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Define and conquer

Seeing your goal is half the battle.

Q: I’m getting my B.S. in Information Systems this spring. I want to be a Systems Analyst, but am unsure about what they do exactly. Could you please give me a general overview of their work, and what kind of certification classes I should take?

A: Like many job titles, such as “Quality Assurance Professional” or “Business Consultant,” the umbrella term of Systems Analyst covers wide terrain indeed. The standard definition is a person who designs or modifies an information system to meet the requirements of its end-user. This can include investigating a program’s feasibility and cost, producing documentation, and testing a prototype of the system at several stages of design.

Obviously, this description leaves a great deal of room for different skills and interests, since there are so many types of systems, including networks, applications, or hardware. To make the terminology even more difficult, many companies use the title in different ways. For example, where a system analyst at one company is involved in software design, another company might use its analysts for network development.

Since you’re almost finished with your degree, you already probably have an idea of what types of systems you like most. If you’re leaning toward networking, for example, you should pursue a position in that niche, see what kinds of nuances there are to the job, and make decisions on a certification path after that point.

Q: I will soon be taking some classes in A +, Network +, and MCSE core requirements, on my way to eventually becoming a Cisco CAN-certified administrator in a couple of years. After I finish these classes, I was thinking of getting some work experience by either getting an internship, doing volunteer work for a non-profit organization, or working part-time at below regular salary for a company. Which do you think is the best option? And how would I find these opportunities?

A: In the current job market, it seems the best option is the one that lands you a position. Confining yourself to volunteer openings or internship possibilities may be too limiting for your search. Sending your resume in response to a wide variety of opportunities could uncover some nice surprises, like a paid internship or a flexible, nicely paid position near home, but it’s going to take some dedication to the search.

Of course, finding such openings is the skill du jour. Since you’re ready to be paid less, or even not at all, you’re in a better position than some of your salary-minded candidates who are also on the hunt. Besides covering the usual suspects, like your local newspaper’s classified section, you should look at sites geared toward non-profits, such as Idealist, which also sponsors career fairs, and VolunteerMatch. Internships, even paid ones, are not unusual for non-profits and technologically savvy individuals are often needed.

Q: Recently, I became interested in computers, and built some for a few friends. I’ve also had a course on computer repair, but it didn’t prepare for the A+. I want to go to school to learn more, including networking or IT, but have had trouble getting a loan or financial aid. And even though I live in Queens, N.Y., it’s hard to find a school that can accommodate my part-time work schedule. How can I find a school that will help get me where I want to go?

A: Realizing what you really want to do is commendable, and having the courage to start down the path toward your goal is doubly so. However, it’s not always easy to find the means for that particular walk, especially when it comes to education expenses.

First, consider getting your A+ certification, since that seems to be an area in which you’re already proficient. You may be able to do work-study at a local school, or supplement income with computer repair while you pursue a degree in networking or IT. If the cost of taking an A+ training course hinders this, you can try some self-study from reference guides that may be available at the library, and pay only the test-taking fee.

Second, investigate more fully the offerings of the schools around you, and talk with admissions counselors on staff. Often, what’s stated in a brochure or catalog isn’t in stone; many schools are happy to work with potential students on tailoring a program to suit their needs, as well as advising on the tangled financial aid process and proper class scheduling.

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