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    Advice Wanted: Two Roads Diverged... Or Was It Three?


    I'll try to keep this brief, however summing up one's station in life is normally not such a task that lends itself to brevity. If you want to skip all the background and go to the reason for this thread, start at the paragraph that begins with an asterisk.

    I'm almost thirty, doing the whole wife and kidís routine, and I find myself truly perplexed on what course to take in my life. I've always loved tech, I can remember my first real fascination with something was when I was in my early teenage years and my Dad bought a computer. It was Hewlett Packard, with only dial-up, AOL at that, and I wanted to know how it worked. My very first book I ever purchased with my own money was "DOS For Dummies". I was enthralled; I went through all the commands learning what each one did. I can't count how many times I had to format that computer and start over, and the frustration it caused my Dad as each time I broke it he thought for sure, that was the end. Yet every time, no matter how bad it got, you could format it and start over. I always liked that, most people dread a system format, but for me it was so liberating, I was never afraid to break anything because I knew I could just wipe it all and start over. Things like installing drivers and resetting system configurations totally engaged me, and still do. Either way with this DOS book, I was hooked, I loved being able to manipulate the computer from the command line, show off the "cool" things I could do. I should have known right then that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

    However as I got older, I didn't stay in computer land; I ventured out and found girls! Sex, drugs, and... well techno actually. I spent a lot of time partying, and only went to college as a last resort like a lot of kidís do, to get their parents off their back. When I graduated, computers still being a hobby, I was obsessed with being a millionaire. I saw quickly money could get you things that made you happy, and I remember distinctly looking at the tech industry and thinking "there's no money in that". I floated around aimlessly, even managing to start my own company, which was short lived and closed after a year. I'd worked a lot of jobs, but nothing that made me really happy. I had found becoming a millionaire quickly was no easy task, and with the wife and the baby was not something I could afford to gamble on anymore. I needed to find work that fulfilled me, that I enjoyed.

    So two years ago I decided to go back into something tech oriented. I had a small background with HTML and tried to masquerade as a web designer. I got a job through a friend of the family, only to find I was severely out of my depth. With no formal training and close to 10 years passed, web development had changed a lot! It wasn't just HTML; it was CSS, and PHP, a lot of other acronyms and two or three big software programs you needed to understand. Not feeling too thwarted because I knew my heart wasn't in web design, I answered an ad for a "Junior Developer", "no experience needed, will train". I thought this is it! Programming was like my DOS books I started with so long ago. I could actually learn to TALK to computers and make them do what I wanted.

    While the company that hired me had the best of intentions, they had never taken on this task before, of hiring a programmer with no experience and teaching them. The owner was swamped with his own projects, and within a month had paired me with another Access Database Developer. She herself only had a few yearsí experience, and was NOT the teaching type. She was cold and impatient. She also gave off this threatened vibe, like the owner had hired me to replace her. As you can imagine it didn't last long either, after three months of that I was brought into a conference room and told "we just don't see you progressing to the level we'd need you to be at for this to make sense." Imagine that, a guy with no programming experience, was paired up with an employee who'd never taught anyone, and herself had a full workload of clients to satisfy, who needed to teach me not only programming but database design concept and implementation with ACCESS! Looking back on it now, I see how unreasonable it was for them to think I could be a competent programmer in three monthsí time. However at the time I really beat myself up about it. After all this is what I wanted to do, the owner was such a smart guy, and I studied every night. Maybe it was me that just wasn't cut out for programming. It actually still bothers me now.

    Thankfully, they saw a passion in my heart for tech. It just so happened their hosting manager was a one man band, and was having a tough time getting his job done with all these lower level phone calls and emails he had to deal with. So they created a Help Desk position for me, which I've thrived in. I have almost a decade of customer service experience working for call centers, and I love solving problems, so the position was a natural fit for me. This was about eight months ago. Since then the hosting manager also introduced me to the networking side of things, how to work with servers and hardware etc. I found all that equally as fascinating, he was nothing like the girl who had "tried" to train me before. He was knowledgeable, smart, and patient; he had a great sense of humor, but was ex-military and had a way of dropping the hammer when he had to. Right as he was beginning to open this whole new world to me, last month I found he's leaving the company. He's a giant whale of a fish in a tiny pond and he's got to move on. Before he did, he got me on a path to work on my CompTIA A+ Certification. I feel very prepared and I'm sure I'll pass it.

    * Here's where my problem comes in. Ever since starting the Help Desk job I've loved it. For the first time in my life I'm not watching the clock. I'm not waiting for lunch time to come, and quite often I'm even staying hours past my punch out time because I'm so into my work. However I've handicapped myself. While others have had fifteen years to be doing this work, I'm just now getting started at thirty. My two greatest traits are my knack for dealing with people and my tenacious problem solving skills. When I don't understand something, or can't figure it out, I'm not a pass the buck kinda guy, I'll spend hours on it until I can figure it out. I enjoy the satisfaction of giving the client a great product, and the "eureka" moment when I figure out the issue is like a drug for me! I LOVE the sensation that comes with understanding.

