career?
  3. What certifications would I need to get started (if a second degree is not mandatory?)
  4. Which operating system should I start with to have the best chance of getting hired?
  5. How long should I expect it to take to study for and pass the cert exam(s) assuming I am starting as a complete n00b.

Thanks in advance!

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Starting as someone transitioning from another field things will be a bit difficult at first, especially in this day and age - companies arn't hiring IT people off the street like they where in the 90's.

To address your specific questions:

  1. Sure is. In fact I'd say IT is a field where not having a degree in an IT field doesn't really hurt you. Although in all honestly after about 2 or 3 years out of college I don't think anyone really cares what your degree was in - just so long as they can tick that checkbox off - and that's not just in IT>

  2. I would look for a junior position at a small to medium business. You'll tend to get a lot more exposure to different technologies, and be able to get your hands in a lot more things than if you tried to get into a large enterprise.

  3. I would suggest looking at the CCENT from Cisco, the LPIC 1, and the MCITP from Microsoft.

  4. My personal opinion is to not pigeon hole yourself in one technology. Today's deployments are very heterogeneous for the most part. Your best bet to get a job would be Windows. But I wouldn't focus on that to exclusion of everything else. I also guessing you have some ability with the MS platform already. You'll find at the basic level the server OS is not too much different from the Desktop OS. I would highly suggest you install a Linux Distro without a GUI and start playing there - you will break stuff but IMHO you learn better that way.

  5. It really depends on what kind of learner you are. But I would say on average for the entry level Certs you should expect to study for 4-8 months to give yourself the best chance of passing the exam on the first try.

I should also point out that this field isn't all fun and games. You really have to live and breath technology to excel.

I wish you luck in your transition to this field!


This question is very subjective, and I've marked it as such, but since you're interested in opinions/guidance here's mine:

Is it possible to make the transition to IT without a comp sci or IT degree?

What type of entry level job would put me on the correct path toward an eventual sysadmin or network admin type career?
Helpdesk. Datacenter cable monkey. Junior admin if/when you've got some skills/knowledge.
(I'm not kidding about the first two - some of the best junior admins I've trained were pulling cable or answering level 1 "I can't get my email!" phone calls, but they had a keen interest and were willing to learn.)

What certifications would I need to get started
None, but if you have some Cisco certs those are usually smiled upon, as are Microsoft certifications if you want to work in a Windows shop.
On the unix side I find both the RHCE and BSDA exams to be worthwhile.

Which operating system should I start with to have the best chance of getting hired?
The one they're using at the company doing the hiring.
(Serious answer: Whichever you're most comfortable with. Don't expect a great many opportunities for an OS/2 guy though).

How long should I expect it to take to study for and pass the cert exam(s) assuming I am starting as a complete n00b.
A very long time if you're trying to learn it all from a book.
Most of the exams worth taking (the ones that are worth more than the paper the certification is printed on & carry weight with employers/colleagues) will require some level of practical knowledge, or at least knowledge useful in the real world.

You're probably better off tackling exams/certs after a few months of real world experience, with the possible exception of Microsoft exams: If you take a course and have a good instructor you usually come away with more than just a scrap of paper.

  1. Definitely, but having a formal education in an IT-related subject is a huge benefit. It puts the sys into your sysadmin. You may not use a lot of what you'd learn in a comp sci degree on a regular basis, but having a fundamental understanding of how computers work will certainly help you learn the day-to-day stuff much faster. For security-centric roles, though, it becomes more important.

  2. Let's say at the moment that you're an enthusiastic hobbyist. You could go for what did well for me when I was fresh out of university. Look for small firms with a single, established sysadmin who's looking for a junior to cope with the load and is willing to show you the ropes. It's a great way to get a lot of varied experience that might take you a lot longer to acquire if you're one of a large team of 1st liners in a big firm.

  3. What @Zypher said. MSCITP is a good starting point.

  4. Try to generalise, if you can. It's easy to say that Windows will be your main focus, and it likely will be if you do start off with a desktop support role, but try to get into linux, too. Ubuntu is a good starting point. Install it at home and make a point of using it. Even having a basic level of skill there will make you a much more attractive proposition for the smaller firms.

  5. 6 months or so on any of the courses, if you're following the books. I'd recommend finding an accredited trainer, though. Having some pro feedback is invaluable (especially when you're chewing your way through those enormous MS core tomes). There are intensive full-week versions of many certification programs available, but they're pretty expensive and they can be a lot to take in at once. They tend to better suit people who're looking to formalise some existing practical experience. You might be better off taking your time with it. Of course any good employer may well be willing to subsidise this training. I certainly wouldn't say it's a pre-requisite for a job.

  • 1
    Good advice, though IMHO in terms of Linux I'd try to jump right in with Red Hat/Fedora/CentOS or SuSE/OpenSuSE - they have the largest share of the enterprise market. – Jason Antman Apr 21 '11 at 18:39
  1. No need for a second degree. Finance is actually a very good degree to have.
  2. Junior admin for large company, sysadmin for a small company, consulting work for small businesses would all be a great entry point. Try to avoid help desk and gofor type positions.
  3. Depends on what you want to get into. A good start is either MCSE or LPIC then add CCNA to cover some basic networking. From there you can add other stuff as you figure out your interests.
  4. Depends on a lot of things. The concepts among all are for the most part the same. Linux and Windows are the two most important. Macs are just a flavor of Linux. Pick one and become a true expert. Then start adding after that.
  5. Most people take a 6 month intensive program to get the MCSE. There are 7 exams to pass for that. Some one year programs include CCNA and some basic Linux stuff as well.

I know you didn't ask, but scripting (not real programming ;-) is a big part of sysadmin. Keep up your VBA skills. Other stuff that may become important in this field, Pyton, PowerShell, BASH, HTML, and Java. You don't need to be great at programming, just know how to search for scripts online and adapt them to your current needs.

  • Wow, thanks guys! I forgot to mention, I'm no longer working in my finance career (or any career for that matter.) So, I'm looking to get the fastest entry point possible. I'm fine with cable monkey or tier 1 help desk jobs if someone would actually give me those with zero experience. – Rick Apr 21 '11 at 17:59
  • 1
    For a guy who's just getting started in the field, let's not start off with false information. Mac OS X and Linux are both derived from Unix (in its' many forms over the last 30 years). Mac is not a flavor of Linux. They have some common ancestors, but are very very different. – Jason Antman Apr 21 '11 at 18:37

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