Career Opportunities

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Starting a high-tech career: Part 1

© Douglas E. Welch 1997

Though personal computers and networks have become the backbone of corporate America, academia has consistently lagged behind in providing the training necessary to leave college and become a microcomputer or network manager. Unless you desire to be a programmer, usually on mainframe or minicomputer systems, there are very few options for you to study small computer systems. If you want to build a career in microcomputers, you are almost on your own.

Most high-tech computer workers come from the ranks of the computer hobbyists. My own career started that way. I graduated with a degree in technical theater, but when I moved to Los Angeles I found the market for my computer skills was much more in demand. I had learned everything I could about computers during my college career, more for my own edification than anything else. The offerings of the computer science department didn't match my needs so I learned on my own. These skills quickly turned out to be my bread and butter for the last 12 years.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist and not a computer science grad, but I have a few hints to help insure that your hobby prepares you for a life in the world of PC's. In some cases, these hints can also be useful to those who are currently following or have recently completed a computer science degree. Consider this the beginning of your graduate level studies.

First, the key to developing a microcomputer career is exposure. You need to get your hands and your mind on every operating system, hardware and software product you can find. The more you know, the more marketable skills you have..

While we all have a computer platform of choice, I'm a Macintosh user myself, it is important to avoid any platform bigotry. I have spent many more hours supporting Windows machines than Macintosh and it has been those skills that have kept me consistently employed. You need to, at least, learn the "Big 3" operating systems which are, in order of importance, Windows 3.1/95/NT, Macintosh OS and some flavor of UNIX. If you have a basic grounding in these three you will be way ahead of the other competitors for your job.

Second, too many people focus on a specific operating system, programming language or, even, software program. You will have time to specialize after you have been in a job for a few years. Being a generalist will help to insure you get hired in the first place. Most IS (information services) managers like to have well-rounded people on their staff. These people can fit into a variety of roles, as needed, and help keep systems running and users happy.

In the coming weeks, I will discuss how to get the hands-on experience mentioned above and how to use your work as a personal consultant to develop a resume full of technical credentials when you've never had a corporate job.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. While he cannot answer every letter directly, he welcomes questions and suggestions. Douglas can reached via email at or