    The thing is after my A+ I want to move on to my next cert and start tackling it. Not just to say I have the cert, but to gain the knowledge that comes with it. Problem is I don't know what my next move should be. The "tech industry" is so wide open. In my heart, I think I want to go back into programming. I like the idea of speaking with computers, making them do what I want. However I have the bad taste of the failed Access Programming job fresh in my mind, I wasn't "getting it". Was it that I needed to give it more time or was three months long enough to understand the foundations? What's worse, where I was comfortable with the command line, now I'm intimidated by it. I seem suited for networking, talking with people and tracking down problems. Or do I just feel that way because I had a better teacher in that field and had a more positive response?

    I guess that's why I wrote this beast of a thread, to give you a little background. I'm hoping there are some more seasoned professionals out there who can say "you sound like you'd be a great _____ " or "your mindset sounds geared toward _____ ". Again there are so many specialties, maybe there's some other field I haven't even considered. I don't know many experienced tech professionals, so I don't have anyone to talk with about this. All I know is I LOVE technology, I love problem solving, I'm about to have my A+ and 1 yearsí experience as a Help Desk Analyst... where do I go from here?
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    Well that conclusion was definitely not the one I expected for this thread.

    You can't learn to program in 3 months and Access is probably not a good starting point if you want to learn about useful programming languages in general. Start with something that has roots in C (Java, PHP, C++) or something that is at least sort of similar syntactically (JavaScript).

    You'll want to learn how to do it on your own first or even take some classes before you try to find a job programming. If you love your current job it's probably not a great time to take a leap of faith to something else. Maybe start with freelancing on the side once you figure it out and make sure it works for you before trying to go full time. Freelancing jobs in the web industry in particular are pretty common.

    Depending on your organizational and time management skills you might do OK as a project manager for programming projects, even if you don't have a super strong grasp on the programming language itself. However, as a project manager you probably wouldn't be working with code all that much.

    The ability to solve problems and the willingness to attack problems until they can be solved are two of the best traits for a programmer to have. Speaking from the perspective of a project manager, people with those abilities are the most valuable ones to have on a software project.

    IT Certifications are often not that meaningful except to very small employers and very large employers (ie: where the person evaluating you will not know much about IT, either because the company is so small that no one IT related is part of the decision to hire you or because the company is so big that the decision to hire you is done by an HR department instead of IT). However, if you find value in the education they provide don't let that discourage you from obtaining them of course.
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    Ah USB, the only rectangular connector where you have to make 3 attempts before you get it the right way around
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    First off, love the signature line. It's so true, every time, it's three tries before I can get a USB plugged in, made me chuckle.

    Next, it's good to hear that I may have given up to quickly in my programming attempt. I just wanted the opportunity so badly, and when I failed I took it very personal. I'm not a book learner, I need to be shown what to do. I've found in lieu of being able to afford to go back to school, videos are a happy median.

    I also think your assessment on certifications is dead on. I'm not even going to attempt to paraphrase it because you said it so succinctly. I don't have a lot of experienced technical people in my life, and I guess I was really wanting someone to share with me their experiences. How they started in the industry and what paths took them where. I was hoping if I gave my life story some tech guru godfather could just tap me on the shoulder and say "you sound like and excellent [insert field here]".

    However I guess no one can tell you what you want to be, and that I need get a little bit more experience under my belt before I am equipped to make that choice. Thank you for the reply, I hope more people share as well.
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    Next, it's good to hear that I may have given up to quickly in my programming attempt. I just wanted the opportunity so badly, and when I failed I took it very personal. I'm not a book learner, I need to be shown what to do. I've found in lieu of being able to afford to go back to school, videos are a happy median.
    Programming is much harder than help desk jockey or whatever else. It's an engineering field, like mechanical engineering or architecture. It's possible for some high school kid to grab a crappy blowtorch and make a go-kart in his garage, but you need a Master's to work for Maserati. From "zero skill" to "here's a website the does multiplication" should be no more than a week. A small address book, 2 months. A website people actually want to use, 5 years.

    IT Certifications are often not that meaningful except to very small employers and very large employers
    Certifications will get your foot in the door, they get you past HR and almost nothing else. My resume contains every certification I've ever sat for, every language I've ever used, every piece of software I would expect to find at a company, and I still recently learned I missed out on a job because I had no Amazon EC2 experience listed on my resume. Getting an interview means passing an automated, completely ignorant filter, be it a web spider or the boss's nephew sitting in a cube marked "HR." Get the certifications if you want the knowledge (CCNA is fascinating and relevant to help desk work and web programming), but don't expect to talk to a real professional and expect them to be impressed that you sat through a seminar course at the community college.

    I was hoping if I gave my life story some tech guru godfather could just tap me on the shoulder and say "you sound like and excellent [insert field here]".
    Take the CCNA and report back. Also look into Unix/Linux, especially from a basic sysadmin/support perspective. You do sound like an excellent level2 support tech for a hosting company. My best friend works for Host Gator, her job includes diagnosing server and network problems for customers who can't figure out why their webserver or database isn't working.
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